by Veronica Strega
Three postcards, the three paragraphs Blue wrote about the three postcards:
The Adriatic, a view from what is supposed to be a resort. The words on the postcard: The water glass at dinner is blue. The sea is blue at 1 in the afternoon.
A blue glass bowl, swirled with whirling, sparkly lines
of silver, created by a well-known artist, on exhibit in one of the world's
most famous museums. The words on the postcard: The cracking vinyl
seats on the subway are blue.
Masked harlequins with headdresses of blue feathers, Carnavale
in Venice. The words on the postcard: Blue, we are so
fuckin' drunk (again!). See you soon, Chelsea
Blue named herself Blue at a Phish concert. Now she couldn't remember where concert was but there had been a sculpture of a mermaid in a field of tents. She could remember the way she felt, though, when the stage lights changed from green to the sort of blue that arises from the pure essence of water in foam on a beach, and she was dancing with a bunch of people she'd just met that afternoon. One of the guys made massage oil he named Blue Ocean Message. And when she was dancing, he ran his hands, soft and scented from all the oils he mixed and skilled from the massages he sold on tour, he touched her with his hands from her fingertips up to her shoulders, skimmed her neck and lightly tapped over her face, and at the top of her head he brought his hands together as if he had just gathered in yards of silk and he shouted at her, "Blue, yeah, that's your name," and she knew it was.
That was a while ago. The postcards she'd saved over the years and kept on one of her closet shelves, along her grandmother's pearls and a necklace of glittery macaroni her daughter made when she was in pre-school. In the town she'd moved to after the tour, no one knew her and, as she liked to explain to Chelsea with a laugh, "It wasn't the kind of town that required extensive documentary history" to get a driver's license, a bank account, a business license. This was because, she explained further, there were too many pagans and drag queens in residence. Her name, Blue, was nothing special in this town, and the name she abandoned for Blue had been nothing special to her.
The community made its income from tourism: bed and breakfasts with scenic ocean views, in-room hot tubs large enough for two or more, sidewalks leading from stone stoops outside brightly painted doors to dimly-lit restaurants with patios. Some Italian, some vegan. Lots of bars, a couple of dives. One tattoo parlor. One bookstore: Blue Reads.
Chelsea always laughed: why didn't you open a video rental place and call it "Blue Movies"? Tourists liked some sexual exploration and confusion on their journeys from home, lots of coastal towns boasted long histories and lots of revenue from money for sex, Chelsea said. Chelsea went to business school; she'd learned a lot selling glass dildoes on Phish tour.
But now there weren't video stores, so even if Blue ever had seriously considered renting what she could still hear her mother call "dirty movies" she'd have closed up shop years ago. And, when Blue's daughter was in grade school, Blue closed the store to walk her to the school in the morning and in the afternoon, and there was a table in the store where, while she worked, Blue could watch as her daughter drew with markers, then made puzzles, then read books, then did her homework. The day before opening the store, as she stocked the shelves of the store she still could not quite believe was hers and hers alone, Blue considered the shelf she'd just painted turquoise. In here mind's eye, she could see classic erotic titles, underground 'zines, toy catalogues, self-published poetry collections, hand-made books whose ruffled pages flashed with images of cocks and breasts and pierced skin and then she'd said, no, not with my daughter here, even though the place is called "Blue Reads."
As it turned out, her tourist clientele wouldn't have paid for erotic, not at her business, anyway. They wanted wine guides and mystery novels. The wanted newspapers from the nearest big cities, tabloid entertainment magazines, cookbooks by cooks on television, and true-life memoirs from athletes and stories of sports adventures. Blue thought it was usually a safe bet that she was the only person on the premises who'd ever heard of Henry Miller.
Once a year, Blue hosted a popular author for a reading. The town in August bustled with lawyers and doctors and psychiatrists and bankers and politicians. After the first weekend they grew bored within their enclaves and wanted to mingle and puff themselves up in front of other people. Blue's annual reading was always well-attended and made a lot of money for the store. Emilio, now an artist's representative and Chelsea's husband had suggested the author for this year's event. The writer was a man who was a scuba diver who explored the waters around places with volcanoes. He'd been on Oprah. Blue was lucky to have him, Emilio told her. Blue hoped so. The bookstore had lost money and her daughter's fees for summer camp had left her bank balance a bit on the lean side.
There'd been a good crowd; people stood on the sidewalk and peered in the front window while the author read. Blue sat behind the counter and took credit card payments for his book. When they ran out of books, she took orders. When the reading was finished, the metal folding chairs she'd rented from the church were toppled all over the cobalt colored floor. The author opened the last bottle of Pinot Grigio.
"Let me help you clean this up."
"Oh, no thanks."
She counted chairs.
"But, hey, leave me some wine."
She took a gulp. "Good crowd."
He looked at her. "So, what does Blue read?"
"Pardon, me?" She hoisted a chair from the floor.
"You. Blue. What do you read."
"Excel for Dummies."
"Because I would have thought..." he waved at the bookstore.
She was used to this. Customers asked her for her personal favorites. She'd learned that it was best to keep her reading matter private.
She looked at him. "I guess, like you and your passion for diving, I prefer to live the story, not just read about it."
He knocked over a row of folding chairs, moving so fast. But she wasn't frightened. There was nothing aggressive in his movement. Just a man moving quickly in a room full of metal chairs.
He stood next to her and whispered: there was a woman and a man in room of folding chairs. The room had been full of people. Now all you could hear was her breath.
He kissed her mouth.
She stood still. Her mind did not know what to do. She did not know whether to use words to fight the powerful urge in her body to push him away from her, to complain, to remind him that this space was hers, not his.
"What is," he asked, "the tipping point of Blue?"
He knelt at her feet and lifted the hem of her long skirt. He ran his finger along her left thigh, beginning at the edge of her panties, down past the tattoo on her ankle.
Blue Reads made so much money from the reading that she closed the store for two days. The sign read "Temporary computer problems."
The author covered her in honey in the bathtub. She painted his balls with iridescent glitter. She wore a crown of branches. He dressed himself in her scarves and danced to Greek music, draping the scarves over her naked body.
In a week her daughter was back from camp, patting her mother, patting everything in the store -- the books, the rugs, the cash register -- with satisfaction.
"Hey, what?" Blue was signing for a delivery.
"What's this say?" She was looking at the Tips jar by the cash register.
"It's the Tips jar." Blue had a pen in her mouth.
"I know." Her daughter was exasperated. "But it says..."
Blue read: Tips for The Tipping Point of Blue.
"Weird, huh?" said her daughter.
Blue read the single piece of paper in the jar. It said:
"Aquamarine spill. 3 postcards. Henry Miller. Fuckin' drunk again."