In a very cloudy, muddled city, there was one street that was always sunny. All except one patch right at the end, where it was almost always overcast. The street was full of the rich and the elite, the so-called ‘hardest workers’ in the entirety of The City. They let the sun reign over the patch of forty-two houses all year round. When they woke up, their smiles brought out the golden rays. When they ate their breakfast, they marvelled at the splendour of the golden hue passing through their crystal-clear windows. When they watered their lawns they wiped the sweat off their brows, they looked up at the sky in wonder of the world they were fortunate enough to exist in. When they drove to work, they brought the light with them. Through the grey and meandering masses, they were beacons of purity, and slowly, as the sun radiated through their perfect smiles love of life, others began to follow, and the clouds would part, even if only for a while. When they ate their dinners, when they brushed their teeth, the stars never shone brighter. When they rested their heads on their pillows, excited by the promise of a new day, they dreamed of the lullabies the moon would sing to them if only it could. Bernard often wondered how he got to be here.
Situated in his parent’s house, the forty-second house on the edge of the street. For years it had been a sign to him, from when he would return from school, that this was where the sun began, and he left his clouds behind. Now, the lawn was over-grown, the windows were dirty, the gutter was full, and the house was empty from all except him. His neighbour Patty had been watering her rose-bush and humming a gentle tune when she suddenly realised she was in a shade. As she looked up, a grey dab of paint had been splattered onto the sky.
“Uh-oh” She said quietly, wiping the sweat that had accumulated on her forehead. “He’s up.”
It was three in the afternoon when Bernard managed to drag himself out of bed. He had been up for almost an hour, but his body was heavy, and his bed was too soft. The curtains were drawn, his parents bedroom was dark. He didn’t need to see the sun, not today, and probably not tomorrow, but mostly he didn’t need to see the clouds he had manifested. His head was groggy, and after standing up, he grabbed the tepid glass of water by his bedside and drank deeply. He knew Patty would be outside, watering her rose-bush around now, but he had no desire to be scrutinised like an oddity. She was his only neighbour on this side, but he knew once those clouds appeared, everyone would be trying to get a good look at him. He was a curiosity here, the only black crayon in the box. He could tell without looking that if he parted the living-room curtains, he would see Mr Asterley who lived opposite pretending to water his hedge as his peripherals were focused on the dilapidated house. Bernard had no interest in pretending he didn’t notice. He threw on his Father’s old dressing gown and walked downstairs through the gloomy halls, and into the very empty kitchen. The table in the middle had several old cups still on it, as well as yesterday’s paper. The plates were clean, but had been sitting on the rack near the sink for over two weeks now, but what he noticed first to his utter dismay, was that one of the slats in the blinds had flipped open, and a single ray of sun penetrated it’s way into the dark room, a laser-focused spear of golden intrusion. He dashed towards it, and risked peering through. The brightness burned, forcing him to squint, waiting for the world to re-focus through the wall of pure white. As it did, he could see Patty’s back, in her gardening hat and striped polo-shirt. He watched her watering her rose-bush, and sneaking careful looks at his house. He pulled himself away, annoyed. Outside, the cloud started to darken. He just wanted to be left alone, just as much as he really wanted some cereal right about now.
He sat his bowl of slightly-stale cereal down, and wandered to the fridge to open it, and was once again startled by the light. The only thing that remained in the refrigerator was a single cheese-single, half a packet of bread that had grown mouldy despite his best efforts, a suspicious looking cucumber, and half a bottle left of milk. He grabbed the bottle and closed the fridge, forcing the thought of starvation out of his mind. As he passed the counter to return to the table, he idly flicked on his Mother’s old radio. He had no idea what station it was, despite having it on every day as he ate his breakfast, it was there just to make him feel like he was eating with someone. He knew that the Emotional-forecast would be on right about now, but it didn’t apply to him. He had no intention of going out anytime soon.
