This is a short story I entered in an international writing competition in 2015. I was attributed a genre (rom com), and the story had to feature a psychologist and a graduation- in 2 days and 4000 words. This is what I did.
One touch of blue
The descent was always perilous but precisely executed. From a distance it could pass for a modern choreography with the extended limbs and flexed feet, if it were not for the paint cans precariously balancing at the end of slender toned arms or the long brushes clutched between a strong set of teeth.
“As gracious as a sloth climbing down a stepladder,” assessed Megan out loud when her feet finally reached the floor, toes pointing in the right direction, paint unspilled. A spotted blue sloth, she should have added, but she was unaware of the random hues of blue disguising her face and highlighting her dark hair.
Cerulean blue is Megan’s favorite color and not always her clientele’s first choice but as they are not real customers, she leaves her mark nevertheless. They always find a touch of blue here and there when they move the furniture. Mostly they like the final effect, except once when the request specified a unified black gloss finish. But, again, he wasn’t a real client.
Her real clients are patients like Emily. During her last school years she visited Megan once a week.
Short attention span was what the teachers complained about. Then the doctors’ diagnosis was squashed into four letters that became a dirty word in Emily’s life. Emily liked her own words, in short sentences and most of all she didn’t like to be bullied with labels. So when her art teacher told her about the therapist who took wall painting as her hobby, Emily sensed she had found the person she could talk to.
For the past ten years, Megan has been treating students with learning challenges, sometimes diagnosed ADHD. Students come to her with an already established diagnosis and the misconception that she will make it go away. She doesn’t. For her, they are simply dealing with a different wiring of the brain. She helps her patients to adapt, not change. Most of the time they adjust the world around them rather than adjusting to it. Then she knows they will be fine, as she told Emily on their final appointment a few months back.
Her treatment is a mix of psychotherapy, mentoring and ‘mindfulness’.
But just as Emily, Megan doesn’t care much for words that aren’t her own.
She doesn’t even like capital letters, the same way Emily dislikes confining categories.
“Can you imagine, just like my dad who organizes his socks by color! In four separate drawers; brown, black, dark gray, light gray, a sock filing cabinet!” Megan saw him briefly once from her window, when he picked up Emily from the practice. Dark suit, gray hair, in a rush. She couldn’t see the socks but they probably fitted perfectly with the rest of the shadow.
Megan and Emily were a match that, once they started to exchange views on what really mattered in their world, with true words, extended to friendship. They shared a passion for art and tasty food. Emily knew that Megan wouldn’t paint any walls yellow (“ …I love Van Gogh, but yellow is so schizophrenic, I just can’t”) and Megan made sure that there were never any sweet potato dishes in front of Emily (“ …it’s like eating some identity disorder! Sweet or savoury?- make up your mind”)
Megan could have been a young mother figure for Emily, who grew up without one,
raised by a dad who was doing his best while commuting for his business between the world and Boston. But it was the kind of friendship that can bridge any age gap and later, when Emily started her art studies at Boston University, they kept in touch, meeting whenever they could, sharing meals without any yellow or sweet potatoes in sight.
The stepladder pushed aside, and her mind now wandering while tightening her blue curls into a ponytail, Megan finally could start thinking about the best part of her painting. The poem. The poem she always writes on freshly painted walls.
The poem is the icing on her cake. Megan’s love for words could make walls talk, her friends used to say, and fill the room like little bubbles of magic floating around. Living in a quiet small town in the suburbs of Boston, she knew almost everyone and once she exhausted the list of her closest acquaintances needing free decorating services, it was easy to find more candidates to indulge her painting hobby.
Only, Megan had one condition. She wanted to write a short poem on their wall. Always. That was non-negotiable.
“Yes, a poem.”
“On my wall?”
“Yes, right there. In blue. I will write it when I complete the room, once I know more about you. So it’s your poem, not mine. And you see it everyday and it makes you feel warm inside.”
“How big on the wall?”
