following story fits in perfectly with my current series on happiness as it’s about the power of being able to see the beauty that’s all around us. Being able to really notice, see and feel beauty is a vital part of our well-being and a great way to find happiness.
When Eloise was five years old, she took a trip to Arizona with her parents. Her mum’s dream had always been to see the Grand Canyon and when her mum got sick, her dad insisted they go there for a family vacation. She could still remember when she first laid eyes on the giant hole, how small it made her feel, how she felt scared and curious and amazed all at the same time. She remembered lots of other things about their trip, like the food that made her mouth burn and the funny accents all the people had, and the way the world looked so different in this faraway place. But most of all, she remembered the magical colors in the sky, and one color in particular that she called “plue.”
It was mostly pale pink with a tint of light blue and it appeared right after the sun had set. It didn’t stay long before it turned to a brilliant pinkish-orange color. She liked all the colors in the sky, but plue was her favorite color in the world, and when she told her mum this, her mum told her she’d make her a dress in that color as soon as they got back home to London. Her mum looked and looked and looked in all the fabric stores in the East End, but couldn’t find any plue-colored material. So, she made Eloise a pale pink dress with light blue trim. The dress was beautiful, but it wasn’t plue. Still, she thanked her mum a million times for making her the dress and she wore it proudly. Her dad even let her wear it to her mum’s funeral, which was only a few months after their trip to Arizona.
She heard her dad say to her uncle, “There’s no point putting a little girl in black.” He cried before and after everything he said. Eloise felt as if her tears would never stop, and she sat by the kitchen door where her mum used to walk through every day after work, hoping that she’d walk in and tell her it was all just a bad dream. One day, she decided to stop waiting and she traded her waiting for remembering. She’d forgotten what her mum’s voice sounded like and had nearly forgotten what she looked like. But she remembered how it felt to be held in her arms; how she’d kiss her on the top of her head every morning; how she’d sing her a bedtime song each night. She remembered their time together in Arizona and when she pictured the color plue in her mind, she could almost feel her mum standing next to her, the two of them gazing at the sunset sky.
Eloise grew up and grew old, but she never stopped longing to go back to Arizona to see the color that she couldn’t see anywhere else. When her husband, Harry, retired from his job, she told him they should move there.
“The dry heat will do wonders for your arthritis, Harry,” she told him.
“We’ll be so far from our friends, all the way out there,” he said.
“We’ll make new friends.”
They didn’t have any children and their parents were long gone. Harry’s brother was close to him, but Eloise said that he could come and stay with them in the winter. “He’ll love getting out of this cold damp place and into the sunshine.” Still, Harry wasn’t convinced until one day when he was so stiff that he couldn’t get out of bed. A few months later, they were on their way west.
After five months of living in Tucson, Eloise had seen many, many sunsets, but each time she saw one, it was as if she was seeing the color plue for the first time. She felt like she was a little girl again with her mum was standing right beside her.
The fabric store where she got a job was right off Speedway Boulevard. Harry told her she didn’t need to work and that they had enough money to live comfortably with their modest needs. But she liked to keep busy and she loved to sew and the store offered employees a generous discount on fabric. She worked until 4 p.m., so she was out with plenty of time to enjoy the sunset.
She liked the store and the other employees, but she knew she’d never be friends with them. She didn’t care about making new friends. Harry was more than enough for her. Besides, she hadn’t come here for the people or even the place. She came so that she could see the color plue. Although she didn’t care about making friends, she cared about fitting in, or at least not feeling like a misfit. Every time she opened her mouth, people stared at her like she was odd. It was her accent that made her different, so she thought that she’d try to Americanize it, but then they looked at her even stranger. She tried using American expressions, but they sounded weird in her cockney accent, and sometimes she’d get them wrong.
“Your house will be a million dollars with curtains made of this fabric,” she said to a customer one day. Another day, in an effort to convince a customer to get a certain color material for a dress, she said, “I’m not trying to twist your arm off or anything.”
One day, she was sitting in the breakroom with a couple of her colleagues, Stephanie and Cindy, and they were talking about the weather.
“It’s supposed to go up to 120 tomorrow,” Stephanie said.
“I heard the brightness index is going up to ten,” Eloise said.
“Brightness index?!” Cindy said. “I think you mean the UV index, Eloise. There’s no such thing as a brightness index.”
The two ladies started laughing—not just giggle laughter. They laughed deep and loud and mighty as if it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard in their lives. Eloise didn’t know what to do, so she started laughing with them. She hoped they didn’t notice that her laughter was fake and forced. Inside, she was crying. She’d never felt as alone as she did at this moment. She didn’t know how she’d make it through the rest of the day with four more hours to go, but somehow she managed. She focused on all the beautiful fabric in the store and how she’d see the color plue tonight. She thought of crying in Harry’s arms and what he’d say to comfort her. He did his best, but it wasn’t quite what she wanted to hear.
