by Elaine Walker
They blew the sky in through the open window. It poured, spilled and rippled through the room, blue waves pooling over the floor, rising up the walls, filling the clear jug on the table. I watched the blue light cast on my skin and the flowers in my hands, felt it seeping into my pores, filling my veins the way it had filled the jug, buoying up my heart in my chest.
I've always love blue. The blue of a clear sky, or a twilight evening, cobalt blue glass, a sparkling summer sea, grey-blue fur on a cat, any blue just lifts my spirits and makes me happy. They say blue's the colour of communication and that makes sense to me, because blue makes me sing, fling my doors open, welcome people into my home to share a meal, talk, laugh. I've never seen it as cold or depressing. I look at blue and calm pours through me, the way the blue sky poured into my home, washing away all my resentment and bitterness.
I bought that house for the sky, you see. On top of a hill, it seemed to be looking upwards, lifting its face to the fresh air and the sun. Huge windows from floor to ceiling let the light in and I never covered them with curtains. I left the glass wide and clear so there was nothing, but nothing, between me and the open expanse above the low roll of the hills. No trees, no other houses, just a line of soft green and then a big, beautiful sky. The colours of that sky! I watched it in all seasons, all lights and all times of day and night and it was never the same twice, yet it was always the same sky. I found contentment in that, until the windmills came.
First there were the lorries, rumbling and grumbling up and down the hills, churning the ground like a war against the landscape. Gravel and concrete and cranes, reaching long mechanical necks across the skyline. Men in red plastic hats shouting and waving their arms, dwarfed by their own construction, determined to capture even the wind and make a servant of it. Rain lashed down as they worked, the ground heaving and protesting beneath wide wheels and caterpillar tracks, cash in their pockets made from ancient oaks and lost fox-paths. But there was no soft green to see beyond the windows anymore, just open wounds weeping silty blood, surrounded by the bruised and swollen hillside, while overhead the sullen sky hung grey.
I went away, unable to watch, determined to come home only when the hills were clear of machines and shouting, slowly healing under the spring sun. It was quiet again when I returned, a moonless evening, deeply dark and the outstretched wings of a barn owl skimming across the front of the house seemed like a welcome. But next morning, I saw what had been left behind and knew that the sky would never be the same again.
I could no longer look out on unbroken blue or the ever-changing patterns made against its backdrop by shifting clouds. Now, there were long white stems, like manmade flowers, rigidly uniform, stark, bringing right angles and geometric shapes into the undulating cloudscapes and rippling hills. Some people saw beauty in their symmetry, in the clean length of their single pillared support and the rhythm of their movement. But I saw only aliens, triffids, ugly monstrosities and all my peace was gone. Even during the evenings, my favourite twilight blue was broken by the faint shimmer of them cutting through its smooth covering. I couldn't sleep anymore without paddles whirring through my dreams and bland featureless faces watching me.
I turned my back, bought heavy curtains to cover the windows with pattern, stopped singing and talking and welcoming people in to share my blue sky. I could hear the windmills hum, trying to win me round, promising that I'd grow to love them too. They murmured and sang to me like sea-sirens, but I resisted, unwilling to change my vision. I needed blue, unbroken blue to raise my sprits and restore my peace of mind.
So I planted flowers at the back of the house, where it overlooked a valley, a village climbing a tall hill, the skyline crowded with buildings, trees, distant mountains. It wasn't the best place for flowers, being in the shade, and they didn't do as well as under the open sky and the sunlight. But I chose pink, yellow, orange and white blossoms, with green stems in the brown earth to crowd out the emptiness inside me, where peace seemed to drain endlessly into some fathomless place, hungry and dark. People didn't call so often then and I heard a whisper that, from a distance, my house looked closed now, cloudy and unwelcoming. That cloud settled on me and I felt heavy, cold all the time, unable to move far. All the days were overcast and my house was full of shadows.
But then, the closed door of my favourite room, the one with the vast windows and the curtains always drawn, started begging to be opened. I knew the sun had slipped between the curtains and been trapped in there, trying to escape, for some days. Now I could see the golden light wriggling under the door, trickling its way down the hall to warm my feet, and urge me back to look at the sky. I tried to resist but my feet liked the warmth and I was missing blue, even broken blue, shattered by white grid lines.
So I followed, opening the curtains and the windows wide, but without looking out, unable to bear what I knew I'd see. The sun was good, it seeped into my bones and I realised I'd been icy for a long while. Then, as I thawed, I heard the windmills' humming song, noticing for the first time that it had a softness about it. I glanced up, longing for reunion with my precious view, my wide sky, but afraid that, like a callous lover desiring only perfection, I'd be repelled when I saw the white scars, blemishes on its smooth blue skin.
There they were, the windmills, shiny and white against the most perfect clear blue sky I'd ever seen. I was ready to hate them, but they had their own perfection too, then they began to turn and the sky whirled around their blades. It gathered in a spiralling movement and moved towards me until it poured in, blown billows of blue filling up the empty spaces in my home and that dreadful empty space inside my chest. I closed my eyes a moment, feeling blue course through me, opening up my closed voice and my shuttered heart.
When I looked again, I saw that while the clean lines of white broke up my lovely sky, the way they stretched out into the distance showed me its depth. I'd never noticed that before. It went on and on, blue as forever, the colour changing and shimmering while the windmills receding towards the faded horizon sent it in my direction. I ran around the house throwing all the doors and windows wide, letting it finding its way in from every direction. Slowly at first, then rapidly, like a rising tide gently engulfing my home, lapping over the furniture and over me. I stood and watched it dye everything I possessed a delicate shade then spill over to the houses below, where people started looking out and calling up to me, waving.
Then peace as blue as a twilight sky settled on me, and the windmills kept turning.
Story Copyright © 2008 by Elaine Walker. All rights reserved.
Next: Five and a Half Feet of Julie by Stefan White
About the author
Elaine Walker's magical realism novel, 'The Horses', is forthcoming from Cinnamon Press in 2010. Her current book, a cultural history coincidentally called 'Horse', is published by Reaktion Books (2008).