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The International Writers Magazine: Life Story

Blue Sky Day
Chris Castle
The letter comes through the door before nine. The post is early for the week. She sees the hospital stamp, the address. She doesn’t hesitate but opens its straight away. She reads the results and immediately rings the hospital.

summer dress

She is put through to the ward and then put on hold. She is referred to her doctor and he confirms the results. She almost says thank you when he is done speaking. He arranges for her to come in immediately, discusses the future. She listens as if she is far away, like over hearing a conversation on the next table in a busy café. She doesn’t put the phone down until long after he has finished speaking and has put the phone down. For a long time she simply stands still, listening to the dead white noise.

She puts the phone back in the cradle, then hurls the phone across the room. She moves around the room, half pacing, half running, tearing things off the walls, ripping and smashing things. She moves in a blur, destroying anything she can get her hands onto. At one point she catches her face in the mirror and sees her mouth is formed into a scream even though she can’t hear her voice. In fact she can’t hear all the things breaking. It’s as if she moves too quickly, is too furious for sound to catch up with her actions.
She sits in a heap on the floor. It feels as if the flat has collapsed around her and everything is falling at her feet. Then she breathes. Then she looks up. Through the glass she sees that the clouds have broken and blue skies peek through. Before she started all this there was grey in front of her, as if someone had forgotten to install the 
sky. She feels herself smile. She walks towards the blue square in the corner of the room.

She feels her lips crease, turning the tears up and away off her mouth. She feels more tears shedding her skin as she walks over to the blue. Carefully she pulls the blinds down. She walks across the room collecting up everything she has destroyed. She clears up the room so it is neat and tidy. She stops and makes a decision; she walks over to the calendar and takes it off the hook and throws it into the bin. Today there are no days, she thinks and smiles at the lack of logic in what she has just thought. When she draws back the blinds the sky is in full force. It is like a perfect sea is stretched across the sky. She walks away and into her bedroom.

She showers and returns to the room. She picks out a dress that is meant for summer that she has rarely worn on account of the weather. She wears a cardigan over her shoulders knowing it will be cold outside, that it can’t be anything else in this time of year. But it is the sky that empowers her, slipping on shoes she has not worn since a party too long ago. She sprays on perfume and ties her hair back into a ponytail. She does not look into the mirror because she does not feel the need to. No more mirrors she thinks, collecting her purse and walking towards the door.

She walks to the nearest cash point and withdraws the maximum amount. The machine informs her she is approaching her overdraft limit. She informs the screen out loud that she does not care and turns and shrugs to the old lady standing behind her in the queue. She pulls out the phone from her pocket and asks her sister to lunch. Then she walks to the hairdressers she has walked past a hundred times before, always daydreaming she could afford the luxury. She steps inside and is immediately led to a comfortable chair.
While she waits she is offered the option of a hot beverage. The girl catches her looking at the wine and smiles, offering her a glass though it’s early in the morning. She smiles back and accepts, wishing that the girl could share the drink with her. Soon she is having her hair washed, her eyes closed and hot water running over her scalp Then it is steam and thick towels and she can’t help but laugh, explaining how she has always loved her hair being washed ever since she was a small girl. The girl says if she could find a man that washed her hair and handed her wine she would be married within a day. She agrees and smiles, knowing she will never be married now.

The girl asks her questions as she cuts her hair, looking up from the scissors and into the mirror. She opens her eyes and looks back to her and lies a whole history to the girl without blinking. A job she’d daydreamed having when she was a girl and had never stopped half dreaming about. A man that was impossible to create, let alone meet in real life. A nightlife that was up and down and never ending. And the girl responding, telling her own story that could have been her own or a whole new set of lies and the two of them were almost friends by the end of the hour. She paid and tipped and left smiling, carefully avoiding looking at the mirror directly, but feeling the sensation of it, the unfamiliar tickling and lightness making her feel something else, something unfamiliar and new.

The phone rings and her sister begins to talk. Her voice is heavy and concerned and ready for the news. But she lies again and says there is no news, not yet. They agree to meet in a little while and their conversation ends abruptly; because her sister is busy and somehow manages to do even the slow things fast. In the time she has she walks into a newsagent and buys a newspaper, stealing two chocolate bars in her sleeve as she does. Next, she is stopped in the street and signs up for a charity using the name and address of a girl she knew at college who never paid for her drinks. Then she walks on, seeing her sister sitting in the window seat of the café.