“-What a wonderful story. I’m sure I won’t look at a Chihuahua the same way ever again! Now, it’s time to pass it over to Chip with the Three-fifteen emotional-forecast for the afternoon. Chip?“
“Thanks Wayne! Chip Bradley here with the Three-fifteen emotional-forecast, here to tell you that while the Eastern parts of The City have been experiencing some utterly delightful sprouts of seasonal-sun, there have been sporadic patches of clouds in the centre, and even a little bit of rain here and there! Of course, it is Monday, so it is to be expected.”
Bernard was glad that the cereal wasn’t so stale that the crunch still eclipsed the inane laughter of the two hosts.
“Sad to say though, there was a terrible car-crash on 89th street leaving four dead and two critically injured, so expect plenty of rain around that area, and as always, the hospital. The police have not yet released the details of where the families of the deceased lived just yet, but don’t worry, just as soon as they do, we’ll be there to update you with all the spots to avoid! Avoid the dark patches, folks!”
Bernard was chewing so hard to drown out their chipper banter that his jaw began to ache.
“Also, if you happen to be down between 55th and Baker Street, Dom and Julie Blade will be celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary tonight with all of their friends and loved ones, so expect plenty of beautiful sunshine and a wonderful sunset around that area, and congratulations guys!”
Bernard had finished the cereal, and began to drank the sweetened milk from the bowl, hoping the slurping sound would obscure the voices even further, when he noticed a pause in the radio-chatter, a slight hesitation.
“And once again,” The voice continued. “We here at SS4V-Radio are sad to announce that today marks the 183rd day over Buttercup Road where a dark cloud has appeared on the famous street.”
Bernard lowered his bowl slowly, and stared at the radio as if it had sprung to life just to demean him.
“This of course means, that if this happens for the next six days, the street that was formerly known as ‘The Sunniest Street in The City’, will be overtaken by Gold Street. As always, it’s just that one little house at the end of the road, and tomorrow we will have Dr. Albert Quinn in to discuss the economic changes this supplantation of the title could have on the street, as property prices plummet. I’ve been Chip Bradley, and I’ll be back tonight, with the Evening-Emotional-Forecast.”
Bernard didn’t move. He could have guessed what the people on the street had thought about him, but he never thought that he would appear on the radio, indirectly at least. He leapt to the window and looked out through the blinds. Patty was standing by her radio, still as a statue. Water leapt from the hose, leaving Gossamer streams that sparkled in the sunlight. He saw her slowly turn towards his house. Her eyes were shielded by sunglasses, but he could guess they were full of hate. Slowly the light around her began to dim, and she even raised her hand to check for rain.
He was pulled away by a loud banging at the front door. Slowly he walked towards it, heart hammering in his chest. He knew he couldn’t look out of the window stealthily, and he was about 50/50 on whether or not one of his neighbours might gun him down. He grabbed the door handle and felt his palm begin to sweat. He swung the door open and let the blast of light in, and he shielded his eyes as if they were about to burn and evaporate. He was greeted by a tall man with a wide smile, that shone in the sunlight. He is hair was immaculately combed, his crimson blazer was ironed and his tie was striped with flashes of gold and blue.
“Good afternoon sir, how are we today?” He asked brightly. Bernard hesitated for a second to get his pupils focused. He was aware their might be one or two nosy neighbours gawking, but as far as he could tell, everyone on the street was outside, pretending to chat to each other, collect their papers or water their lawns. Some turned to the side to watch through peripherals, some stole glances quickly, others were just more blatant. Bernard felt his teeth grind together, and the clouds above once again darkened. He saw the smart-looking man quickly glance up, and his smile was betrayed by a second of fear.
