The Sweetest Things by Carol Scheina

Everyone’s always known the sweetest things in the world are the hardest to get. Swedish fish swim in the darkest depths of the seas dodging nets, and the finest powdered sugar sprinkles the mountaintops for those willing to brave the heights. I’ve heard tracking down an elusive chocolate bunny can take a hunter days.

But sweets came easy for my love, Aimee. She could call down the clouds with a simple wave of her hands.

In the mornings, Aimee beckoned the clouds to drift until they floated right above our heads. She tickled her fingers in the white fluff, and I licked each digit clean, leaving just a dollop on my lips as an invitation.

Aimee examined my face. “Oh, Mila? You’ve got a little bit left over.” Then she licked, her tongue probing like a cat’s until she managed to part my lips for deeper exploration. The sweetest moments.

“Do you ever think the birds taste them?” I wondered after Aimee had released the clouds back to the skies. Sweat glazed on my legs, and the summertime humidity left sugar scents heavy in the air, like an oven with a cake inside.

Aimee lay down next to me. “I’ve never seen birds eat anything other than sour gummy worms. I don’t think they can fly that high.”

Under my shoulders, the fresh-cut grass crackled with new growth, and a drop of sun kissed my face with warmth. A drifting cloud covered us in shadow. “The most delicious thing in the world is right there for the taking, and the birds don’t even know it.”

“They probably don’t bother because they don’t have me to lick their wings clean.” Aimee grinned.

But I was always the serious one, and I still gazed high. “Do you think we’ll ever fly up there one day? Higher than the birds?”

“On wings of sugar?” Aimee kept teasing. “We’d grow hungry and eat our own wings, then crash into the sea, like the Icarus story.”

I knew the moral of Icarus, who couldn’t resist his wings: don’t get greedy with your sugar. The sweetest things were rare and meant to be treasured. I stroked Aimee’s short hair, savoring the sleekness between my fingers. “I’d let you eat my sugar wings first.”

She turned serious, which almost never happened, and stroked my cheek. “Me too.”

Our days passed with the regularity of doughnuts on a conveyor belt, until the day she screamed and everything stopped. “Mila!”

Stumbling outside, I saw Aimee’s hand stretched up into a gray cloud. Her words tumbled out. “I don’t know what’s wrong! Why are they this color?”

Turning my gaze away from the dark above Aimee, I peered at the sky with its fine white wisps drifting through the cotton candy blue, as always. Clouds weren’t gray. Where had it come from?

“It only happens when I call them.” Aimee released the gray cloud, and it drifted up, turning white once more. She waved her hand, and a thread of clouds floated down, gradually becoming darker.

I dipped a finger in the gray fluff, then licked. “Ack!” I spat, trying to rid my mouth of the taste, like sugar that had been left to grow moist and moldy. “Aimee,” I finally said, “we have to tell someone. Something’s wrong with the clouds.”

“No! No one’s ever had sweets so easy to get. If people knew what I can do, they’d cage me up or something. Make me call clouds all the time. They’d eat the sky bare. You promised you’d keep it a secret.”

“But Aimee, this isn’t right. Why are the clouds doing this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” I fumbled, looking for a logical solution, “let’s just hold off on the clouds for now. Take a rest. Maybe you’re tired. We’ll try the clouds another time. Maybe in a week?”

But Aimee didn’t last a week before she collapsed. The doctors explained she was like a tooth with a cavity, rotting from the inside. Tests could never identify when someone had the rot until it had spread its tendrils throughout the body.

“The clouds knew,” Aimee whispered from her hospital bed. “I bet they recognize when something’s not so sweet anymore. I bet they were trying to warn me.”

“You sound too serious,” I teased. “That’s supposed to be my role.”

“Do you think people will be able to taste the clouds again someday? Without me?”

I grasped her thin hand. “We’ll taste them on wings of sugar. You’re going to be here to fly with me. And if you eat your wings, I’ll give you mine.”

She kissed my hand back with a lightness I savored.

These days, I watch the clouds drift by, grass crackling beneath my shoulders. Birds make licorice silhouettes against the blue sky, flying high but not high enough. The clouds are out of reach.

My mouth imagines the feel of them, lighter than meringue, and I rub my lips, waiting for a gentle brush against my tongue. The sweetest things are those you can never taste again.

Now, everything turns to salt on my tongue.

Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author who also works as a technical editor in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Her work has appeared in publications such as Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, and Luna Station Quarterly. You can find some of her writing at her website.