Freeing her hair from the tight hair band, contemplating the job done, she felt serene. She knew she found the right words for this one. The owner, a cinema critic, would love it.
color is the new black, random is the new order, more is less, lightness of being is now bearable, Icarus’ wax melted on my shoes. your dream is my command.
She nearly regretted not to have written this one on the glossy black walls a few months back.
But it was a fugitive thought. She could hear the critic coming back and she just had time to rush and rub off the blue flecks from her face before meeting Emily.
Her very first wall poem, a short line, remains her favorite. It happened after a long holiday in France. It must have been the food, the wine, the sunshine, or the brief summer love sparks; the different shades of purples and reds she infused in the room provided the right canvas for the only blue words she ever wrote in French:
du soleil dans la tête, et toi dans mes rêves. au matin, une étoile oubliée.
“This is how it started? Awesome! How many have you written since?” asked Emily during lunch, right after Megan introduced the renovated room to his inquisitive owner. She had to cut him short when he started analyzing the lines (“yes I’ve read Kundera, no it’s not about politics it’s about love, need to go”).
“I’m not sure Emily, I don’t do any counting. It’s something that doesn’t live beyond the moment really.”
“If I graduate, would you do my room? The one I will be starting my new life in?”
“When you graduate Emily, not if! It will be my graduation present to you. Now finish your blueberry pie or I will.”
There were many more lunches and even more poems until Emily’s graduation. Megan was invited and on this sunny day she picked the deep blue dress she liked to wear with her silver sandals and purple toenails. She was ready.
Emily was the frantic one waving at her from behind a tree. Unmissable. As Megan approached, she could see someone sitting on the bench in the shadow of long branches, apparently trying to keep Emily in the conversation. Probably too long, thought Megan, Emily likes short statements.
“Hey! Megan! Right on time. Here is my dad, Joe. Dad, meet Emily.”
“Hi Joe, glad to meet you”, said Megan to the tall man unfolding from his seat, about to shake her hand. She tried hard not to glance at his feet. She failed. Gray socks.
“Same here Megan, how are you doing? I heard a lot about you, Emily told me what a great friend you are. She insists we should invite you for dinner after the ceremony, and I am delighted to oblige. Will you stay with us? I mean, if you have nothing urgent to paint? ”
Joe ended his introduction with a huge, endearing, smile.
Some people look like a totally different version of themselves when they break into a smile, and Joe was one of them. Like the sun chose to sit in his chest for a while, thought Megan.
“I see you know about my painting hobby! Well, I have no plans, but wouldn’t you rather keep Emily to yourself while you are in Boston?”
Gently trying to regain possession of her hand under Joe’s steady stare (he was internally debating if her eyes were blue or green, he couldn’t be sure, he liked certainty), Megan could see Emily jumping up and down just like in the movies when girls are hugging, something she never understood.
“Megan, Dad is staying! He’s settling back in Boston for good! I’m moving in with him for a few months after my holiday, until I find the right place you promised to paint for me. Right dad?”
“Yes, I’ll have plenty of Emily for a while when she’s back, so please, stay with us. In fact, Emily wants you to paint my room, would you? For some obscure reason she decided yellow is not good to sleep in, so we could take advantage of your presence at dinner to discuss it some more.”
Driving back home that evening, Megan was making plans. They had talked briefly about the room during dinner; Emily’s upcoming trip was the main topic of the excited conversation.
Painting will start the following weekend; Joe agreed on shades of taupe and luminous gray, she just had to think about the poem.
Words were already playing in her mind. Something about freedom, or limitless possibilities, this is what was needed to inspire a man used to a restricted space where time and spreadsheets were dictating all his decisions. Yes, that’s what he should see every day.
“Let me help you, this is a lot to carry!”
“I’m used to it, but thanks Joe, it’s a great help… Now, let’s see… your bed will be facing the window, right?”
“Uh, no. No, the bed goes on the opposite side.”
“Well Joe, you see, it should be facing the window, the poem will look just great above it. On the opposite side I’m not sure where it would…”
“The what? poem? What do you mean a poem? A written poem? On my wall? Words on the wall? With paint?”
