I sit at my best friend’s table fumbling with my words as if they’re marbles. They slide out in all directions. My sentences are hectic. They race about bumping into each other with no regard for order. I’m not making sense but my mouth is working so quickly my brain can’t catch up. I force myself to stop talking. I focus on the splintered wood of the table, on the bubbles trapped in the green liter of seltzer water, then on the bottle of wine Teresa’s pulled from the crate left over from her wedding. Since we sat down she’s been nodding and saying the obligatory ‘uh-huh’s’ to my non-sensical ramblings but she’s used to my ways and I can tell she’s distracted. I slow my breath, timing it to the snoring of the old lab at my feet. His exhales come out slow and uncertain with a slight fluttering of the lips. I exhale with him and continue to scan the table. There are blueberries sitting in a chipped bowl, puckered and angry. They remind me of the skin around my grandfather’s mouth. I pick one up and wonder how it found its way into Teresa’s pottery-class reject dish. I’ve never known her to eat things that grow.
“I wouldn’t eat those Stace. I think they’ve started to turn.” Teresa picks at her teeth with one of the neon pink press on nails that she’s pulled off her fingers over the course of our visit. “Got some left over deviled eggs if you’re hungry.”
“No. Thanks.” I push the bowl of old blue away. Two days ago, blue was my favorite color. When I was little people used to ask what my favorite color was and I’d answer, “Rainbow!”. They’d say, “You can’t say that! Rainbow isn’t a color. You have to pick one!”. Over the years I’d learned that not all colors are equal. I’ve had to dissect the rainbow, like so many pieces of myself. Sever pieces that I’d once thought equally beautiful, or important. Narrow it down to one. Eventually, I’d landed on blue. But that was as far as I got. Robin’s egg, peacock, baby — any shade could hold the title. It seemed to work for most, “Blue.” Hardly anyone would ask for a particular shade. And as it goes with life, the other colors have been whittled down to only their negative aspects. Red is too violent, yellow too frivolous…but blue, blue has depth. It has allure. Blue makes me feel limitless. I read somewhere that ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue — not Greek, not Hebrew, not Chinese. And that without a word for the color, there is evidence that they may not have seen it at all.
I think of the trunk of my car and wish I’d never seen blue.
I try to find my way back into my conversation with Teresa, but I keep hitting a dead end. How do you tell someone something so big? My hands tremble and I fold them in my lap. Oblivious, Teresa sits across from me inspecting her split ends. I have to tell her. I have to tell someone — don’t I? Years ago, my therapist said something about exploding if you didn’t share heavy things. Or was it drowning? Well, I didn’t want to explode or drown. I’d rather just suddenly disappear. Like a star! Flash across the night sky leaving no trace, just a brief spark of recognition — maybe a jolt of hope even — then nothing. If only I was so lucky. No. I’m destined to be a memory that will haunt people. A story of horror whispered in the aisles of Dan’s Grocery whilst the people I’d known my whole life shopped for Twinkies and cat litter.
There’s a loud squeal and the snotty toddler at Teresa’s feet waddles off excitedly. I watch amazed, and a bit confused, as he picks up some dog poop from the lawn and shoves it in his mouth. Teresa’s up and running immediately. Her fat new-mom legs, a gaggle of dimples that wink and close, wink and close, like a throng of geriatric eyes. She moves at a sprint, leaps a toilet turned planter— her idea of whimsy, in a single bound. In all these years, I’ve never seen her move so quickly. She’s yelling over her shoulder as she goes. “He can’t help it!”
I’m slightly disturbed by the scene, but distracted by everything that’s been spinning in my mind for the past two days, or has it been years? The result is a sense of vertigo and a rhythmic throbbing in my head. I wish I was home watching a movie with Alan the cat. Ours is the only relationship I understand.
Teresa’s got her kid on her hip now and is panting as she dabs a napkin in her wine, then rubs vigorously at his pouty brown lips. “He has Pica.”
I try to focus on my friend but her form and everything around us is blurry, as if I’m separate from it — from the world. Then there’s the blasted blue. It keeps invading my space, off and on for hours now. Like a ghost has shed its aura and affixed it to me with some sort of spooky poltergeist polyethylene. Even the grass is tinted a pale blue. It rolls out like a shaggy sea below my feet.
Teresa is staring at me.
“What did you say?” I ask.
“He has Pica. It’s the,” she squishes her face up the way she tends to when recalling facts that she’s read, “the persistent craving and compulsive eating of nonfood substances.”
“Uh, right. Sure.” I say, unsure of what I should say.
Undeterred Teresa forges ahead. She slides off a flip flop and runs a big ugly toe along the edge, where the cement meets the lawn turned ragged sea. “People aren’t the only ones who do it. Pica’s been observed in other animals, including chimpanzees, you know.”
