The blue and the white

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She collected things that were blue and white, especially ceramics.  After a while, it became her assigned taste within the family, and we’d give them to her on many occasions:  Christmas, birthdays.  We’d return from travels with them:  North Africa, India, the Adriatic and the Andes.  She’d add them to her kitchen shelves:  blue and white porcelain from around the globe.  Everyone needs a taste for something, and this (as far as we were concerned) was hers.

***

She painted the little house white inside.  She covered every surface.  The furniture and fixtures, on the other hand, trended blue:  draperies, couches (topped frequently with upturned chairs like tank traps to deter lazing dogs.)  She said the colors reminded her for the Greek Isles.  The white for the washed buildings, the blue for the Mediterranean Sea.  She’d met her longtime husband in those islands, where they’d sailed a boat, and then later lived aboard another one in places like Long Island, Florida and the west.  The world and its oceans are vast, and she knew much of them.  The little white house was small, and when she moved in it was quite broken.  It had formerly housed a madman who had imprisoned a flock of exotic birds in the basement.  She painted it white and cleaned it of its past.

***

She had difficulty letting go of things, for both good and ill.  The blue and white collection was but one of her many.  Some collections could not be seen — old wounds, some of from the era of her childhood in England.  There was the memory of a brother’s death, her time in boarding school as a little girl and many other things that should not have happened but did.  English skies are often gray, to match the houses and roads.  But in summers when she was home from school, there would be days of blazing sun and brilliant blue.  Her family’s home peered out at the English Channel from the side of a steep hill over the town.  She returned there each summer until the end of her life to see that particular view of the world.

***

Her daughter led the mourning of her when she died — a circle of us by the wintery Pacific not far from her little white house.  We huddled there on the beach, cold and raw from the wind and the pain of it.  The family dogs circled warily, wondering what this was all about. I’m still circling now, as I’m sure are others.  In this we have no more sense than dogs.  Something has happened, someone is gone who used to be here.  In response, we sniff the air for any hint of the departed.

***

I tried to let her go.  We all did, standing in the backyard and releasing sky-lanterns which rose into the night.  But she was not on board as they floated beautifuly up and away.  Perhaps her departure was out, not up (out being the opposite of in, of confined, of collected.)  The sea goes out but never up, unconfined except by the shore and sky.

***

What will happen to her collection — all of the plates and cups and bowls from around the world?  We all collect things for a while, until we don’t.  We all inhabit this house or that, painting the walls, or stripping the old siding off for the wood underneath.  But eventually every house is uninhabited, every door is dark.  Every wall is re-painted by the next hand, and every collection redistributed to the next set of hands that will re-collect it, or not.  We gather in circles of mourning, we disperse.  Planes and boats pass over the ocean west to east, then return east to west.  A tide comes in on every shore, the waves are white and blue.

***

Many days I still walk the family dogs past her small house.  They still turn their heads, hopefully, but it’s been long enough now that they keep walking past, no longer straining on their leashes for her door.  “She’s gone away”  I tell them (for I tend to speak frankly to dogs.)  “She’s out now.”  The dogs turn down the street and sniff the early summer air, quickening their forward pace.

 

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