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Sport 33: Spring 2005

Something Blue

page 58

Something Blue

Translated by Jean Anderson

He was always looking for something blue; sometimes water, the skin of the sky, but especially women's flesh. He collected translucid blue fish and tiny indigo birds with bright yellow beaks. He shut the fish in the bird cage and plunged the birds into the pool; the fish in the cage tried to fly, jumping into the air but never managing to reach the perches, and the birds a few minutes later drifted down in the depths of the pool, their wings spread and their beaks open, as graceful as little blue mermaids, only with wings instead of a fishtail, and with tiny clawed talons.

This is how it all began: when he was five, there was the woman moored in the reeds, rocking gently just below the surface, and some time later the little clay figurine he'd painted lilac blue, mixing the poster paint over and over again until it was exactly the shade of the first woman's skin. A blue figurine with green cotton hair.

That day the whole family was walking on the bank, but he was the one who found her. He'd hung back because he thought he heard a strange noise, a kind of croaking, and thought it might be a tree frog or a water snake. A vague fear rose in his throat. Later he realised it was her, calling to him when she heard his family's footsteps, when she saw his bare feet between the bulrushes. Slowly, keeping his eyes on the ground, he moved towards the bank. The reeds were taller than he was and he had to push them away from his face, and clouds of dragonflies too. The spongy ground gave way under his feet. Everything was perfectly silent. The moment he pushed into the depths of the gorse, he entered another world, a closed, mysterious world that settled itself around him and hid him from the living. He glimpsed a movement to his right, a splashing, like a hand striking the water, and thought it was the tree frog jumping into the pond. Then he noticed the woman's body.

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She was floating gently and even though there was no current so close to the bank, her arms and legs were undulating slightly. There was weed tangled through her hair and knotted in the gorse as if she'd taken root in the plants and was a part of the bank. She was naked and her body was blue. The pale blue of her face, the lilac of her belly, and under her arms and between her legs the bluish green of pond weed. He'd kneeled at the edge of the bank. He looked at her. Shiny little fish were swimming round her body, slipping between her legs. Her eyes were half-open. He clutched a handful of reeds and leaned out to brush the hand floating in the water; the blue hand that with the tiniest of movements, was reaching out towards his as well.

That evening—after they'd found him, after they'd punished him—his older sister came to his room in secret. She crouched down near him in the half dark and whispered: Dirty. You're dirty. She was dead. You don't touch dead people. He stared back at her. He wanted to say something but the look in his sister's eyes reduced him to silence, a look filled with fascination and fear.

He thought about her all the time, the woman from the pond. Later, he made a figurine out of a handful of clay. He spent days and days painting it, blue and lilac, with long strands of cotton on her head and in the hollow between her legs. She became his doll, a little clay doll with webbed fingers; he took her to bed, and to school in his schoolbag and he sat her near him on the table, propped against the bottle of water. When I grow up I'm going to marry a blue woman like you, he whispered.

One day his mother complained about the stains the figurine made—it did, too, bluish trails across the sheets, the tablecloths and the pages of his exercise books, but from the way she was looking at the clay doll he could tell there was something else. She tried to take it out of his hands. They were in the street; when he refused and started to cry, with an angry gesture unlike anything he'd seen in her before she snatched the doll from his hands and threw it far away. He saw the figurine disappear into the sky, and it had never looked more like the woman from the marshes. Then it fell; when it smashed into the ground he heard—instead of the dull crack of breaking clay—an almost liquid sound, as if the doll was full of water and the water had escaped at the moment when it broke. But when he got closer it was page 60just a figurine broken into three pieces, with the clay showing where her arms and legs had broken off.

A few days later, he found a little parcel on his plate. His mother had stuck the pieces of the doll back together, but she'd painted it flesh pink and stuck a piece of an old rabbit skin coat on its skull. He ignored it for several days; then he noticed that if he scratched gently with his fingernail, if he licked it, he could strip off the faded flesh pink, the sickly pink, and every time a part of her skin went back to its original shade he felt as if he'd found his lost figurine again.

Years went by, and he forgot. The little clay doll ended up at the bottom of a cardboard box, with the patina of an Inca statuette, its features worn away, neither pink nor blue. When he went swimming, he opened his eyes wide in the chlorinated water of the pool, in the prickling water of the sea, but if he was looking for something, that something was hidden away in the depths of his memory. He married a woman with blue eyes, but a completely different blue. He forgot, until Myra was born.

Even if he hadn't been there at the birth, he would have guessed she was one of them. He could tell from her heart-shaped face and her eyes, not blue like her mother's or brown like his, but that very special violet-blue. He watched the hydrangea-coloured baby being born, the cord wrapped around her neck; was she trying to carve a pathway through the liquid with her webbed hands, or was she, instead, trying to hold back the waters that were flowing away? She didn't cry out. She blinked, once, and their eyes met. The heart monitor went crazy, the doctors rushed to cut the cord and slip a tube into her throat. He would have liked to pull back their hands, tell them that everything would be fine, she wasn't going to die; they should let her float just a little longer, with her weed hair tied to another mop of weed. But they carried her off, and when he saw her again her eyes were closed, her skin was pink, a narrow plastic tube was filling her with air or emptying out the last of the liquid that was still flooding her lungs. But he hadn't forgotten, and he was already suffering as he watched her behind the glass of the incubator. Why had he had to wait so long and why did it have to be her, his blue figurine, his little doll with webbed fingers come back to him from the depths of time?

