Shades of Bleu
The woman I was supposed to have become approached me the other evening. I suspected her arrival, the day I found wheat germ in my pantry. But I hadn´t expected her so soon.
She walked out of my bathroom dressed in a terry cloth robe, smelling from bubble bath and musk.
"Hi Maxie girl," she said.
"You still don´t like that name?"
For the past twenty years I´ve been calling myself Max. Or Maxine, if the situation warranted a more formal name or clarification of my sex.
"It´s better than Maxie pad," I said, remembering how hard it was to shed my high school nickname. "But not much."
"It´s only a name," the woman answered. "You can call me Bleu."
Maxine Bleu Weingart. That´s my full name. After high school I enrolled in college as Bleu M. Weingart. I´d had enough of the Maxi jokes. BMW. Perhaps I had cursed myself with those initials.
"You are looking well," Bleu said. Her lips turned up slightly at the edges, as she spoke the words I was thinking.
She did look well, better than that. She looked fantastic.
The lines on her face were the same as mine. Small ones around the eyes when she smiled. A few creases near the corner of her mouth. Still, there was an obvious difference. Something I didn’t possess. Contentment, perhaps. Fulfillment. Anticipation.
Yes, that´s what I would have to call it. Unlike me she still looked at everything’s potential, seeing things as they were and at the same time, as they could be. Seeing not only the shape of things, but what lay beyond.
As Bleu’s eyes fell on the menorah caked with old wax, I knew she was wondering what kept the owner too busy to scrap away last year´s drippings. Seeing the pile of papers threatening to topple onto the floor, Bleu would ask herself how long would they sit there? And was that dried red rose in the empty vase left there on purpose? Or was the owner too afraid or perhaps too depressed to throw it away?
And she was definitely studying the lighting. The right lighting was as important to Bleu as the right words. It brought you into the heart and soul of things, carried you into what was important.
I remember that- that search for the perfect light. I remember following lines and shapes until I became the object I was looking at. Be it a beach ball, a partially shaded kitchen table, or windshield wipers working at high speed to clear the window of the falling snow.
Now, I saw only flatness.
My husband says I´m changing.
"You´ve been expecting me," Bleu said. "I found this in the refrigerator." She held up the bottle of Boones farm Apple Wine. "Care to join me?"
My husband says I´m becoming forgetful. He didn´t buy the Boonesfarm Apple wine. So I must have.
How can I make him understand that it wasn´t me? At least not the "me" I am today.
God forbid, I should drink apple wine. I´d wake up with a hangover longer than the city block I walk to work everyday.
You´ve become so distracted, he says. What are you thinking about?
How can I tell him, I´m thinking about her?
"That stuff will give me a headache," I said.
As Blue sipped her wine, I tasted its sweetness against my tongue. It carried me away from this four bedroom house, and south toward Mission Beach, settling me inside the small living room with the cracked front window. I felt the creases of the Indian Print rug underneath my legs while Knights in White Satin played on the stereo. Moody Blues. Everyone´s favorite.
What the hell. I poured myself a glass. Bleu smiled. "It´ll probably give me a headache, too," she said. "I drink red wine now. Usually a cabernet."
"Me, too," I said, holding my glass for a toast.
That first night she stayed less than an hour. We didn´t talk much. We watched each other think. After she left, I dumped the rest of the wine and made myself a martini. Ketel One Vodka, two olives, one onion, extra dry.
A few minutes later, I found myself in my studio. I hadn´t painted anything in over a year. Anything meaty, that is. I´d dabbled in oils. Painted a few watercolors for birthday and Hanukah gifts. Simple sunsets. Seagulls and waves. What everyone expects in a beach scene. But nothing much. Nothing of myself.
I was staring at an unfinished sunset, (when had I started this?) at the red streak above the too blue sea, when the phone rang.
"Hi Mom." It was my son. "I have a proposition."
What happened to - How are you? What’ve you been doing? How’s Dad?
"I’m here. Go on."
Red. Red was good for motion. Red wagon. Red train. Red whistle. When I was trying to illustrate children´s book, I used a lot of red. Neal always loved my red drawings.
"So, what do you think?"
"What? I´m sorry, honey."
"Dad´s right," Neal said. "There is something wrong with you, isn´t there?"
I turned my back on the watercolors. "No, and what did your father say?"
"Nothing. Listen, I think it would be a good idea if we had Thanksgiving here. You can all drive up on Wednesday. We have plenty of space. Jessie and Ellie can have the den. You and dad can have our room."