Teresa has the habit of ending sentences with ‘you know’. When really, I don’t. It makes me feel inadequate. “No kidding?” I sip my wine spritzer, try to steady myself. Are we really having this conversation? What we should be talking about, what I need to talk about, is wearing blue and drenched in blood.
She drops the squirt down to the ground. He runs off in search of more goodies and I’m left to figure out where the hell I was with my story. My stories do have a tendency to go on tangents, take turns I didn’t mean to, occasionally cross bridges that catch fire mid-sentence. They say it has something to do with my issues, but I’m pretty sure I did it when I was a kid too and I don’t remember being crazy then. But maybe that’s what childhood is and I just never outgrew it? I’d never seen an adult eat dog shit, you know?
Teresa yawns. “You were saying something about Phil deciding to leave?” She sits down on the faded patio chair and pulls at her denim shorts. “That’s too bad. I really liked him, you know?”
I swallow too hard and the lawn shifts in a sympathetic wave. “Uh, yeah. Yep. He’s a goner…gone.”
“Stace, you didn’t say why. Clearly he didn’t just up and decide to abandon you after spending a year schlepping your equipment around, doing your laundry and counting your pills for you. Hell, he even bought tampons for you that one time even though he was with all his huntn’ buddies. He loves you.” She pushes the discarded nails into a little pile.
“Yeah, but I didn’t love him.”
“Oh.” Teresa drops her eyes, but the judgment’s there. The verdict handed in. I can hear the gavel banging. The jeers. She lights a candle despite the fact it’s mid-day then folds her arms, “Love. That a prerequisite for you?”
Shouldn’t it be? I watch Teresa run one of the discarded nails through the candle’s flame.
“Well, to begin with he had the annoying habit of breaking into interpretive dance whenever he drank.” I say.
She sighs. “I meant, why do you think he left? Wait. What?”
“Interpretive dance. He never wore spandex or sequins or anything. He mainly gestured a lot and fell to the floor with a flourish.”
Teresa’s staring at me again. She does that a lot. As if she might uncover a clue. Discover the right thing to say or do to make me me again.
“He said the dancing helped him channel his emotions,” I take another giant gulp of wedding Pinot, “I just wish his emotions weren’t so fuckin’ stupid — and colorful,” the panic rises again, “I mean Christ. The last time…the last time I saw him, he put on Morrissey, dressed all in blue and did this number on top of my coffee table where he pretended to put a noose around his neck,” The flames are licking at my heart and climbing up my throat, “…with pizazz of course.”
“Of course.” She says it in an offhand way, but I can tell she’s studying me. Would she be my life preserver? No. Probably not. She has the little poop eater to look after. My friend now lives in the shadow of motherhood. And I am moving farther away. Farther from our childhood — from pajama sleep overs and peanut butter sandwiches on squishy white bread. Farther from our spot at the lake, where shared secrets landed on the surface and rippled out with our laughter. I stare at Teresa and realize for the first time that we’ve been drifting apart for years. Soon, I’d be merely a distant dot visible only when she squinted and shaded her eyes from the sun.
“So, what about Phil?” Her voice makes me jump.
“He ruined blue for me.” I say.
“How awful for you.” She leans back and scratches at a pimple on her chest. “Interpretive dance huh? Like what bored white people do?”
“You’re white.” I say
“You’re bored.” I can tell by her eyebrows. They’re over-plucked.
“Maybe, but I’d never do that. I mean it’s so,” Teresa pauses to light a smoke, “dramatic.”
I’m not sure if she’s referring to the penchant for interpretive dance or the fake suicide bit.
She swallows the rest of her wine, “That’s life though isn’t it, Stace? You end up with a suicidal blueberry dancing in your living room or you have a kid who eats poop and a husband who doesn’t notice.”
Teresa exhales and I’m drowning in blue smoke.
As I drive away from Teresa’s I’m depressed. And not for the reason I should be. I’m bummed about Teresa, about growing up and losing the few ties that once tethered me to this life. I drive on toward the outskirts of town on autopilot. I pass Karson’s Kar Lot filled with rusty cars nobody wants. Next is Bert’s Hardware Store— free popcorn! Then comes the old Peterson house — crooked and cracked and full of sad. Like my grandmother.
I drive past all the familiar places — places I’ve known — felt — my whole life. To others they are just part of town. A simple car lot and stores. I doubt the rust of the cars clogs their veins and threatens to stop their heart, the way it does mine. Normal people have the capacity to ignore the mundane, to live alongside it. Hell, the lucky few even celebrate it — it’s the small stuff! And all that crap. But for me the ordinary, hum drum, reeks of danger. Like an unwanted visit from uncle Bob. A man viewed by local folks as the most terrestrial of Alabamans, unremarkable in both substance and style. But my life would always be marked by him…the visibility of his brand bled through, till even my aura had been shrouded in the smoke of his Marlboros and the crumbs of aunt Bea’s pecan pie that’d stuck to his beard…Ain’t nothin’ a little sugar can’t help darlin’. That was a line he’d stolen from Bea. Everything else, he stole from me.