“I’m from Alburn-Brightly, we’re the realtor firm who cover this area.” The Realtor said chirpily, after realising Bernard wasn’t going to say anything. “I was just in the area, and wanted to drop in and give you my card.” The Realtor suddenly had a red business card in his hand, like some sort of smarmy magician, and suddenly it was pressed into Bernard’s palm. “I’m going around all of the houses today, just dropping by, just to let you all now that right now, Buttercup Road is in huge demand, and house-prices are soaring! So, if you ever think about selling your house, I wanted to offer you my number, and tell you about my very reasonable-“
Bernard cleared his throat, and The Realtor stopped, surprised, as if he forgot Bernard was even there as he got through his script.
“Why?” Bernard asked, surprised by how dry his own voice sounded. The Realtor fumbled and stuttered, trying desperately to think of some improvised line, but Bernard intervened.
“This is all because of the forecast, isn’t it?” He felt his eyes tighten their focus around The Realtor, whose smile began to wane. Clouds began to darken. Suddenly none of his neighbours were pretending to watch anymore, every face turned to him. He felt his jaw tighten, but there was nothing inside of him. No hate, no anger, no embarrassment or guilt. His body was automatic, and his voice was devoid of tone. “No thank you.” He said, closing the door a little harder than he meant to.
He dropped the little card by the table where his keys were and trudged back to bed and let himself fall upon it. He felt a heat and a tightness around his cheeks and eyes, but refused to let the tears lose. He had already let the clouds get too dark today. He couldn’t take having the neighbours hate him anymore. He decided to lay until it was dark before he put on some clothes and get out the house. There was a pressure building in his forehead, but he knew he had to take it with him. As he left for The City, he could have sworn there was another dark-grey clouding floating above a different house that evening.
The City was a dense forest of tall dark buildings that reached towards the sky, of which was painted almost like a tartan pattern that night. Streaks and lines of brilliant reds and patches of black were smeared into the sky, with dashes of yellow and orange burning brightly. Some parts of the city rained almost entirely. Here, no one recognised him as the black-spot of Buttercup Road. Her wandered his usual circuit through the orange lights and sporadic rain. He kept his head down, but his thoughts were a different weather of their own.
By the time he finished his loop, the sky was a cauterised purple mark. Hints of starlight filtered through the veil, but Bernard just wasn’t tired. He extended his walk and strode to the park nearby. The sky was lighter here, as couples cuddled on the benches, and friends chatted by the fountains. He walked to his favourite spot, a hill that overlooked the whole city. It was desolate as always, and he sat down to admire the tide of twinkling lights that spread out towards eternity. He leaned back on his hands, and just sat. His breathing was heavy and slow, and he let his thoughts dissolve and dissipate. Slowly, the clouds above him began to lighten, and for the first time in a long while, began to disappear.
“Hey.” A woman called out.
Bernard was brought back into reality, the grass on his palms suddenly feeling uncomfortable enough to have him bolt upright. His heart hammered again, and the clouds began to return as he strained his eyes into the darkness. Eventually, he saw a figure walking towards him. A young woman, with long wavy brown hair, in a yellow hoodie and ripped jeans. She wandered towards him with a smile, and a slight bounce in her step. Her glasses were thick-rimmed, and hid two pools of green that glimmered in the night. Bernard felt himself tense, he wasn’t prepared to speak to anyone tonight, and after today’s forecast, he couldn’t help but feel like there was a target painted on the back of his head. Still, she looked familiar to him.
“Uh..yes?” He said. She smiled at him, and stood before him, her hands holding onto the straps of her pink back-pack.
“You live on Buttercup Road too, right? At the end of the street?” She said, cheerfully enough. Bernard felt his teeth clench, and the wind began to pick up. She only laughed. “Relax, I saw the commotion outside this afternoon.” Without asking, she promptly sat down heavily, and untwisted her backpack, and began to cradle it. “Everyone was staring at you. Even my Dad, so sorry about that.” She turned to look at him, and he stared at her suspiciously. She took a second to study the bags under his eyes, and his pale complexion. She smiled warmly, observing his unkempt chin and wild-looking hair. “Everyone on the street heard the forecast. Apparently.” She leaned back onto her own hands, and looked at the unending river of light. “That’s what Mom said anyway. I was watching from my window, how everyone just kept staring at you talking to that creepy guy.” She leaned forwards to grip her bag again, apparently restless. “It really annoyed me, honestly. Like, why couldn’t they just leave you alone?” She said with venom. Bernard began to realise the wind picking up further, but he didn’t think it was him this time. He turned back to the horizons of the city.