Thanksgiving up north. With Neal´s new wife Maya and most likely her crazy family. Did he want to start a new tradition? Change everything just because his grandparents, my parents were gone.
"Tell me what your father said."
"Neal." He was never good with secrets.
I could hear him take a sip of something.
"He just thinks you’re drifting a lot, you know, not always with it."
"It’s hard," I said. "First holidays are always hard. First everything’s are hard. Sometimes getting up is hard."
"I know, Mom. That´s why I think you should come up here."
I told him I´d think about it. We talked about the weather for a few minutes. About Jessie´s part time job at the newspaper. And Eleanor´s sprained ankle. As usual, Neal argued that Ellie needed to be more careful. And that Jessie needed to stop changing her major and graduate already.
I half listened, as I always do when Neal starts in, told him I loved him and would think about Thanksgiving.
But I´d already made up my mind.
Somewhere in this messy studio should be a clean canvas. Whatever size.
I didn´t quite know what I was going to paint. But I could feel an image taking shape, beneath my thoughts, beneath logical thinking, faraway from the kids and their problems, my parents, my husband. Deep inside me where there are no words, only feelings, shapes, colors, lines, shadings.
I picked up the first book I had ever illustrated. "Promising show of colors...child´s way of seeing the world."
An illustrator at a children´s conference had written that about my work. During our half hour time together, she had encouraged me.
The fifty rejections that followed had nearly destroyed me before bringing me to my husband.
We met at a party twenty-five years ago where neither of us really belonged. I had canceled a date with a guy I was sleeping with. There wasn´t much else between us and so I didn´t feel bad about calling him at the last minute when a girl I knew from work asked me if I wanted to go to this great party at the beach.
Her husband had been killed in a freak accident at work and she was finally ready to get out of the house.
I didn´t know her that well. I hadn’t known her husband at all. And I didn´t really know anything about what she must have been going through during the past year. I only knew she needed a friend on this particular Friday night. I was that friend.
Michael lived next door to the party in a house dwarfed by the three story, six bedroom, five bathroom mansion where I learned parties where held every weekend.
The minute I walked into the crowded, smoky living room I wanted to turn around and leave. My friend seemed comfortable with the stewardesses flitting around the place like fireflies and the pilots trying to catch them.
I kept thinking of that talk the attendants, as they are now called, give about where to put your mask, how to lower it to your face and which exit to use. I found myself wandering around the room when I spotted Michael. He was completely out of place.
He had a beard and longish hair. He carried a beer instead of a cocktail glass. And he looked utterly bored. Either that or so totally in awe of the gorgeous girls passing back and forth that his eyes had glazed over and his mind had followed.
To cure my boredom, I followed and cornered him.
Now it’s a standing joke between us. He says I kept him from meeting the "blonde" of his life.
I used to think he had saved me from myself. Now I’m not so sure.
The second time - Bleu appeared at the kitchen table while I was making an energy drink with bananas, strawberries, raw eggs and wheat germ.
"Make me one too," she said, placing her hands on the table. I noticed the unevenness of her nails, and the dryness around her knuckles. Tinges of yellow and blue paint on the pads below her thumbs. An astrologer once told me the puffier the pad, the hornier the person.
I studied my own hands. Nails a faint pink, rounded and smooth. I wanted to hide them behind my back as soon as I poured the frothy drinks from the blender.
"Remember these?" I held up my pale pink drink.
"How could I forget?"
We used to make energy boosters while we studied for finals. Of course, we often added mind altering drugs to the mixture. Which was probably the active factor in our staying awake all night. Not the wheat grass.
Bleu raised her drink. "To you, Maxie girl."
I took a sip. The liquid went down smoothly, all the way to that place were yesterdays are kept.
I heard splashing and laughing and I saw the sun bouncing off the raft that drifted aimlessly across the pool.
"What are you thinking?" Bleu asked.
"I was swimming with the kids. Swimming and laying around with the pool with them."
"How are they, your children?"
"Neal is married. Happy, I suppose. He graduated from UCLA. He´s an accountant."
Bleu nodded. Numbers and columns were things she never liked. Never understood them the way I had.
"Jessie´s still at UCSB. She keeps changing her major. This year it´s journalism. And Eleanor will graduate next year and who knows what she´ll do. She´s an artist, you know."
"She´s good," I said.
"I´m not surprised."
"Have you decided about Thanksgiving?" my husband asked as I cleared away the dirty dishes.
We hadn´t talked much during dinner. It´s easier for him to talk to me while I´m in motion, doing something, some menial task that keeps my hands busy.