It is the only time she can remember seeing her sister be still. Perfectly still, as if posing for a portrait. She sees then how beautiful her sister is, can be. Her sister doubts her beauty and does not try, rushing all the time to almost blur her own prettiness. But there, sitting reading a menu and not reaching or striving she is pretty enough to almost make her cry. It is how young she looks, almost how they were in school, when her sister sat pensive studying, which shakes her.

They eat a main meal and she makes her sister order a pudding along with her. They share a bottle of wine and her sister becomes a little drunk and giggles. They stay in the café long enough for it to become busy with the office crowd and then return to the quiet of the afternoon. She leads the conversation and there is no talk of results or plans. Instead the haircut distracts her sister enough for her not to press it. She walks to the bathroom when they are nearly done and when she returns she sees her sister sitting opposite an empty chair. She walks back, trying to think of friends that could sit in that chair, that could still her sister long enough for her to talk things through. They hug outside and her sister looks back once and waves like she always does. She told her once she did this to make sure she was still there even after they said goodbye.

She walks into the bookshop where she works and buys a paperback. Her friends behind the counter chat to her and they agree to make plans. As she browses, holding her bag, she sees a man she has seen often in the shop. They have smiled and talked briefly and politely whenever they have collided. He looks up and smiles now and makes a joke about her not being behind the desk. They talk and then find themselves in a bar, because he has finished work for the day and she asked him.

They sit and drink but mostly talk. She is glad that he turns out to be a good guy, someone she could have fallen in love with. She is old enough now to not be drawn to rebellious types or sharp talkers but instead to want someone she can believe to be true. Earnest is no longer boring too her, but he tempers this with a quick smile and a willingness to listen. She tells him small pieces of what she wants him to hear, holding so much back it could, on a different day, overwhelm her. But not on this blue sky day.
They drink a little more before she makes an excuse to leave. They swap numbers before they step outside and he carefully kisses her before they say goodbye. A group somewhere cheekily cheer and he blushes even though she does not. She walks away and when she looks back he is still standing there and he waves and she waves back. She keeps walking and a man asks if she is alright and it is only then she realises she is crying. She wipes away the tears and smiles.

“It’s just that…it’s been a long time since someone’s made me feel happy,” she says to him. And the man nods and it is as if he completely understands what she means.
She returns back to the flat. It is dark now and the blue sky is gone. The room is still tidy and unfamiliar. She walks to the fridge and opens a bottle of wine, pouring it to the brim. There is a second bottle and she will drink that too if she wants. She looks around the room. She will not watch television. She puts on the radio and kneels down to the stereo, looking through her music. She pulls a tape out and decides to make a mix tape for the only friend she knows who still plays tapes. It is one of her friends from college who she has known for over ten years. They speak from time to time and never lose the rhythm of how they spoke when they first met. She starts the CD and the tape and sits back to listen to the music.

The red button on the answer-machine is flashing but she doesn’t hold it down. She thinks about ringing a friend, to talk to someone about it, but then there is the day she has had in her, still fighting and keeping her strong and burning. And there is music and the wine and the blue square corner is still faintly glowing in her mind and behind her eyes. And instead she edits the tape over and over until the first side is done and she flicks it over and begins the second bottle.

She thinks of the feel of the burning water as it ran through her hair. The touch of the girl’s hand and the light sting of her nails. The beauty of her sister and the silly thrill of stealing. The taste of food after you are a little drunk in the morning. The way the man made her smile without trying and the tilt of the sun cutting across and falling onto her on the bus home; a beam meant for her and only her in that one and exact moment. The lingering friction of an unexpected kiss and the understanding nature of a stranger. The charge of spilling wine as you pour, chilling your knuckles and cooling your skin. The beat of a song and the feeling of nearly being in love, if only for a day. To lay and wait for sleep knowing that this one day was how you wanted it to be. To rise the next day, thinking you have no reason to, then doing so, thinking there may be another blue square of sky waiting for you. A sky that will find you, and love you and let you know that there are more days to come that might, just might, be something like today. 

© chris castle September 2010

See also A Call Before you Sleep

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