He tried to run away. He wouldn't allow her to be dressed in page 61blue. No turquoise baby-grow, no navy dress, no blue ribbon in her hair. Through the whole of Myra's childhood, he fought hard. He refused to let her go to the swimming pool, with a complete lack of logic, wouldn't allow her to learn to swim, forbade her to go near the little stone pool at the back of the garden; remembering the figurine tumbling through the sky, he had strong steel mesh fitted to all the first-floor windows. He never held her in his arms and rarely spent time alone with her. He was afraid he wasn't wrong. He was afraid the water or the void would claim Myra, he was afraid he might feel for her the love he felt for blue women and he couldn't have said which of these two possibilities terrified him more.

And yet from certain signs he guessed that things were following their course. Sitting alone in her room, the little girl wept great tears, round shiny tears, and refused to say why. And no little girl ever hurt herself so much, her knees scraped bloody, her body covered with bruises, huge bruises that lasted for weeks. He refused to look at this tender lilac flesh.

Myra turned four, then seven; he had the feeling they were both, without saying a word, waiting for the same thing. One day, for his birthday, she gave him a key ring that sent chills through his heart, a tiny plastic mermaid, and as his wife looked on in all innocence he was forced to smile and kiss his little daughter. Imperceptibly, his old ghosts were tracking him down.

One day when he was at home by himself with Myra, he was on his way out of the house when he suddenly spotted her, crouching on the stone edging of the pool. She was holding a stick in her hand and looking at the water, keeping perfectly still; but he was so frightened to see her there that he cried out. She was startled, tried to stand up, and fell head first into the water. It wasn't deep, and when he reached the pool she had already got up and was shivering with cold and fear. Her hair was plastered fat on her forehead, decorated with pond weed; her lips were already turning blue. Fish were swimming around the skirt of her dress, spread out around her like the petals of a flower—it was a yellow dress—and on the bottom of the pool a forgotten bird was floating gently, its beak tangled in a piece of weed.

He knelt down on the edge of the coping. He looked at her. He felt page 62as though she was waiting. For eight years they'd been waiting, both of them, for this moment. Slowly, he reached out and put his hand on her forehead; he pressed gently, and she disappeared beneath the water. He kept his hand on her skull for several seconds. Beneath the green water he could see his daughter's face and her half-opened eyes. Then he couldn't see her any more because his eyes had filled with tears. He stopped pushing, but the child didn't resurface; seized with terror, he had to clutch at her hair and pull her up, and even then he felt as if the plants in the pool had wound themselves around her ankles and were refusing to let go. After he pulled her out of the water she coughed, once, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

When she was asleep, he left. He drove for a long time, aimlessly he thought, but after a while he realised he was heading east, towards the town where he grew up. When he got there, late in the afternoon, he drove around the countryside for ages, looking for the pond where he'd seen the first blue woman. He kept coming back to the town entrance without finding what he was looking for. It was almost night when he thought he recognised a path running beside a stand of trees and disappearing into the countryside; he parked the car and got out. The air was heavy with the smell of river mud, and he could hear toads croaking plaintively. He locked the car door and set off down the path.

He walked for a long time through the twilight. He came to a fork and, after hesitating briefly, went left, or right. The ground was turning spongy, he could smell reeds rotting in the water, but there was no sign of the pond. It was almost completely dark when he finally came to a standstill. The path vanished into the darkness. He held his breath, listening. He heard a murmur of running water; then suddenly, strangely, a door banging, the scratching of a gramophone needle, and then silence once more. He set off again. At a bend in the path, he noticed a beautifully raked driveway bordered by clumps of box trees, and at the far end of it an enormous house. It was only then that he realised how tired he was; and not just because of his long walk. He went slowly up the driveway. The gravel crunched beneath his feet and the box smelled like a church. A slender shape leapt across the driveway in three bounds and buried itself under the dead leaves. When he arrived at the house he went up the steps, page 63looked for a doorbell, found none and pushed at the handle. The door wasn't locked.

In a large drawing room, a potted jacaranda spread its tangled branches and dark leaves, brightened by lilac flowers. Behind this shrub there was a cage where a crow was observing the intruder, eyeing him darkly; in a corner of the room stood a strange little piece of wooden furniture arrayed with tiny figures of people. The ceiling was carved, with angels apparently, but their faces were so worn by time that they were like white plaster eggs, with no eyes or mouth.

