Bourbon Penn 13


by Amy Parker

It starts as a smudge on the bottom of your foot, a bright little smudge of nothing-special blue.

Damn, you think, and you almost mean it. I must have stepped in something. It’s sandal weather, and the sensible explanation is that your ratty little flip-flops didn’t guard your feet as well as sensible shoes would. The sensible reaction is annoyance, and concern about what you’ll track on the bathroom floor.

But you can’t stay entirely sensible looking at the blue. There’s something about it, the intensity of the color, the richness, the strength. You think “royal blue” and “ultramarine”, although you don’t know color words. It feels royal. It feels powerful. It feels grand. And the toeprint marks it leaves as you stroll down the hall are not, whatever you may tell yourself, a horrible mess. They’re the best thing that’s happened to a hallway since you were a kid and drew dinosaurs on the wall.

You wash though, grumbling a bit, just for show. You’ve put so much into learning how to be a sensible adult, you’re not about to give in at the first blue smudge. The blue is strangely dry and powdery, but when you run the water over it, it doesn’t wash off. It turns into a tempting pasty stuff and you feel a strange urge to smear it on the tiled wall. Then it dissolves in the water, spreading like ink, and you think it’s starting to go. But you rub and you scrub, and underneath there’s just more blue.

You put your rattiest slippers on and decide to deal with it in the morning.

• • •

The blue won’t go though, and won’t be dealt with, either. It doesn’t fade and it doesn’t wash; it just spreads its crumbly smudginess along wider patches of your big toe. You wear close-toed shoes to work in hot weather, and consider a doctor’s appointment, but somehow you never get around to it. Procrastination, you tell yourself. Too busy. Too worried it might be something bad.

But that isn’t it at all.

• • •

You first notice it on your fingers when you’re out lunching with Izzy, Stacy, and Cat. Stacy’s being dull today, rambling on about her fancy new boyfriend and his fancy new car. But you’ve blown off the most recent spa day, not wanting to explain why half your foot looks like it’s covered in blue eyeshadow, so now you have to sit and nod along if you’re going to keep up your Proper Adult Social Life with Proper Adult Friends.

“Look at the mess you’re making, Sarah!” Izzy exclaims. “What have you got on your hands?”

You look down, and there it is, smudging up the napkin, blue.

“Here.” Izzy holds her hand out. “Let me deal with it.” She pulls out one of her ubiquitous baby wipes. You’re not sure if it’s the baby or if she’s always been like this, but Izzy holds the firm belief that she’s everyone’s mother, and fully entitled to go after you with a wipe, a comb, or a spitty tissue if you’re not put together enough for her liking. “What is this stuff? It’s getting everywhere.”

“Paint,” you say. “It’s from an art class.” That’s not quite a Proper Adult Explanation, but it’s close.

“An art class?” Stacy asks.

Cat smiles. “That’s nice.”

“I don’t know,” says Stacy. “That sort of thing always seems so sad. I mean, the people who are going to make it as painters have been studying for years by now. At this point, the best you’ll ever be is second-rate. Why bother?”

“Stacy, don’t be a bitch.” Izzy doesn’t look up from her determined effort to wipe your finger clean. “I can’t believe this stuff. How much is there?”

“It’s very concentrated pigment,” you say. “A little bit goes a long way, and I put my finger right in the jar.” Paint comes in jars, right? You hope that’s true.

Izzy wipes a bit more, then passes you a fresh wipe. “Here. Wrap this around your finger. It’ll at least keep it off the tablecloth.”

You wind it around like you’re bandaging a cut.

“I think it’s great that you’ve found a creative outlet,” says Izzy. “Even if it is a messy one.”

Cat glances down and taps her fingers on the tablecloth. “I’ve been thinking of taking guitar lessons,” she says.

You stifle a relieved sigh as everyone moves on.

• • •

The blue gets on your work blouse, and you wrap it with a bit of tissue, grumbling mentally as you awkwardly fasten your one remaining clean bra.

You grumble a bit more inside your head as you slide on your socks and a shower of blue powder scatters on the carpet. The grumbling is very important. If you’re annoyed with it enough, the blue will go away. And if you keep reminding yourself to grumble and complain, eventually you will be properly annoyed.

Unfortunately, only half of that equation is true. A little flicker of joy wells up every time you see the powder, and with every moment of distracted pleasure, it spreads.

You slide on a pair of gloves, grab a heavier jacket than you’d like, and try to pretend you’re just cold.

• • •

You put in about two days’ worth of actual work time, which, with careful use of sick time and strategic slacking between the files, makes it look like you’ve been coming in for nearly a full week. The blouses get hopeless after the second day, and then for three days you’ve got that one work-appropriate blue dress where the powder doesn’t show. You expect stares and whispers after wearing the same thing three days running, but instead it’s all compliments about how perfectly the color matches your eyes.

You avoid looking too carefully in the mirror. Last time you checked, your eyes were brown.

You quit your job, finally, when it starts coming in through your hair. Showing up in a cubicle with blue hair can only end in tedium and far too many questions, so you lie and say you got a better offer somewhere else.

What you have is enough money saved to pay two months’ rent and groceries, enough vacation so you don’t have to show up for your two weeks’ notice, and time. Time when no one expects anything of you. Time when no one’s making sensible demands.

You have time, and you have blue.

You doodle at first, on that pad of paper you keep by the phone, but it’s too small, much too small. You consider buying big paper, or canvas, or something like that, but that involves art supplies and shopping. The art supply shops probably wouldn’t mind about your blue hair, or even your blue hands, but every time you step out the door, you get stopped by fear. Okay, so there’s no reason to assume some painter buying canvas will break you down and crumble you up for pigment, but a ringing certainty in your head keeps repeating You’ll be caught, and in the end you stay home.

So you order paper online and scrawl happily, and order and scrawl, until your keyboard breaks from the powder falling off your fingers. Then it’s walls, and windows, in patterns that leave your apartment full of shifting blue light. You paint dinosaurs and spaceships and those weird crystal blue aliens that you always imagine inside your head. You paint jagged towers and soft, blooming things you saw in undersea documentaries. Your blue spreads in fat finger-strokes and careful tracings with the edge of a nail. Your blue spreads thin, your hands wet from the bath, leaving watercolor traces. Your blue spreads in thick, stormy curls, leaving fat wave-marks in a drawn-on sea. Your blue spreads down your wrists and up your thighs, and onto the round stomach and breasts of the woman you draw over the mirror.

Your blue spreads.

Blue, you spread.

• • •

After a week, Cat uses the spare key to come in.

“Sarah?” she calls. “Are you home? Are you okay?” She stops when she sees the paint, and begins wandering through the halls, following your bright blue trail.

“Sarah, where are you?”

You fight a giggle, because you’re right there, she’s looking right at you, and she’s acting like you’re invisible, instead of as far from invisible as you can be.

“Sarah?” Cat asks. She stops in front of the window. “Ooh!” She reaches out to touch it, then stops just before she does.

She snaps a few pictures with her phone, then turns, scribbles a short note on the remains of the phone notepad, and finally leaves. She doesn’t touch the walls, sadly, but she’s wearing those strappy gold-colored sandals she loves, and you almost laugh out loud as you sneak in under her heel.

She’s back in her apartment before she notices you. “Damn,” she says, but with a trace of a smile. “I must have stepped in some blue.”

Amy Parker is a writer from Oregon. A world traveler who has lived on three continents, she currently resides in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is her first traditionally-published work.