“So they were having a laugh, Ellie,” he said.
“Yes, they sure were, at my expense,” she said.
“Where’d you get brightness index from anyway?”
“I could have sworn I heard the weatherman say it on the news last night.”
“Sometimes you’re too sensitive, sweetie.”
“It’s not that, Harry.”
“Well then, what is it?”
“I’m sick and tired of feeling different here, like I don’t fit in.”
“You’re not saying you want to go back home, are you?”
“No, not that. It’s just—”
“Well, that’s good,” he cut her off. “Because I don’t ever want to go back to feeling stiff as a board.”
“And I don’t want you to, love. I just don’t want people to look at me funny every time I open my mouth.”
“I know what’ll make you feel better.” He got up from his chair and held his hand out for her, and together, they walked out to their backyard to see the sunset. They had two plastic lawn chairs that were placed right in front of an ocotillo tree. The color plue came through its long, skinny branches, and Eloise looked out and remembered why she had come to live in this place and why she never wanted to leave.
The next day, she was quieter than ever at work and her boss, Rachel, even asked her if everything was alright.
“Oh yes, I’m fine. Just got a little headache is all.” But it seemed that Rachel didn’t believe her and that she knew that Eloise was sad. Maybe one of the ladies had told her about the brightness index incident, or maybe she just had good intuition. She seemed to take pity on Eloise.
“I have a little job that you’d be just perfect for,” Rachel said.
“Oh,” Eloise said, forcing a smile. “And what’s that?”
“Well, we just got a big order from the university. They’re doing a Shakespeare play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream I think it is. I’m getting their order together now and I’d like you to bring it to the drama department there. What do you say?”
“Well, I’d be delighted.” She only said this to make her boss happy. She was frightened of going to the university. At least in the shop people were used to her and her foreign accent. The university was a whole other world. It was big and scary and she was afraid she’d get lost there.
“Now, it’s a big place, but don’t worry.” Rachel must have read her mind. “A girl named Caelyn is going to come out to meet you in a real easy-to-find location.”
Rachel gave her precise driving directions and when she arrived, Caelyn was waiting for her. She wore sunglasses that wrapped around her narrow head and wore her long brown hair in a ponytail. She was tall and thin and had white glowing skin that shimmered in the glaring sun.
“Hi, I’m Caelyn. You’re Eloise, right?”
“That’s right,” Eloise said softly, her head turned down as if she was confessing to a crime.
“Oh my God, you’re English!” Caelyn looked at her with wonder, her eyes and mouth opened wide.
“I am?” Eloise said, more like a question than an answer.
“That’s so cool,” Caelyn said, still wide-eyed. “I love England and everything about it. Not that I’ve ever been there. But I just know I would love it more than any place in the world! What part of England are you from?” Eloise was ready to answer when Caelyn blurted out, “I know—you’re from the East End of London because that’s where people talk with a cockney accent.” She put her hand over her mouth as if she had said something bad. “Oh, I’m sorry though, shouldn’t have said the cockney thing?”
“Oh, no, not at all.”
“It’s my dream to go to England.”
“Well, it was my dream to come and live here, and now I do live here.”
“Here? Why here?” Caelyn looked as if she could never understand why Eloise or anyone would want to live here.
“I like the sunsets.”
“Mm,” Caelyn said with apparent disinterest in Eloise’s love for the Arizona sunsets. She only wanted to talk about England. So Eloise talked on about tea and bangers and double buses and driving on the left. She’d forgotten how much she loved to talk. Harry always said she was the chattiest lady he’d ever known. The whole time she talked, Caelyn never looked at her oddly; instead, she looked at her as if she was special.
When Eloise got back to the store, Rachel asked her how the meeting with Caelyn went.
“Bloody brilliant!” she said, standing tall, smiling big and bright, her accent more cockney than ever.
“That’s great.” Rachel smiled at Eloise as if happy and curious about her sudden transformation. “Do you want to take a break before you get back to work?”
“No thank you, love.” With these words, she went out to the floor to help a young lady who’d come looking for material for curtains.
“My place is kind of drab. I’m looking for something…”
“Something that’ll bright’n you up?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
“I know just the color for you.” She led the customer to a bolt of fabric that was the closest thing in the store to the color plue, and she held it up and said, “You can’t go wrong with this color. It’ll bright’n up the drabbest of places.”