Sasha woke in the morning and thought about blue. The bottles of green and yellow paint were her first ports of call on the hardboard shelf in her studio. It wasn’t really a studio. It was the living room of her house but she and Daniel didn’t need a living room. The wide front window looked out on the yellowy, decaying street whilst she painted pictures and Daniel… where was Daniel?
At this time in the morning, lorries began trundling past, taking one bit of the island to another bit of the island. They usually stopped at ten. She watched them as she boiled the kettle and imagined the island not being anywhere it used to be. She made ginger tea and sat upon the dirty, paint-spattered cushions in the corner of the room, thinking about blue.
She wanted her own blue. She wanted a blue that was luminous, deep, full of energy and absorbent. She needed a blue for her paintings so that her paintings could be special. She wanted her paintings different from the paintings of the other people on the island. She wanted paintings that said wow to all the hunchbacks and jiminees coming on their daytrips. More, the paintings had to be beautiful, more beautiful, really beautiful like the wonders of her thought and the pictures inside her head.
The bottles of paint, she realised, were not enough. She had begun experimenting with plant extracts, shampoos, dust, anything to make the blue her blue. There had been some triumphs but still she wanted more. Bluer blue. More blue blue.
She made some eggs. Would they help, with texture? She kept a couple of them back for the paint mix, deciding to throw everything in today. Today would be a no-holds-barred day, a crazy day. That’s what she felt like. Her omelette tasted good and made her strong. A lorry rattled the house but not too badly. Her body wanted quick stretching before she began her work. When she did start, her hands moved quickly, with tremendous focus, taking her quickly to the point she had reached yesterday. She mixed in the eggs with the glue-like paint, her vigorous arms pounding hard with the wooden stick. Would this work? She dolloped some on the paper, but it didn’t do anything more than yesterday.
In the corner of the room were some flowers. On an impulse she stole some reddish-purple petals and crushed them. In they went. She worked like this for a couple of hours, mixing and remixing, trying crazy stuff, all sorts of foods and plants around the house. The lorries stopped rolling by and the street decayed a little more.
Just before lunch, Daniel and another kid turned up. The kid’s name was Hennie. She watched them lolloping like young teenage boys up the concrete path towards the house. Hennie walked straight in the front door but Daniel, what a shy terror, he slid onto the outside bench under the window.
‘Hey, Mrs T, how are you?’ Hennie said, plonking himself into her cushions whilst she stood at the mixing table.
‘I’m fine, Hennie, welcome, sit down!’ She didn’t trust Hennie. This was from a sense that Hennie was too clever for her, and also his strange manner.
‘I rescued Daniel again,’ he said.
‘Oh really, why’d he need rescuing?’
‘The usual. He’s trying to escape.’
‘Escape from what?’
‘From you Mrs T, from the island, from his own body.’
‘That’s an interesting theory, Hennie, how do you escape your own body?’
‘By killing yourself.’
Sasha saw that Hennie himself was an unusual colour. He was more yellow than pink. His great big white eyes looked at her for signs of shock. She put her finger in the blue and smeared the thick dollop on a piece of scrap paper.
‘You see, Mrs T, Danny boy loves the ocean so he goes down there and lies in it and he forgets he’s in the ocean and it takes him out past the reef and he just lies there as if he’ll end up in America if he just lies there. I have to rescue him. Sometimes the police rescue him.’
‘Why don’t you just leave him alone?’
‘He needs guidance Mrs T. He needs the firm smack of government.’
‘Ouch,’ Sasha laughed and giggled to herself.
‘Don’t you think it’s irresponsible for you to have no pension?’ Hennie asked. Sasha sighed.
She often had moments herself when suicide was uppermost in her mind. She had tried charcoal once, putting the small tray of charcoal in the corner of the garage, but instead of lighting it she had looked at the mini-asteroids of dark, cold fire and they were so beautiful they had saved her. Easy as that. Daniel was her son, she reckoned, and suicidal tendencies must be genetically passed from her to him. She wasn’t sure about her son. He was too quiet.