I never stole from anyone…until now maybe. Did a life count? I suppose it did. I let that sink in further and feel the self I thought I was, or at least wanted to be, move further off.
Being brought up poor gives one two options…borrow or steal. Up ’til now I’d been a faithful borrower. Borrower of clothes, borrower of cars — borrower of love. I’d always given everything back when I was done, slightly rumpled, dented or broken, but the one thing I could proudly say was, I’d always given everything back. In my rear view mirror I can see the hammer I’d borrowed from Theresa, probably purchased from Bert’s, now sitting quietly with its secrets next to an old McDonalds sack and the single flip flop I’d refused to get rid of. I should be hightailing it to Mexico — or digging a grave.
Ahead, there’s an old chair sitting at the end of a long tree lined drive. It doesn’t need a ‘Free’ sign to know they want someone to take it. It’s stained and torn. I pull to the side of the road and stare at the chair. It’s blue. Its leather is cracked, one of the diamond tufts on the back is missing a button and the back-right leg has nearly fallen off. It stares back at me from across the street like a millionaire turned bum asking ‘what the hell you lookin’ at?’ My heart is pumping and despite the chair’s poor attitude I decide I can’t just let it sit here. It reminds me too much of myself.
Before I have time to talk myself out of it, I’m darting out of the car and wrestling the sad chair into my trunk, but I can’t close the back — because the body’s in there too.
Now this is a pickle. I scratch my chin because that’s what people do when they’re trying to solve something, something important. I carefully unwrap the rope from Phil’s blue Converse. All I have to do is tie the chair to the roof! I pull the chair back out of the trunk slamming it firmly shut. And as I try to lift the chair above my head, I hear a noise from behind me. Fuck. Teresa’s husband, Tom, hops out of his Ford F250 like he’s a god. All golden and tall and full of swagger.
“Well, well.” He says, full-on asshole through and through. “Teresa’ll be tickled to hear I ran into her crazy best friend. What you doin’ with that old chair Crazy Stace?” Teresa is, or at least was, my best friend, but anyone who meets her husband thinks she’s crazy too. How could such a sweet gal marry the likes of that Tom Frick fellow? The guy is cut from a cloth that’s all wrong, like someone tried to make a person out of cheap polyester. Tom bumps around the world stomping over people made of cashmere, angora or sugar and is always running with sharp words. Words full of mean, like retard and idiot and fagot. Tom belonged somewhere else. Somewhere ugly. Somewhere where Teresa wasn’t. Yuma maybe.
Now. He waves a thick hand in front of my eyes to get my attention. “Yo! Idiot, you hear me? What the hell are you doing with that?”
I grit my teeth and remind myself there is no more room in the trunk.
“Nothing. It’s free. I’m taking it home.” I try to sound sure.
“Well, did you try to put it in the trunk retard? That’d be easier.” Tom starts walking toward the trunk and I scream, “Holy Fuck!” I do my best interpretation of Tourette’s even though I’ve never had it. What else can I do? Dance moves — with extra flair to seal the deal! I start wiggling my body to music only I can hear. Jazz hands! Stag leap! Tom starts to back up. He acts tough, all cowboy boots and hat, and always saying Jesus this and Jesus that, like they were friends. But, really, he’s a wuss and the only Jesus he knows pronounces it ‘Hey-Suess’.
“Fuck! Shit! Dirty Diaper!” I yell. “Holy Jesus! Crap! And Hallelujah!” I throw my hands up in the air and it’s so…big. I could be showing god how to audition for Bye Bye Birdie. I’m elated, I’m flying high! Then the space around me blurs and I feel a tug, like an undercurrent is threatening to pull me down, and it’s somehow scarier than the flames.
Tom’s features temporarily rearrange — confident, angry, angles have given way to circles — big eyes — big round lips forming an ‘o’.
“Now now, I was just trying to help. Geez, you off your meds or something?” He backs away from me, and my car, and my chair— and Phil. He even gives me a little tilt of the hat. But as he jumps up into that shiny truck of his, he yells, “I’m gonna tell Teresa she needs to find herself some new friends! Jesus, you are fucking crazy!”
“Fuck head!” I grin as he drives off. He leaves me in a cloud of dust, and it’s almost like part of me has dissolved and is dancing with it.
I move the discarded chair to the back of the car and sit facing the trunk trying to ignore the ever-rising smell. The broken leg of the chair gives up and I fall backwards. I don’t bother to get up. I’m one of those deer my step-mom used to say was ‘sleeping’ on the side of the road. A car passes by but doesn’t stop. Perhaps they think I’m dead. Or maybe I’m a shade of blue they have no word for, and they don’t see me at all.
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