Skyler and Skyman


By Sue Cowing

          © 2010  by Sue Cowing

                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                        from Cricket Magazine, May/June 2010

 

On the corner of the street where Skyler and his friends played stickball, a white-haired man stood perfectly still, looking up.

“What're you looking at?” the boys called to him. He didn't look down and he didn't answer, so they laughed and named him Skyman.

Skyler crossed the street and stood on the curb beside the man.

“Why do you keep looking up at the sky?” he asked.

“Someone has to watch. Someone who has time.”

Skyler had to look up to have this conversation with the man's chin, because the man didn't look down at all.

“Watch? Why?”

“Well, for instance, would you say passenger pigeons are extinct?” the man asked.

“Of course.”

“Can you be sure? Does anybody look for them? I have seen three of them fly by just standing in this one spot.”

Was the man dreaming, or did he know better than the encyclopedia?

“Maybe they were just regular pigeons,” Skyler said.

“No, they were passenger pigeons.”

“How do you know it wasn't the same one three different times?”

“I notice things. I can tell one from another.”

Skyler told his friends about the passenger pigeons.

“Crazy old man,” they said.

Skyler went back to Skyman and asked, “How long have you been doing this, then, looking up?”

“Oh, long enough for dragonflies to turn into helicopters.”

“What?” said Skyler.

“Never used to be helicopters. Used to be a lot of dragonflies.”

“Oh. Don’t you ever look down?”

“Can't take the time. Might miss something.”

“But the sky will still be there when you look back up.”

“That's just it, boy, it won't. It's never quite the same sky. Not even a minute later.”

Skyler noticed that one of the clouds overhead looked like a fat trombone. The wind was playing it.

“So, you do this all the time?

The man sighed. “No. Someday maybe I will, but I have to eat and sleep sometimes.”

The next day Skyler brought an apple and two oatmeal cookies and gave them to the man. “Kind of you,” he said, crunching into the apple without looking down.

“Think it'll rain, Skyman?”

“They call me Skyman, do they?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What do they call you?”

“Skyler.”

Suddenly Skyman did look down. His eyes shone brilliant blue. One had a little cloud in it.

Skyler swallowed. “My name’s Skyler,” he repeated.

Skyman turned his head back up and let out a laugh that went all the way up through his tall body. “Why, that's a great name! Yes, Skyler, it's almost sure to rain today. The sheep are all over the pasture.”

“Huh?”

“See how tall those woolly-looking clouds are getting? They're loaded with water waiting to drop.”

Skyman was right. Skyler got soaked on the way home.

It was still raining the next day. Skyler put on his rain jacket and went to the corner. Skyman was standing on the curb, his head tilted back.

“Ever notice how many different kinds of rain there are, Skyler?”

Skyler said he hadn't.

“There's rain that ripples sideways like a sheet being shaken out. Some rain is so soft and whispery you have to put out your hand to be sure it's happening. And then there's straight down hammer rain that pounds you and makes holes in the dirt.”

Skyler could picture those rains.

“How about the rain today, Skyler? What would you say it's doing?”

“It's streaming down the windows. It's . . . licking them.”

“You're right. From now on, we'll call this kind of rain window-licking rain. Why not? People have named every star they can see, but nobody thinks to name the rains.”

Skyler went every day to the curb. When he couldn't see what Skyman was looking at, he imagined his own shapes in the clouds. 

One day migrating birds darkened the sky, swooping in formation down into the trees and up again. Skyler and Skyman watched for hours without talking.

“You don't have to do this, you know,” said Skyman at last. “A young boy like you has lots of things to be doing. You can watch when you're older.”

Skyler kept looking up.

Skyman cleared his throat. “Of course, I don't suppose it hurts to get some practice in.”

It was true there were other things Skyler wanted to do. His friends had found a field and didn’t have to play ball in the street anymore. And his brother gave him a juggling set for his birthday. He knew he could get good at juggling if he practiced.

Skyler would look up at the sky in the morning and tell himself he was going to the corner that day; but after school he'd end up doing something else.

One afternoon he stared out the window into a gray sky and thought Skyman! How long had it been? He ran straight to their corner, but Skyman wasn't there.

The next day the sky was blue and bright again, but the corner was still empty. A kite drifted into an antenna and got tangled. High up, Skyler saw long strands of wispy clouds, the kind that point the way the air is moving.

And then he saw Skyman. In a cloud! Saw two small holes like blue eyes looking down. Skyman was lying on his side, leaning on his elbow, and smiling. But after a minute, the cloud thinned out and changed into a long cigar, then into a leaky boat.

With Skyman gone, Skyler stopped going to the corner. He couldn't stop sky watching, though.  Sometimes he saw a Skyman cloud and waved. Sometimes he forgot to look for days, then ran outside wherever he was and tipped his head back to see what he could see.

What if I missed something amazing? he thought.

Illustration by Nicole Wong  © 2010 by Nicole Wong