George's Day Off

George woke early and as he did every single day he stretched his arms, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his fluffy slippers and went to the window to check the weather. Grey clouds crept threateningly over his house. George sighed wearily. It was going to be another busy day.

He went to the bathroom, washed then dressed before heading downstairs for a hearty breakfast. George's breakfast always depended on the weather. On a day like today he filled his belly for he wasn't sure when he would get to eat again.

He left the house by the back door and entered his shed which sat at the bottom of a humble but well kept garden. George spent several minutes in the shed collecting his equipment but finally he emerged carrying a bucket of soapy water and an exceptionally long ladder.

At the back of the garden just next to his shed, there was a little gate. George opened the gate and stepped into a pebble lane which bordered the large square field that lay behind his house.

He glanced up at the sky. Thick clouds rolled towards him eager to let loose their downpour. George sighed again. It really was going to be a long day.

'It looks like rain,' said a young voice beside him. George looked down to see Kuko his neighbour's daughter. Kuko was a tiny little girl. George wasn't sure how old she was; perhaps it was the oversized glasses she wore that made her seem so small.

George nodded at the girl and watched the sky again.

'It's going to be a long day at work for you isn't it?' Kuko said cheerily.

George gave no reply.

'Hope you have a good day then,' Kuko said as she skipped away.

George was tired of working. He couldn't remember the last time he had a day off. He wished someone else could do his job but nobody knew how. He sighed for the third time that morning and trudged into the field.

When he had made his way into the very centre of the field he put down his bucket and turned his ladder so that the two legs were touching the ground. Keeping the ladder straight he placed his hands on the rung in front of him and with a downward thrust: he shoved, so that the legs of the ladder stuck fast in the earth. Letting go of the rung he stepped back leaving a perfectly straight ladder striking upwards out of the ground. The easy part of his job was over.

George stretched his arms and legs to loosen them up then reached for his bucket and began his ascent. Climbing the ladder was the part of his job that George disliked the most. It was so tiring. The ladder just went on and on and on growing longer and longer. And he knew with every single step that there was nothing but hard work ahead of him but on he went hand over hand, step after step, higher and higher.

At a point halfway up he stopped and peered between rungs at the oncoming clouds. There seemed to be more of them now that he was so high. He hoped he had enough water in his bucket, there was nothing worse than running out of water and having to climb all the way back down to fetch some.

Onwards he climbed until finally he reached the top of the ladder. George took his bucket and hung it over the top leg of the ladder and plunged his hand into the soapy water pulling out a small brush and a sponge. He held one in each hand and he waited.

The dark clouds were almost upon him now but George was ready. This was George's job. It was what George did best. He knew of no one else that did this job, oh how he wished he did.

George was the man solely responsible for keeping the day sunny for George was a Cloud Cleaner.

As the thick rain clouds engulfed him George went to work. He scrubbed furiously, he wiped meticulously, and he brushed vigorously. He unstained, unsmudged, unspoiled and unsullied every single cloud that passed him by with such diligent aplomb that once they had passed him they glistened so white and wispy clean that eventually they would just float away and evaporate.

The clouds threw everything they had a George. They thundered toward him as heavy plumes of darkness but George was a master of his trade. He swung his sponge majestically like a dancer leaping and pirouetting around a stage stopping only to rinse his tools and start afresh.

Eventually after hours had passed the clouds were gone and George's work was finished. The sky was a fresh blue sea of light and the day would be bright and sunlit.

Satisfied he dropped his brush and sponge into his bucket and began the long descent down the ladder.

When he reached the bottom he found Kuko was waiting for him. She stood there peering up at him through her huge glasses that had fallen squinty over her face.

'Thank you George,' she said, 'Now it looks like it will be a lovely day and I'll get to play outside.' She skipped away for the second time that morning.

George watched her go then pulled his ladder from the ground, picked up his bucket, lumbered back across the field and through the gate at the end of his garden. He emptied the now filthy water from his bucket and returned his tools to his shed. Then he wandered through his little garden to his house, made some tea and toast before going upstairs to fall hopelessly exhausted to bed.

Cleaning clouds was a tiring job but someone had to do it.

The next day George woke early and, just as he did every other day he stretched his arms, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his fluffy slippers and went to the window to check the weather.

George sighed. On the other side of the field was a plump round rain cloud just waiting to burst.

George tried to look on the bright side. This cloud wasn't the biggest he had seen. It certainly wasn't as bad as yesterday but it still meant he would have to go to work. All he wanted was a day off. Wasn't everyone allowed a day off?

He sloped to the bathroom to wash then got dressed and plodded downstairs to have some breakfast. Once he had eaten all he could stomach he left by the back door, retrieved his bucket and ladder and made his way out to the field. Just as he had done the previous day and the countless days before that he set up his ladder and climbed all the way to the top to await the oncoming cloud.

The cloud didn't move.

It just sat in the distance, waiting, churning and rolling.

George stood there at the top of his exceptionally long ladder watching the strange behaviour of the fat cloud that waited. Never in his many years as a Cloud Cleaner had he seen one act this way. It was most peculiar.

After a long time had passed George was fed up. He wanted to go home but just at the moment he was about to leave the stubborn cloud moved. George squeezed the excess water from his sponge ready to begin.

The cloud stopped.

