All That is Blue
“You found me,” the old man in the knitted sweater whispers in a soft, hoarse voice. I wonder about the sweater, since this is one of the hottest days of the year. He looks out from the doorway of his old house beside the canal.
I’ve just rung his doorbell to tell him that his keys are hanging in his lock. A cluster of different keys, crowded on a wrinkled brown leather trunk label. I still remember the hassle when I once left my keys outside in the lock and they vanished.
I now notice that the man is not particularly old, he is just worn. He used a cane to walk towards me, yet, when his creased face leans towards me, I look straight into his brown eyes. They are lively, glistening like grass on which rain has fallen all afternoon. The skin on his cheeks is pink, his lips a light purple. He could be my father’s age. Or rather my father’s older brother. There is a strange familiarity between us, even though I never met this man before.
“That was not so difficult,” I say with a smile when I hand him the keys. He beckons me inside as he shuffles into the living room and gestures without looking at me to a huge sofa. I let myself sink into the burgundy velvet fabric and close my eyes. I hear noises in the house, old sounds of meat braising softly on the stove for hours, of champagne being uncorked. Muffled moans of lovers in the bedroom, uninhibited sighs, and children giggling in the attic.
Yes, there must be an attic in this house. I feel slightly light-headed. There is something about this place that feels like home. Not my real home, but the home I inhabited in my dreams since I was a child. Recurrent dreams of crude fabrics and warm colors and comforting sounds. I know that it will be hard for me to let go of this place. Maybe impossible even. After all, I have been longing for a place like this for so long now.
“You found me,” the man says, again, and I wonder what he’s trying to tell me. There is a wine glass on the table with a hint of red dried on the bottom. Next to it a container filled with yellow cupcakes. His sweater is pilled, his hair like silk thread.
I feel overwhelmed by his presence. The way he looks at me, as if he knows my secrets. Secrets I don’t even know myself. His physical presence makes me feel weak. Suddenly I want so very much to touch him. To put my arms around him, press him close towards my body.
“There is all this blue around you,” he suddenly says, with such certainty that it pains me. Would he want me to hold him as much as I want to hold him?
I hope he will explain to me about the blue.
“The keys,” I say, “you must not let them sit into the keyhole, you know. It’s dangerous to do that. I do not walk pass your house every day. You got lucky with me.”
He nods his head. He knows he got lucky with me.
Or am I lucky with him? He then asks me to make some tea in his kitchen.
“Of course,” I say.
Why wouldn’t I? It would take him forever with that cane. And I realize I long for some tea to soothe me. He watches me leave the couch and heat the water in his small kitchen.
“There are clean bowls in the cupboard,” he says, pointing to a ledge in the wall. As I wait for the water to boil, I feel his heavy gaze resting on my shoulders. It’s not a burden at all. Moments later we sip tea, with only a little wooden table between us. He then eats the yellow cupcakes, one by one.
“Tell me about the blue,” I say, and I hope he will talk to me for a long time.
“It’s today’s light,” he says. “Look, and you will see.”
I look out off the window, into the velvety dusk hanging over the water. Tears well up behind my eyes.
“You’re lovely,” he says, “lovely and sweet.”
There is a hint of seduction in his voice that does not trouble me. Still, I suddenly realize that I should leave. I have appointments.
“I better go,” I say.
“That’s a pity,” he says, his brown eyes now glistening moistly. “Your blue agrees with me.”
“Be careful with those keys,” I say. “I don’t pass by your house every day.”
“That’s a pity, too,” he says.
When I leave, he softly closes the door behind me. I hear the latch click, the lock turn. It is painful to leave him there, alone in that house with the lost sounds of a bygone life. But the air outside wakes me up. It is cooler now.
After a while, I stop to gaze at the dark water in the canal. It’s too late for my appointments, after all.
I wonder about the man. I didn’t even ask his name. I wonder if I would be able to remember which house his was.
The surface of the water trembles ever so slightly. I look closer. Maybe a fish rising to an insect. Or a flycatcher skimming his wings on the surface.
My shadow flickers on the water, reflected by the light of a streetlamp.
Then I see something that catches my breath. My shadow is blue.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch novelist and newspaper columnist who moved to America in 2012. Her memoir, Saving Charlotte, will be published by W.W. Norton in July 2017.