Suddenly the bird gave a sharp cry and flapped its wings; when he turned around, he noticed a woman standing still in the doorway. Her feet were bare, covered in dust or mud. Her fat face was strangely expressionless, and from this distance he couldn't tell whether her hair was dirty or wet. She watched him in silence. He felt something move within him and struggled to find the right words:

'I'm lost. I'd like to spend the night here and try to find my car tomorrow. This is a hotel, isn't it?'

She looked at him, seeming to take his measure, then answered:

'Yes, a kind of hotel. You don't have any luggage?'

He shook his head. She thrust her hand into her skirt pocket, pulled out a bunch of keys of different sizes and shapes, which she studied carefully. Then she signalled to him to follow her and turned on her heel. He fell into step behind her. On the black and white tiles, his shoes and the woman's bare feet left damp prints. They climbed a big staircase that curved around itself and went along a narrow corridor; finally, she opened the door to a bedroom and stood back to let him pass. He went into the room. It smelled musty, the curtains were drawn, there was just a bed covered by a blanket and a little lamp on the bedside table. When he turned around, the door was closed and the woman had disappeared. He was so tired he simply took off his shoes before lying down on the bed. Before he fell asleep he thought he heard somewhere, in a nearby bedroom perhaps, the sound of pebbles shifting in the current.

For the first time since childhood, he dreamed about the clay figurine. He was there, in the drawing room, and the faces of the cherubs on the ceiling looked like the little figurine; the people on the strange little piece of furniture had the same face and webbed page 64fingers, and so did the wooden ball on the stair banister.

He woke with a start in the middle of the night, burning with thirst. Barefoot, he went down to the ground floor. He was careful not to look at the piece of furniture or the carved angels on the ceiling. The woman was asleep on one of the couches in the drawing room, almost hidden behind the branches of the jacaranda. When he stepped closer the bird gave a harsh cry, and she woke up.

He asked her for something to drink; she got up without a word, left the room and came back with a glass of cold milk. He drank a mouthful and thought he would go back to bed. But instead he looked at this woman he didn't know, her fat face, her unblinking eyes, her hands lying inert in the hollow of her lap; he opened his mouth and heard himself say:

'I wanted to find the pond where I saw a woman when I was five. A woman in the water; a blue woman.'

He couldn't bring himself to say drowned.

'I don't know why it's so important.'

He felt something brush his mouth and realised he'd begun to cry. So he told her about his little daughter, the bruises on her thighs, the key ring in the shape of a mermaid, his fear that the water or the void would seize her; his fear of being some other element in which his daughter might drown.

The woman listened to him, her eyes half-closed, her lips sealed. It wasn't until he stopped speaking that he realised the oil in the lamps had burned away, plunging the room into darkness. She reached out her hand and brushed his arm: her fingers were smooth and cold.

'I would be happy to help you,' she murmured. 'But you must give me something in exchange. That is how it is. That key ring …'

He bent his head.

'Give it to me,' she said.

He hesitated; then he thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out the plastic mermaid and held it out to her. She looked at it for a long time, nestled in the palm of her hand, a little person with a scaly tail. At length, she took her bunch of keys and attached it to them with a metal ring. Weighed down by the keys, her skirt slid to the floor with a bell-like tinkle as soon as she unfastened her belt. Under it she was naked. She signed to him to come closer, but she had to take him by page 65the hand to get him to join her on the couch. The jacaranda gave off a faint smell of rot that brought to mind the edge of a marsh and also a very sweet smell, like an orange.

'I came from the water too,' she murmured. 'They've given me the name of a fish and my nails, look, my nails are ringed in mud … '

Then very quietly, her lips against his mouth, she whispered:

'There can only be one time, just one, and this will be it. There'll be nothing to be afraid of any more.'

Her lips were cold and her saliva tasted of clay. When she closed her arms around him it was like the bank of the pond all over again, the muddy bottom, the blue woman, intense pleasure.

The moon's rays shone white on the walls, white was her skin where the light filtered through the leaves of the bush. There was nothing left in the room that wasn't white or grey, or dark red. The cherubs had the faces of innocent old men and the figures on the little piece of furniture had gone back to other lives. The woman extricated herself, leaned over him; her wet hair brushed across his face and she murmured:

'If I see your little girl moving against the current, I'll send her back to you. If she gets as far as these marshes I'll catch hold of her feet, like this'—her icy hands encircled his ankles—'and I'll bring her back to your stone pool. I'll watch over her.'

At these words, he understood that she wasn't lying. Her eyes were half-closed and her fingers around his ankles were sure and cold, almost maternal. He'd never forgotten. When he'd leaned down to touch the blue woman he'd lost his balance, and for a split second he'd felt the grip of a wet hand around his ankle. What was the secret promise, the heartbreaking bargain, that lay behind this backward step? He hadn't fallen and the days had gone by, then the years; he hadn't fallen but desire had sunk its talons into his heart. Far away a little girl was sleeping, hugging close a clay doll found in the bottom of a cardboard box, but the last remaining fragments of the figurine's blue skin had just peeled off into the hollow of her sheets. He could feel the blood pearling in that fayed place where desire had finally let go.