“Oh. I see. Emily hasn’t told you. I don’t do this just for the joy of painting walls, I do it because your room needs a poem. I make walls talk…”
“I don’t think I can agree to that, this is such a crazy idea, I don’t want graffiti. I just want colors, if luminous gray and taupe are actually colors that is, I’m not even sure of that, and my walls don’t talk, I’m the one who usually does the talking.”
I noticed, thought Megan with a loud sigh.
Still, Joe was a gentleman and he kept appearing while she was painting his room, bearing gifts of coffee and smoked salmon bagels without capers, her favorite. They talked a lot. He tried to be around whenever he could. He stayed more frequently, and every time a bit longer.
Megan was becoming aware that she waited for his visits with anticipation. Many evenings, painting extended to dinner. He made her laugh often, to her delighted surprise, with anecdotes about his life. Like the time when he inadvertently bought an entire stock of olive oil in Italy, as he tried to negotiate a few bottles with the farmer while practicing his best Italian. Or when he accidentally locked himself out of his hotel room in Buenos Aires, only wearing a towel.
Megan’s world was expanding. There was joy. There was Joe.
Still, Joe was not budging. There will be no poem on his wall. The bed would stay on the wrong side of the window. Megan recognized her own determination in his stubbornness and it grew on her, fitted her like an all-time favorite sweater – the one that always makes you feel at home.
“Joe, tomorrow will be my last day painting”. They were sharing Italian wine, as the usual bagel was replaced that day with focaccia and cheese.
“ Yes, but we will keep seeing each other, right? I’m counting on it”.
“ No second thoughts? About the poem? I still can write it today, you know”.
“You sure have persistence, one of the traits I love about you. But no. No poem. More wine?”
Joe was out most of the last day, obeying Megan’s wish. She always enjoyed being on her own for the final touch, even if this time there was no poem and she had to push the bed against the wrong wall as he wanted.
The end of the summer was filled with new patients and a baby room to paint. This newborn would soon learn about bubbles that can only sing in blue.
She hardly heard from Joe. He joined Emily in Italy and she knew they were due back sometime soon.
“Your room is great Dad! Love the colors,” burst out Emily, joining Joe in his new room. “Hey, what about the bed? It’s on the wrong side of the room!”
“Really? …Well then, you must be right. It was Megan’s opinion, a strong one I should add… So, it should face the window? … She did say…”
“Come on Dad, stop smiling to the wall, help me move that bed to where it belongs!”
Moving the bed across was done in a few quick pushes.
Followed by a long still moment. Joe stood very quiet, as he kept reading the writing at the bottom of the newly vacant wall. A few times over. And again. Forgetting to breathe.
if you changed your mind, you’re ready for me to make your wall sing.
He eventually got up, composure regained.
And when he walked straight to his chest of drawers, spilled its entire contents on the floor while singing a very loud and out of tune ‘Blue suede shoes’, Emily was sure her dad had lost his mind.
“Dad, what are you doing with your socks!”
“I want the poem…”
Megan heard Joe before she could see him, walking in her office, holding two cups of coffee. “…on one condition,” continued Joe.
“Hold on! Give me that coffee Joe, it smells gorgeous, and as far as painting goes, I make the conditions – that you stubbornly ignored if I may remind you?”
The coffee tasted as good as it smelt, he really could dig out the best coffee around. “Megan, I moved the bed,”
“You did! Really? You read my blue note?”
“Megan, you moved my world. I can’t recognize anything in it and I love it. So I’m ready. I want this poem. And this is my condition. We will see it together every morning when we wake up”.
Megan turned to him and at that moment, just before she kissed him, Joe was absolutely certain her eyes were definitely a rich green iridescence of dancing blue.
Walls can sing, he knew that too.
fly with me beyond the shores of your imagination, unhinge the open doors, unhook your dreams, wear the cloak that will float in a trail of flamboyant uncertainty.