George grew angry. What was this cloud playing at?

'Hello there Cloud Cleaner,' came a rich voice.

George blinked. Had this cloud just spoken to him?

'Aren't you going to say hello back?' the voice said.

George was silent. Perhaps he was losing his mind. He must have been working too hard.

'Very well you don't need to say anything, just listen.' The cloud rolled and toiled in front of George just out of his reach.'

'I think you work too hard Cloud Cleaner,' said the cloud, 'every day you come out here and wash all us clouds away. You're clearly tired and we think you deserve some time off.' George nodded dumbly. It was such a pleasant idea even if it did come from a rain cloud.

'Well I think you should take some time off right now,' insisted the cloud, 'where's the harm in it. Why do you even need to wash us away anyway? There's nothing wrong with a little rain is there? Everyone needs a little rain in their lives so they can appreciate the sunny days don't you think?'

George considered this for a moment. The cloud was absolutely right. There wasn't anything wrong with a little rain and it certainly made you enjoy the sunny days more.

So just like that George's mind was made up. Without another word he picked up his bucket, climbed down the ladder and made his way home leaving the plump rain cloud to empty itself all over the field.

The next morning George woke early and just as he did every other morning he stretched his arms, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his fluffy slippers and went to the window to check the weather. The sky was filled with looming dark clouds that undulated over the horizon like a huge black wave.

George smiled. It was going to be a quiet day.

Instead of washing and dressing and going down for breakfast he climbed back into bed and went back to sleep. George slept all day and all night, right through to the next morning.

When he woke he stretched his arms, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his fluffy slippers and went to the window to check the weather. The sky was hidden behind a blanket of grey and rain lashed down on the house.

George smiled. There was nothing wrong with a little rain.

He climbed back into bed and went to sleep.

Day after day passed which George would spend idly in bed and every morning he would check the weather to find it miserable outside yet every morning he would go back to bed.

But on the eighth day when George went to the window his heart leapt in fright.

The door of his shed was open.

He threw on some clothes and raced downstairs and out the back door. Instantly he was soaked as the rain cascaded on top of him. He ran to the shed only to find exactly what he had feared. His bucket and his exceptionally long ladder were missing.

Lightning cracked overhead and thunder rumbled close behind as George frantically fell through the back gate and into the field. To his horror the ladder stood upright in the middle. His chest tightened as he reached the bottom rung. He moved faster than he ever had before his hand and feet moving with furious speed. Up and up he went as thick clouds wrapped their inky fingers around him till all he could see was the next rung above.

Wind slammed against him and several times he almost lost his footing but his arms were strong and he held on. Finally he grabbed onto something that wasn't part of the ladder.

It was a leg. The leg was partnered with another and both were coiled round the ladder tightly. George pulled himself higher to find Kuko clinging on for dear life as the clouds battered her face and hands with rain and wind.

George grabbed the tiny girl who quickly grabbed back and hung onto his chest with a terrified grip. Hindered by the frightened girl George moved slowly but surely down to safety. The clouds roared thunderously at him, spitting and howling as they whipped his face and froze his flesh.

George made it to the bottom of the ladder and ran to the house. The clouds cursed and fired bolts of lightning at him. The shed exploded as he reached the back door; a final furious message from the dark toiling clouds above.

George snatched several towels from the cupboard and quickly wrapped them round the shivering little girl. Her face was soaked with rain and tears and she had lost her oversized glasses. She looked even smaller without them.

'I...I'm sorry,' Kuko managed between chattering teeth, 'Its b...been such m...miserable weather. I just wanted to p...play outside.' George hushed the girl and started up the fire. Once it was going he went to the kitchen to make them some mugs of hot tea which Kuko drank gratefully. George tried not to watch the poor girl as her face was still soaked with tears.

George woke early and, as he did every other day, he stretched his arms, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his fluffy slippers and went to the window to check the weather. The sky was a storm of angry clouds. George sighed. He had never seen so many clouds. It was going to be a long day.

He washed, dressed, ate a hearty breakfast and made his way out to the field where his ladder still stood. He quickly climbed it as the rain poured down on him. At the top of the ladder he found his bucket, sponge and brush and so went to work.

That morning he worked harder and faster than he ever had before. The clouds were so many and so angry but George didn't care. He wouldn't stop until he had cleaned every single inch of them for that was his job: George the Cloud Cleaner.

It took the whole morning for George to finish and by that time the sun was high in the sky and was burning away the wispy white remains of what was left of the storm. George smiled. He had enjoyed his work today especially the last cloud which was round and plump. He was sure he had heard it say something.

He took his time climbing back down the ladder, stopping every so often to enjoy the beautiful sunlit view across the town. When he did reach the ground a tiny girl was waiting for him.

She was wearing new glasses that were just the right size for her face and she held two glasses of juice. Kuko offered one glass to George and they sat drinking them quietly.

'Would you like to play catch with me?' Kuko asked once they had finished their drinks.

George considered the girl for a moment. He was so very tired after the morning's work and he should really go to bed as tomorrow was sure to bring more clouds. Kuko beamed at him almost as brightly as the sun above their heads. 'Please, it's such a lovely day?' she said.

George grinned at her. Perhaps he could find the time to play for an hour or two. After all everyone is allowed a little time off.