Three smokestacks, painted like a candy cane, loomed over the field where we played in at recess time. I often found myself watching those big red cloud-machines instead of joining the other boys at play. Even now as a so-called grownup, whenever they catch my eye, I can’t help but stare. To me, in a way, they were a part of my Dad. Every morning he would walk me to school before going to work in the light blue building at the base of those smokestacks. I liked to think of him as chief cloud designer, but I never knew for sure what he did there.
This morning, however, my Dad did not join me on my walk to school. I had awoken to an empty house. I yelled out for my Mom and Dad, but no answer. I sat at the kitchen table waiting around for them for some time until I realized that I would probably have to make my own way to school. I dressed myself and headed out the door. Though I knew the way there, I had never walked to school alone before. I wasn’t sure why, but it made me feel sad.
My tummy rumbled at recess as I quietly picked at the dried of pieces of Play-Doh stuck to my fingernails. That sad feeling hadn’t quite gone away and I was missing my Dad. The big puffy white clouds were pouring out nicely from the smokestacks, so I assumed that he was able to make it to work on time. Or, I hoped he did.
The loud droning bell rang out, signalling the end of recess. All the other kids around me dropped their toys and made their way the doors of the school, but I couldn’t move. My eyes remained to those smokestacks. Maybe if I sat there long enough watching them, wishing upon them, my Dad would appear.
The growing silence as all children left the field; it was peaceful, perfect for watching the clouds. My moment of quiet was soon interrupted by the sound of the teacher’s voice. She had used that same tone earlier that morning as she scolded me for being late, as well as many times before that. I did my best to ignore her, but as her voice drew closer I knew that I would have to make a move.
I sprung to my feet and darted towards those three candy canes. The teacher behind me shouted and gave chase. She was gaining on me. Luckily my tiny legs were much quicker than her’s. I sprinted through the field fast than any child could even dream of. I needed to see my Dad. My lungs began to burn as I made it to the edge of the field, one more step and I would be off school property. I was losing my breath, but my eyes never left those smokestacks.
I was crossing the parking lot, almost at that light blue building, when it happened: the smokestacks stopped making clouds. Not single white puff was coming out of them, as if all at once they had completely run dry. My heart sank and I stopped running. Something was wrong, very wrong, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I just knew at that moment that my Dad would not be waiting for me there.
Tears began to fill my eyes and the teacher eventually caught up with me. She took my arm and dragged me all the way back to school. I was taken to the principal’s office where, after a few stern words, the principal told me that she would be calling my parents. My tears were almost dry at this point and I was almost glad that she would be speaking to my parents, maybe then I would find out what had happened to them. She dialled the number and I waited attentively, but after a few moments on the phone she gave me a frown and sent me back to class without another word.
When the day finally came to a close with no word from my parents, I found myself once again walking alone. My stomach started to churn inside of me. Maybe they left because I was a bad son. Maybe they didn’t want me anymore. Maybe the cloud machine would never turn back on.
I made it back to my home and found my Mom waiting there for me. Her appearance was worn as if she had been up all night. I wanted to run to her and give her a hug, but something wasn’t right. Something was missing. She sat me down to have a talk, her voice shaking. My Dad wouldn’t be walking me to school anymore.