My name is Blue. Not because it was mamma’s favorite color, or because she loved the sea or the sky. There is a darker reason I’m called Blue. Uncle Bill told me that mamma was confined to bed during pregnancy, confined to a bad marriage and confined to an endless line of ghosts that taunted her from the hall. He told me she called me Blue, because it was how she felt.
I never met mamma. I can’t guess at the secrets she kept, the reason ghosts chose to haunt her, or why people had a strange addiction to the deep blue of her eyes. When they talk about her, their mouths are great big smiles. They lean down and tell me she was beautiful. And they use words like, serene and calm. They tell me how much she loved the trees. Georgia Jean, her friend that everyone says is cuckoo, told me something about mamma I’ll never forget. She said, “Blue, you’re mamma was a vision. She was never really here, but she was a beacon of light for folks to steer by, in this misty place where so many are lost.”
But their descriptions confuse me. I’ve seen the pictures. In them, my mamma is always standin’ around other folks, but seems like she’s alone or somehow out of reach. She never wore daisy crowns when she was young, or flowing summer dresses. There was no smile in her, no laughter filled her cheeks, and she held her hands in an oddly curved way, as if they were cups for water or dust—or pain. When I squeeze my eyes real hard at the photograph of mamma’s wedding day, the one with her mouth wide open in mid sentence or some off hand remark, I can see it. The day was cold and mamma has her coat on over her wedding dress. Her head is tilted in an awkward way like someone else positioned it. And instead of the image of a happy bride, she’s seeping with all the sadness she’d gathered along the way. It flows out, that sadness, in her breath. And sits there forever frozen, a silvery smudge on the photograph. Nobody else sees it. Nobody but me. A few years back, when I was about six, I asked Uncle Bill about it.
I’d said, “Uncle? Why does mamma’s breath have ghosts in it?”
He’d just pulled on his cigar and shook his head like he had no idea what I was goin’ on about.
I didn’t need to meet my mamma to know her life had been as black as the deepest part of fear, and as cold as a late winter’s snow.
Uncle Bill’s dead now. I no longer have him to chat with, or at. I spend most my time amongst the towering trees. I’m in the care of my great aunt Millie. My papa, had gone away a long time ago, before Uncle Bill died. Uncle said he it wasn’t because of me. He said papa was driven by some hungry need to leave the past, and everything that’d been in it behind. I still don’t get it. How can you leave everything behind? How do you escape yourself?
Great aunt Millie gets me clothes and keeps me fed. Potatoes. Lots of potatoes. But there is no one who I love, or who loves me. I walk to school alone under grey skies and long lonesome rains and open birthday presents on the wrong month and day. I don’t blame aunt Millie. She’s just really old.
Despite what outsiders might say, I do understand love. I have one love. One that is steady, pure, and true. Folks call them redwoods and they reach into the sky and tower above like gifts from giants. They protect me from dangers that might at any moment fall, from strangers that sometimes pass barefoot and hungry with eyes that brim with cold. And from my small but aching heart. The trees are strong and old, but not great aunt Millie—old, they’re wise and know more than any human. They whisper to me when the breeze is soft and low. I put my palms on their trunks and lean in real close. Some of these giants have heads three hundred feet above my own, yet somehow, they know I’m here. And if I hold my breath and concentrate real hard, I can feel my way to the pulse. Redwoods don’t speak like aspens, cottonwoods or alders all hurried and fickle, the leaves falling over each other to get noticed. Redwoods speak from their core. The librarian told me it’s called the heartwood. It sits inside the thickest part, close to the ground, where the giant is attached to the earth, intertwined in an ancient agreement, unrecognized by most folks. The trees grow close together, in groups, supporting each other like family. And some days, I will admit, I’m jealous. Their roots grow around each other like a really slow hug.
There are some redwoods, who, through the tortures of time and fires long past have a hollowed out center. Perhaps that’s what papa felt like. I heard he died a few months back. It doesn’t seem fair. He’s disappeared somewhere under ground. But the hollowed trees still stand, gapping wounds and all, the branches far above are green, and the tops spend their days in the sky. They stand watch while, Stellers Jays, woodpeckers and the occasional eagle fly up overhead spiraling into the light. And at night we listen to the Great Horned Owls. When I hear them, it’s as if their calling me home…Oh! And the Dusky Footed Wood-rats, a religiously solitary breed (I learned that from the librarian too), sometimes pause for me to say hello then scamper away under dense fern leaves.
Now I don’t want you to think I have no friends besides trees. I do. Friends who have big plans outside of this small town. Plans to leave as soon as school is done. They tell me they will grow longer legs and run the distance it takes to forget this place. But I’ll be happy if my legs stay short and stout. I love this grey world that nearly every day wears a cloak of fog. It keeps us hidden from the rest of the world. And this town, my town, is protected by the ancient sentinels that will still stand, long after I am dead and gone.
I will never leave. A redwood doesn’t fit in a pocket. I can’t drag my old red wagon out here and cart away the forest’s breath or the scent of the damp earth beneath my feet. No. I will stay here, under this canopy of trees that remembers times long ago. Before mamma died. And maybe these trees will remember me, too, someday. I will stay here, where mamma sometimes walked. They said she talked to herself and stood still a lot. Perhaps one day I will hear her voice come buzzing out from the heartwood or trickle from the sap.
And if you’d ever like to meet me, not that I need anymore friends, but if you’d like too…you will know when you see me. I will be here on these green mossy paths, and in the spaces in between, listening for memories and breathing long and slow with the glorious trees…until I finally hear the beating of my heart and feel the soft ascent of angel’s wings.
For the image above, and other artwork I created inspired by my short stories, please visit my artist page on Redbubble.