“Well…thanks.” He said calmly. The breeze began to die out again. The girl turned back to him.
“What’s your name?” She asked serenly.
“Bernard.” He replied.
“Cool. I’m Amelia.” She said with a smile.
For a while neither said a word. They let themselves bathe in the splendours of the city lights.
“So what’s wrong?” She then asked suddenly, taking bernard aback.
“Hm? What?” He asked, surprised.
“What’s wrong? Everyone keeps saying our road is supposed to be the happiest and the sunniest, but there are always clouds above your house. Are you okay?” She started to stare at him, scrutinising his every move, but he took his time to reply.
“I’m not sure.” He said finally.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure how to talk about it, I guess.”
“Well. Start from the top?”
Bernard gulped. Where did the top end and the end begin? What was there to say? What was wrong? Who was she? He cleared his throat.
“Well.” He started. “I guess I’ve just been a bit lonely.” He paused, waiting for this girl to say something. Instead, she only watched him. So he continued.
“For a while, actually. There just..doesn’t seem like there’s much point in getting out of bed most days, y’know?” He let out a laugh. An accident, a reflex, born to alleviate the situation, but she did not return it. She only watched him, and for the first time in a long while, he could feel compassion filtering past her lenses. He breathed it in, happy to feel like there was someone out there who cared. At least for a little while.
“I’m sorry.” He said, turning away from the view and shaking his head.
“Why?” She asked, softly.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this. I don’t even know who you are.”
“I mean, I asked, didn’t I? I didn’t come here to judge you, or tell you to move away, I promise.” She turned to look at him again. He eyes glimmered, pools of green water under a bright moon. “I guess it’s just..sometimes clouds appear for me too, but I know I’m not allowed to do it at home. Sometimes I come here, sometimes I walk in the city, so no-one knows it’s me.” She turned away again, and something on her cheek glistened. “I don’t know what it is. It just appears sometimes, and then it goes away again. But every-time it does, I always wish I had someone to talk to about this. When i saw your clouds today and how everyone treated you…I just thought I..” She sniffed, trailing off. Bernard was shocked. Here he was, sitting with a stranger, yet not feeling alone for the first time in months. He could feel a buzzing in the back of his skull, a sound that continuously drilled into his consciousness that told him that this was some kind of trick, but slowly, the sound of her words drowned it out entirely.
And so they talked.
He told her about how alone he had been, how heavy his dreams were. She told him that she felt constantly pressured to be happy all the time, how her parents didn’t care to listen to her problems, how they believed happiness was all a state of mind. Then they chattered about TV, about books and their favourite films, and Bernard had never felt so human. They spoke until midnight, when Amelia had to leave, and together they walked back to Buttercup Road. Before Bernard entered his Parent’s old house, he stood at the front step. The moon had never shone so bright. It was so beautiful in fact, he felt a smile grow upon his face, organically, without any force. The smile grew like a spring flower, so strong he didn’t even mind when he wandered into his foyer and picked up a petition signed by his neighbours to expel him.
The next day Patty had gone out early to water her rose-bush. Since it grew so close to Bernard’s house, she found she didn’t actually need to water it everyday, but without routine, she would be very lost. Suddenly she heard an unfamiliar sound that almost caused her to drop the hose, a loud banging, almost like someone opening the back door of her neighbours house. She wheeled round in alarm to come face to face with a stretching man in a dressing gown, who was smiling widely.
