Cloud Zoo: A Story by Moriam E. Kuye

A soothing and wondrous story about the anxieties of parenthood.

Cloud Zoo: A Story by Moriam E. Kuye

This is a story from the April 2023 issue of Worlds of Possibility. You can listen to an audio version narrated by Dami Olukoya on the OMG Julia Podcast, or read the full text below.

Listen to "Cloud Zoo - A Story by Moriam E Kuye" on Spreaker.

Cloud Zoo
by Moriam E. Kuye

Me and my husband haven't let go since having Alice. She’s our precious three-year-old, who has our hearts on a leash, who has John tugged to his phone with our babysitter: “Yup, she only falls asleep with her panda these days.” Once John is sure Alice is still breathing, he rests his phone in the grass. I’m smiling at him because we’re just husband and wife for a night. I want him to admire the way we mirror each other: sat cross-legged in our garden, both naked and brown, chests rising and falling.

But John is a worrier. So, to help him let go, I chase his thoughts away. “Did you know a jellyfish is about ninety-five percent water? Or that water can be a solid, liquid or gas? Where are your thoughts, John?"

His silence is a good sign.

I taught him to let go, and I thank my mum for teaching me to—in a way.

When I was young enough to see mum as a giant, I slid beside her on our leather sofa. She was a nurse then, and I could never imagine her smiling as she patted down plasters and magicked lollipops. She was always grumpy, or tired or both. That evening I was streaming off fun facts: some people can’t lick their elbows; the sun doesn't really go to sleep; it just visits another part of the world. Mum fell asleep. I stomped to our garden and stripped off all my clothes to catch a cold. But it was boring waiting, so I lay in the damp grass pointing out animals in the sky: first, angry cloud lions roaring at cloud elephants, then the typical stuff—fluffy swans fixing up giraffes with broken cloud necks. I became so calm that I melted. I pooled over my bones and then evaporated, a weightless air bubble cartwheeling over our laundry rack, until I plopped back on my bones and morphed into my body.

It always takes John a while because he’s a worrier, but once he melts, I let go of my own thoughts — your fridge is leaking, you’re a distant mother — and I melt too. And even with the burdens of my bones rushing back to me in emotions and thoughts, I’m just water now, I’m free, I am a jellyfish.

“Let's not stay up too long,” John says.

I evaporate and leap over our red canna lilies toward the dusk orange swirls of the sky. I lead us over a neon street where partygoers screech on heels, their great migration to all things loud, and pulsing and bitterly intoxicating. I soar over traffic, through a sticky smog, toward the fairground blinking with lights.

“Remember our first fair date?” I say, condensing on a tree leaf, following the smiles of a carousel below. “I felt like a child. I wanted us to go on everything.”

“You almost sound sentimental. What’s wrong?”

A girl giggles with her mother in a spinning teacup. “Nothing. I just think we should do this together more.”

John slips close to my droplet. “It’s not so easy now. What if Alice needs me, and I’m not around, and then she grows up resenting me?”

“You’re fine, John. My mum was distant, and we get along well enough.”

“Am I distant?”

“No, you’re the perfect father.” And in our silence with merry-go-round tunes, I say, “Let’s stir up some lightning.”

“I don’t think we should stay that long. What if Ange needs to call?”

“She’s never had to. Ange is perfect with Alice.”

I evaporate. I bowl over the sweet popcorn kernels. I rise above the teenagers screaming down a big drop. The clouds look grey this high; all the rides, and the voices, and the colours begin to shrink into distant, silent specks.

I learned as an adult that any job could turn a person grumpy. I wonder if Alice saw how tired I was yesterday — too busy thinking about lesson plans and biology papers to mark. She was waving her colouring-in of a rainbow zebra, and I think I remembered to smile. Did I smile when I told her how talented she was? Or did I sigh?

John joins me, and we swirl together as a cloud.

“Lola. I know tonight is just for us, but I can’t shake the feeling I’m doing things wrong.”

“You’re fine. Alice loves you, honestly.” He’s always a ray of sunshine with her. I heat up, and our cloud charges. A bolt sparks, and it feels like a scream. “Do you think I’m grumpy?”

He ignites his own spark. “Sometimes.”

I roll, and thunder booms. It feels like a sigh. “Do you think she’ll remember me as a grumpy mum?”

“I just hope she remembers us at all. What if she doesn’t need us when she’s older?”

“Or what if she learns to let go and never comes back and lives as a broken cloud giraffe for the rest of her life?”

John greys. “Or worse, a cloud sloth.”

“I just want her to be happy. And loved. Call us at least once a week.”

“I was hoping for every day.”

I swirl our cloud till it fluffs like cotton candy. “I want her to know that I love her and that I think she’s special.”

“She does. You’re an amazing mother, my Lolade Omotayo—”

“Don’t full name me,” I say, and when he mirrors me in the air, I tell him, “You really are a good father. And a decent husband.”

“And you’re not grumpy, most of the time.”

I blow off some steam. “Still in a hurry to get back?”

“We could stay for a bit longer.”

John leaps above me, swelling as a cloud dolphin. And we vent and listen. I think I needed this, too. Though our worries aren’t asleep, they seem far off in another part of the world. We dance and spark lightning; we animal morph and play, chasing each other as little fluffy cloud rabbits.

About the Author

Moriam E. Kuye (she/her) is a Nigerian-British speculative fiction writer from London, UK. She is a perpetual daydreamer who enjoys documentaries, games, and roller-skating on sunny days. She can be found lurking in a hidden corner of Twitter @moriam_emi.

About the Narrator

Dami Olukoya is a British-Nigerian actress and Voice artist based in Essex. A richly versatile narrator, Dami has worked across a wide range of genres, from Young Adult and Self-help to Fantasy and Thrillers.

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