‘You mean a nice house in the Alps?’
‘No, I mean an accumulation of money that provides an income when you can no longer work due to old age.’
‘I have barely enough to live on, let alone save.’
‘You should get a job, Mrs T. There are always jobs in the supermarket. Then Daniel could have some nice clothes.’
The yellow boy came from somewhere she didn’t really understand. He was beyond her, she thought. His blunt straight questions, as though he had been absorbing the opinions of others, didn’t really upset her. She was too strong to be upset. When she was too old to work, she would throw herself upon the mercy of the earth and it would eat her alive.
‘You don’t have to be a slave Hennie. You can be a free man and live a life of bravery and daring.’
‘But surely that’s simply opposition, not freedom. Freedom is doing everything. Only God has freedom. We should attach ourselves to God.’
Try to keep up, Sasha, she told herself. Don’t get left on the start line.
‘If God is freedom, don’t you think he would appear before me in the guise of a dragon, to reassure me of his existence and provide me solace.’
“God is cruel Mrs T. Ask Daniel. He’ll tell you some stories.”
Slippery little bugger, she thought.
‘Hennie, I am working to pay for my pension. Why don’t you guys go down to the library and read a book.’
‘I’ve read them all. Wisdom isn’t in books.’
‘You’re a pain in the arse, Hennie. Go on, take Daniel away and lose him somewhere.’
‘What are you trying to do?’
‘I’m making a blue colour.’
‘Weirdo,’ he laughed, got up swiftly and went out of the door.
Sasha spent the rest of the day reviewing her conversation with Hennie. She could have been wittier. She might have been more engaging. She imagined herself talking to the extremely conservative governess of the island.
‘Neglect is important in the development of a child,’ she said.
The blue colour was not going well. It was too dark. It wasn’t right. She found some felt tip pens, broke them open and scraped the ink into the bowl. That just made things darker. The blue was getting darker today and she didn’t know what to do about it. It was like she wasn’t in charge or she was abdicating her responsibility. She made the blue almost black and painted a dark and twisted sky, a sky no hunchback would dream of buying. The sky trembled on the painting between day and night. It didn’t know what it wanted to be.
Tired, she fried potatoes and onions and drank down some orange juice, refusing to have wine, red dark wine, in the house anymore.
The lorries woke her next morning, shaking the house as they moved lumps of stone about. She rubbed her eyes. The governess of the island kept prodding her, in the way that famous politicians have, to get up and make something of herself. To be a famous artist of beauty and wild abandon. She got up and walked around the house. Daniel hadn’t come home again. She wondered if he was dead this time. Cheap panic ruined her guts. She resisted the stupid emotion and sure enough, when the lorries stopped rumbling, Daniel and Hennie turned up. She watched them walk up the path like a couple of stray dogs. Hennie was carrying something wrapped in cloth. When they got to the top of the path, Daniel ran off around the house. Hennie came in the door. Sasha’s heart began beating faster.
‘Hi Mrs T,’ Hennie shouted too loudly at her.
‘What’s that?’ she said, pointing at the cloth bundle.
Hennie was less purple today, more dark red like a ripe cherry.
He unwrapped the bundle. It was a jam jar, full with blue liquid.
‘I made this for you Mrs T. It’s blue. I made it at the school.’
He passed it over to her. She looked at the jar with a frown and opened the lid.
‘Thank you Hennie,’ she said.
‘It’s the best blue I could come up with.’
‘It looks like a good blue,’ she said.
It was certainly a great blue. She instantly grabbed up a brush and put some onto paper. It was a brilliant blue. It was almost the blue she was looking for.
‘How did you make this?’ she said sharply.
‘I don’t know. I just put stuff in. Paint and things.’
‘What things? I want you to remember.’
Hennie smiled a big suspicious smile and went to sit on the cushions.