“Mornin’ Patty.” Bernard said, waving to her over the fence. Patty didn’t reply, but weakly waved back, mouth agape. The sun was shining brightly above.
Bernard ate his cereal in the kitchen, chuckling along to SS4V–Sunny Smiles 4Ever Radio. He didn’t know if he was just in a good mood, or if they were actually funny today. He ate his cereal and drained the bowl, and cleared the plates away. Later that night, he returned to the park, and soon, so did Amelia. The next night too.
They talked about everything, suddenly finding new release in their shared connection. Bernard had never felt this close to a fellow human-being in such a short time. The only similarly intense bond he had built had been with his brand-new toaster. He found out she was soon to go to Sunnyside University, the most prestigious college in The City, but she was so unsure if it was the right call. She was clearly extremely bright, but found academic learning to be ineffective and stressful. She had passed her exams, but only by going on Google and learning in her own way. Her parents were so obsessed with the idea of her being like them, and one day owning her own house on Buttercup Road, she couldn’t take it. What she really wanted, was to be an artist. Bernard was persistent in getting her to show him some of her art, and he would smile from ear-to-ear when he saw it. She had encapsulated such beauty, swirls of colour and flashes of light. He was staring into a kaleidoscope of emotions, and he told her she had a gift, and she smiled under her blushing cheeks.
For four-whole days, Bernard was on top of his world. The sun had never been brighter, the kitchen never cleaner. He had shaved his face and made an appointment with his hair-dresser. He began to shower daily now, and even went for a run. When he returned to the hill that night and waited for Amelia, he could see her paintings in the stars. He tried to think about what it was that he should be doing. He had no goal, no plans, no road to follow. His eyes kept darting to where Aemlia usually came from, but tonight she didn’t show. He kept trying to think of plans and goals, but soon all he was thinking was; Where is she?
He didn’t sleep so well that night. He woke up at noon this time, with a few grey clouds hanging around, but he forced them away. Happiness is a state of mind. The mantra reverberated throughout his head, so loud he almost didn’t hear the gentle knocking at his door.
There was a man there, middle-aged and not-quite-bald, but pretty much there already. He had beady brown eyes and tan-lines over his eyes. Bernard smiled warmly at him, and the man cleared his throat.
“Bernard, is it?” Bernard smiled and took a sip from his coffee, then nodded.
“I’m Mike, Amelia’s father.” He said politely, but distinctly not warmly. Bernard had raised the cup again to his mouth, but suddenly stopped it in mid-air. “Her mother and I have been worried about her, and wondering where she has been wandering off to, and she said she’s been having some ‘secret meetings’ with you?” The skin around his eyes tightened, his stare was intense.
“Ah..yeah..so we…well, what it is..” Bernard began, but the man began to grow more and more intense. The air around him darkened and he jabbed a finger towards Bernard.
“That girl is half your age mister! She is studying for college, and I won’t have her studies ruined by some pervert she met in a park!” He was almost shouting now. Bernard simply inhaled. He felt a wave of irritation, then anger, then he exhaled it out.
“Okay, first of all, rude.” Bernard began gesticulating with his coffee cup. “Second of all, it isn’t like that, we’re just friends, we met in the mark and started talking, that’s all. And thirdly, if you guys weren’t such shitty, pushy parents and listened to your daughter for once, she wouldn’t have any desire to be hanging out with perverts in the park.” Bernard felt his voice getting heavy, loaded with the burdens of anger and accusation. Mike just stared at him, flabbergasted. He began to stammer, Bernard gave him a glib smile. Mike began to step backwards, suddenly wary of the rain.
“Just stay away from my daughter, okay?” He said, making his way back to his house.
“She’s my friend. It’s her decision, not yours.” Bernard called out, causing Mike to turn back, suddenly angry. Neighbours began to sneak out of their houses. The sky was turning very dark indeed, now.