"I don´t want to go." I hung a wet dish towel over the bar on the stove.
"The kids will be disappointed." My husband came up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders.
"Not the girls. They want to stay here. This is where we always are."
"You´re wrong, Max."
I crumbled. "I know. We´re usually at my parents."
My tears soaked his shirt and left me dehydrated. I opened the fridge thinking that I was going to pour a glass of orange juice, but instead I took out a bottle of water and carried it into the living room.
Michael followed me. "We have to talk about this. It’s good to talk."
"Later," I said. I got up from the couch and went into my studio.
There’s nothing as frightening and yet as exciting as an empty canvas. That’s how I used to feel. Right now, I felt neither. Just this horrible ache for my parents, for the way things were last year and the fifty ones before that. It seemed so unfair that both my mother and father had died within months of each other.
If I could only hear my mother’s voice or my father’s uneven snoring. If only I could feel my mother’s soft lips on my cheek. If only I could touch my father’s bumpy thumb nail. If only I could smell…
If only I could…
"Hey there Maxie girl." Bleu stood off to the side of the room. She wore a long peasant skirt and white blouse.
"Hi." I wiped the tears off my face.
"I like it," she said, nodding to my canvas.
And that’s when I noticed what I had painted. The kitchen where I had grown up, void of people, yet full of movement. You could see that the ketchup bottle on the counter had just been set there. And that the black phone on the desk was about to ring.
If you looked away, the apron hanging on the back of the kitchen chair would slip to the floor. The history book opened to page twenty-five would flip to page twenty-six.
"My God!" My hand flew to my mouth. "I don’t even remember doing this."
"Have you just been standing there? Watching me?" I asked, running my fingers over the bottom of the painting, over the tiled floor stained with coffee.
Bleu didn’t answer.
"I really don’t remember," I said.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the painting. My legs wobbled slightly and I used the back of a chair to steady myself. But even that wouldn’t hold me up. I slumped to the floor.
Bleu sat cross-legged next to me.
"Why did I give this all up?" I asked.
"You didn’t give it up. You put it aside, that’s all," Bleu massaged my shoulders. "And I’ll let you in on a little secret. You wouldn’t have been able to paint that," she pointed her thumb toward my kitchen scene, "if not for the life you’ve had."
"There’s no maybe about it. I’ve been an artist all my life, but I haven’t really progressed that much. There’s a lot I can’t bring to the canvas. Those things that haven’t touched my heart."
I wanted to say something, but my eyelids grew heavy. While Bleu kept on talking about our college days and freedom and the family she never had, I curled up on the carpet and closed my eyes.
Michael woke me at 3:30 in the morning. His hand was on my shoulder, shaking gently.
"Have you been up here all night?" he asked. A waft of bourbon fell across my face.
"I guess so," I said. "Have you been drinking all night?"
"Of course not. I fell asleep on the couch and you didn’t wake me up to get ready for bed, so that’s where I’ve been."
The thought of him, passed out on the sofa and me on the floor, made me smile. We’ve fallen into patterns and when one of us breaks the routine, the other becomes lost. And it wasn’t such a bad thing.
"Maxine?" Michael glanced over to the canvas.
"What?" I said, forcing myself to sit up.
"Did you do all that tonight?" He walked up to the painting and then back about ten feet. "It’s awesome."
Michael raised his shoulders. "Isn’t that what the girls would say?"
We stood side by side, studying what I had been possessed to create. There really wasn’t any other word for it. I had morphed into someone else, someone had taken control of my senses and created this work of art.
Certainly the woman who woke up this morning, handed her teenager lunch money, walked to work, balanced books, cooked a pasta dinner, was not the same person who painted this picture.
"It’s fantastic, really, honey. I mean…I’m shocked."
"That I can paint?"
"No, that all this came out of you last night."
"Me too," I said. "I think it was her."
"No one." I took my husband’s hand. "Let’s go to bed."
The last time Bleu came to visit I was soaking in a tub full of lavender oils. Candles lined the window sill. A glass of champagne waited for me on the rim.
"You know what my son asked me?" I said.
Bleu sat on the toilet seat, watching me. "I can only guess."
"He wants to know if I’m taking anything for what’s bothering me. What’s making me feel different. He wants to make sure I’m okay when we come up there."
"Kids." Bleu smiled.
I slipped my paint-stained fingers into the warm bathwater. Then I closed my eyes, leaned my head against the edge and slipped under the water up to my neck.