‘I don’t remember,’ he said and she knew he was lying.
‘It would be great if you could,’ she said. She wasn’t hopeful. Devil child, she thought.
‘Just some paint from the school and some chalk.’
Chalk, she hadn’t thought about chalk. That was it. Chalk was the thing to make the hunchbacks straighten up.
‘And some special ingredients,’ he said rapidly. But he had given too much away.
‘Get lost Hennie,’ Sasha said with confidence. She knew what to do now.
‘You won’t be able to get the blue,’ Hennie protested. He realised he had carelessly thrown his advantage away.
‘Fuck off, get out you little fucking git,’ Sasha screamed. She grabbed him by the elbow and threw him out of the house. She loved her physical dominion over teenage boys. The two boys stood outside the house and laughed and ran off.
A few months later, the money started coming in like big blue waves on the beach, regularly and irresistibly into her front room. A hunchback had noticed her new blue and was selling it in Dubai for a lot of money. The money changed her. She thought of herself as successful and she realised she didn’t like her son, Daniel. How could she get rid of him? Anything other than straight neglect would be a crime so, simply, she ignored him. He seemed happy enough with this arrangement, increasingly staying away until he didn’t come back. Maybe, she thought, he didn’t like her either.
A few years later she was living in a large apartment in San Francisco. Money had helped her find agreement within herself with the notion that she did not want to live upon an island ever again. She looked back upon that time with horror. All that hideous sea strangling her. The blue had taken her so far, and she had managed to repeat the trick with green. Now she was trying red.
She looked out the window. The sky was darkening. Her experiments with red were not going well. The chalk was not working its magic as it had with the blue and the green. Orders of chalk from different manufacturers lay abandoned in her rooms. Seeps of red chalk dust lined one skirting board in her studio. She wanted to know if her maid would be coming later. She phoned her.
‘Are you coming later?’
‘Why fucking not? Come over! I want the place cleaned.’
‘I am not coming ma’am, my son is ill.’
Sasha slammed the phone down. The maid was a useless whore.
As increasingly was her wont, Sasha handed herself over to alcohol, which made her feel better and helped her creativity. She painted much more effectively when drunk: her sales improved dramatically. The alcohol allowed her to discover a small cheap mouse within her, active and restless, who kept working at things until they were right. She was an alcoholic first, then a workaholic. The red remained elusive. If she didn’t capture a new colour soon, she would fade from existence like pipe tobacco or snuff.
Her hands struggled with the plastic tap of a new three litre box of pinot noir. She possessed an extra-large wine glass, which held nearly a pint of wine. Once she had extracted the black tap from its housing, she filled the glass to the brim and glugged the wine down rapidly. The wine was wonderful in her soul. It lifted her and bought her to the edge of ecstasy. Finally she painted. The paint went on rapidly, with only small errors of judgement that no-one ever noticed, and the paint was smooth and complex like time. A step back from her easel persuaded her of another masterpiece worth $40,000. She set up another canvas within an instant and began another painting, stopping only to refill her wine glass. She was so happy.
There was a knock at the door. It was a loud, confident knocking consisting of three knocks. She ignored it but it persisted. When it repeated a third time she went to answer it.
Outside was a man in a mask. It was a grotesque negro mask, a mould of racist sentiment with thick lips and Neanderthal brows. The eyes beneath the mask looked at her.
‘I have bought you red,’ the man proclaimed in a deep, theatrical voice.
He was a big man, enormous actually in his dark leather jacket and dark jeans. He held up a bundle of cloths in which was wrapped a jar of red.
‘How did you find me Hennie?’ she guessed.
‘Daniel is dead. That is what I have come to say,’ the man continued.
‘That old chestnut. Ha ha,’ she replied, supping some more wine which tasted horrible to her.
‘God directed me.’
‘More chestnuts. Do you want to see my chestnuts Hennie?’ She cradled her breast with one hand. The man came into the room and sat at the table, putting the bundle at the centre of the wooden table and placing his hands around it as though protecting it from her. Through the mask she could see his nervous eyes.