“She is my daughter!” Mike said in a decibel less than a scream. “How dare you tell me what she can and can’t do! All week you’ve been filling her head with nonsense, telling her to follow her dreams-” A few drips of rain began to spill.
“It is her decision. She is a fantastic artist, with hopes and dreams that go far beyond yours. All you want for her is to be exactly like you; miserable and emotionally repressed.” Mike’s mouth was wide open now. The rain fell down harder. Suddenly over a dozen of his neighbours were staring at him, mouths equally open.
“And you know what? You keep trying to make her like you, but she has already surpassed you. She came to me when no-one else would. When none of you would.” He wheeled round, suddenly addressing the crowd of shocked neighbours. “You saw the clouds I manifested outside my house, you saw me not able to get out of bed until three PM. You saw me struggling, alone and lost, and what did you do?” He laughed, sardonic and bitterly. “You gave me an ultimatum. Pretend to be like you, or leave.” Thunder rolled ahead, and the neighbours looked up in shock. Black clouds appeared over more and more houses, and for the first time since anyone could remember, Buttercup Road was no longer sunny.
“Your daughter saved me. Without me asking. All I wanted to do was return the favour, and now you’re banning me from seeing her, like she’s some exhibit in a museum? You sir, are a dick, and she deserves better.” The rain was falling so hard now, Bernard had to raise his voice just to be heard. Hair clung to his forehead like a drooping vine. He wheeled round and saw Patty staring at him in disbelief. “You.” He pointed at her, and fear took over her eyes. ” I wake up at least once a day because of your stupid lawn-mower. You don’t need to do it every day. Hell, if you got angry like this once in a while, you wouldn’t have to water your rose-bush so frigging much!” Patty gasped as lightning forked the sky. “And you!” He said at Mr Asterley, who pointed at his own chest and mouthed; “Me?“
“I know it’s your dog who keeps shitting on my lawn. How do you expect me to mow my grass when you’ve turned it into a goddamn mine-field?” He wheeled around again, relishing the rain, feeling the water run clear on his body, feeling a redemption from within. “All of you are such emotionally-repressed children, you were forced onto this path by society, and now you force it onto others, like it’s your only path. Screw that, screw this street, and screw your precious title!” He roared, screaming into the thunderous spectacle above. The entire street was black now. Suddenly, his neighbours began to shout, first at him, then each-other. Jabbing fingers and petty squabbles. Patty and Mr Asterley were at each others throats, and Mike was screaming at an old lady about some “misplaced” Halloween candy accusations. Bernard watched, his smile was like a hanging tree, barren and ominous. Then he saw a young woman standing in the rain, her glasses smeared with rain-drops.
Amelia ran to him and hugged him. She squeezed tightly, and he did the same. She looked up at him with a genuine smile. He did the same.
“Thank you.” He said. “I think you saved my life.” She smiled even wider.
“Amelia?” Mike called out, almost not believing she was there. She let go of Bernard, and ran to her father, hugging him just as tightly. “What are..?” Mike said, hugging her back.
“I’m sorry dad.” She said. He asked her why.
She told him, tears spilling down her face. Bernard was glad for the rain, to hide that he had been too. The two of them watched Mike for his reaction, who looked at Bernard, then at Aemlia, and sighed with relief when he told her it was okay. She hugged tightly, and slowly the rain began to stop.
Once Bernard had dried off, he grabbed the red business card off of the table, and called the annoyingly chirpy Realtor.
He decided to low-ball the house, it was dilapidated and dirty, and he just wanted to get out of there. He found himself a nice apartment deep in the heart of the city, with a roommate who would become his best friend. Amelia wrote to him and told him that she was accepted by the Art School on the edge of town. The street lost it’s title, and although not every day was incredibly sunny, the people seemed happier somehow. Bernard read the letter with a cup of tea in his hand, watching the rain roll down his window. He still didn’t know where his path was leading him, but he was comfortable, watching the sun and listening to other people’s rain.