Asking strange questions and looking at the world from unusual perspectives seems to be my specialty. Here’s one. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to move from being an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent entity to a single body constrained by human perceptions of space and time with a limited life span and a severely veiled understanding of the world, not to mention the pain and suffering? I ask what might seem a strange question because in my novel The Cloud Catcher, which I am currently writing, a cloud is bound to a human person, Fran, a young girl, in a way that echoes something akin to an Annunciation (*). Clouds are not gods, you’ll be objecting. We may perceive them as separate, ethereal entities suspended in the sky, but in reality they are a part of a giant, all-knowing whole. What are clouds if they are not an accumulation of water droplets? Water droplets to be found everywhere in the air, but also in lakes, in rivers, in seas and in oceans. Water to be found in all living life. And that water, which has passed through nearly everything in the world, maintains minuscule traces of those encounters that constitute an all-embracing memory. The leap of faith taken here, in the name of fiction, is that clouds are endowed with self-awareness and thought.
The Cloud Catcher pursues my exploration of the coexistence of two beings in one body as in my novel Chimera. Fran, the heroine of The Cloud Catcher, is no virgin, on the contrary she is a victim of abuse, yet, despite a harrowing childhood, she has retained a natural ‘generosity’ that shines through even in the most difficult moments. In comparison, the cloud is wild and unbridled, allying inhuman strength and overflowing joy, impetuousness and foresight. Both Fran and the cloud have to come to terms with the limitations and absence of limitations of the other. As for the ‘fruit’ of their union and the challenges they face, you’ll have to read the novel, once it’s finished, to find out.
My thanks go to Elisabeth Pastor, whose passion for the depiction of the Annunciation by Italian artists set me on a path to discover that encounter between flesh and spirit and how it related to my novel. One particular painting of The Annunciation inspired me, that of Sandro Botticelli.
(*) As Elisabeth has pointed out subsequent to the publication of this article, it is more a question of Incarnation as the ‘fundamental and incomprehensible mystery that is beyond human comprehension’ which Italian masters sought to depict by deliberately introducing ‘errors’ of perspective in their paintings.
Extract: The Cloud Catcher
Fran squealed when three hot white sparks arced from the cloud, speeding across the lift in her direction. The first burnt a brand in the back of her hand held protectively over her heart. It stung painfully. The two others sank deep into her chest causing her to cry out, not in pain but in joy and exultation. Her whole being responded as if she’d been touched by god. God? Despite the hypocritical fervency of her churchgoing parents, or maybe because of it, God was a concept that was alien to her, yet she had no other word for it.
“There,” the deep voice rumbled, “it is done.” To her surprise, in those words was not only satisfaction but benevolence. The other girls clearly didn’t see it that way. Their mental gasps were filled with fear and awe. Someone, somewhere whispered, It’s her!
Looks as if the clouds have adopted you, Duffni said, more than a hint of jealousy in her voice. Let me look at your hand.
She supposed the girl meant the one struck by the cloud. But she couldn’t resist checking her breasts to see if the bolts of light had left a mark. They hadn’t. Unlike the back of her hand, the skin on her chest was as virgin smooth and unblemished as it had always been. It was only inside that she felt the difference. A wispy presence, almost spirit like, uncurled and frolicked within her.