‘I wanted to come because I am your conscience,’ he said.
‘What?’ she said.
‘I’m here to remind you of the past and to hold you to account.’
The wine was confusing her brain. She thought she was fine yet she was far from fine.
‘What? What did you say?’
‘You killed your son, you stole your greatest achievement from someone else, and grew rich upon it. You are evil.’
‘I’m not evil. I’m a free woman. I’m free.’
‘Free like a wild beast is free, only caged by its hideous nature.’
The breathing of the man beneath the mask was laboured and wheezy.
‘You are doing this because I’m a woman. A powerful woman. You religious nuts are all the same!’
‘You are not powerful. Only God is powerful.’
‘Why, why this God shit?!’
‘He’s the best available option. We will always meet him, whichever way we turn. I realised this early on.’
She stumbled back from the table and was able to collect enough of herself to see the absurdity of the situation.
‘You little shit, take off that mask, take off the mask.’ She leapt forward at the man to seize his mask from him, but he slipped back away from her lunge and drew his great fist back and when she awoke she was mentally sub-normal. Her brain had been damaged by the great fist battering her face. The frontal lobes had been thrown out of alignment. Her brain was rebounded into the back of her skull and distorted from the shape she could not recover. She lost cognitive and motion function and her memory was blurred and uneven. Her eye was damaged and her face bruised so that people who knew her could no longer recognise her. She was another female victim of senseless and obsessive male and religious violence, of which there are 450,000 every day.
It is difficult to say what she knew of herself. She struggled up from the floor in pain. Whether she even remembered her attacker is not known. Light now came into her brain as a polluted fluid and she struggled to see what was around her. She could feel the table that maybe she recognised as ‘table’. There was a red shape on the table and she clasped it and would not let it go. She wandered out of the house. She had a very calm expression on her face. She went down to the street and began to wander the streets of San Francisco clutching her red jar. She wandered around like a tourist or an old man who had nothing to do or a boy who has run away. She did this for four days and four nights until she got onto a ferry back to the island. How she knew to get onto the ferry or how she even ate I don’t know, she just did it, I’m sorry for your objections. Maybe she heard a voice from nature, or a seagull cry in the soft wind and the different atmosphere of the sea that draws us in like a heaven tugged at what remained of her being. Maybe people, beloved of the stories of old, saw her as an idiot savant, and fed her. Or they were frightened of her appearance, and pushed her away with a hot dog or a giant soda in her hand, hoping that would satisfy her. It is hard to say. Very hard. I too am crying now and clutching at my own red jar.
Hard too was the noise of the lorries on the island. They were taking one bit of the island to another bit of the island. Their diesel rumblings were a feature of the island now. The locals had grown used to them. They went along the road and the people would have been upset had they stopped and the island returned to its natural state. It would have been as though electricity had stopped flowing to heat and light their homes. Who knew what Sasha thought about them as they passed too close to her as she walked along the road clutching her jar? Her brain was inaccessible. Possibly the word Daniel, but Daniel existed in her brain like a cup made of green china, very fine and delicate, or like a huge rhinoceros caught in a small wooden crate, trapped between moments of terror and moments of calm, or the sense of the atmosphere of the planet Saturn, with its rings of asteroids and endless violent events. The lorries threw up dust which settled on her hair and inside her mouth and ears. Their massive presence every twenty minutes shook what remained of her being. Her underwear was dirty, full of shit and piss. Like the island, she was no longer where she was meant to be.
At the beach she waded into the sea clutching her red jar and floated herself on the sea as though her amoeba mind wanted to find some warm fluid to take her away. The waves came in and went out. Her body floated on the beautiful sea which held her and took her away from the island suddenly, strongly. It was powerful like the music from James Bond. It overwhelmed her. She struggled and the blue was everywhere, all around her. A terrifying and eternal blue.
Image credit: Pulseman