So She Could See the Color Plue
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 Mum got sick, 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, the funny accents all the people had, and the way the world looked so different from London in this faraway place. But most of all, she remembered the magical color in the sky 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 decided that plue was her favorite color in the world, and when she told Mum this, Mum told her she’d make her a dress in that color as soon as they got back home.
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, Eloise thanked Mum a million times for making her the dress. Sewing it seemed to tire her and seeing this made Eloise cry. She wore it proudly. Dad even let her wear it to Mum’s funeral, which was only a few months after their trip to Arizona.
She heard 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 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 forgot what 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 Mum standing right 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 could hear music in the sunsets, a melodious rhythm that sounded through the sky. Even though the color plue was so fleeting, it also seemed to stop time, and in that space that was both brief and endless, she felt like she was a little girl again with Mum standing next to her.
The fabric store where she got a job was right off Speedway Boulevard, the road that was once called the ugliest street in the United States with its endless sea of strip malls and billboards. 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 just like Mum, 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. She tried to make her voice less cockney. She tried using American expressions, but sometimes she got them wrong.
“Your house will be a million dollars with curtains made of this fabric,” she once said to a customer.
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. She got through the rest of the day by focusing on all the beautiful fabric in the store and thinking of how she’d see the color plue that night. She thought of telling Harry 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 the ‘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. 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, Maggie, even asked her if everything was alright.
“Oh yes, I’m fine. Just got a little headache is all.” But it seemed that Maggie 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. She seemed to take pity on Eloise.
“Why don’t you go outside for a break?” Maggie said.
Eloise thanked her and went out to sit on the dry ground under a cottonwood tree. Outside, it was a typical cloudless, blue-skied day. A mild desert wind soothed her, and as she leaned back against the tree, a white sedan pulled into the parking lot. A tall woman dressed in yellow got out of the car, followed by a little girl with red hair. The child, who looked to be no older than six or seven, stood tall and walked proud beside her mother.
Eloise had red hair before it turned gray. When she was about the same age as the little girl in the parking lot, she couldn’t stand being a redhead. The boys and girls at school called her Lobster. She wore a hat all year round outside, but inside, there was no getting away with it. The teachers made her take her hat off and that’s when the other kids laughed.
One day, after school, she cried to Mum.
“I wish I was born with brown hair or blond hair,” she said through her sniffles. “I don’t like being different.”
“So, you want to be like everybody else then?” Mum said, smirking.
Eloise usually came right back with an answer to any question, but not for this one. She didn’t want to be laughed at, but even more than that, she didn’t want to be like everybody else.
“Being unique is better than being like everybody else. Don’t ever forget that.”
After that day, Eloise was never sorry for having red hair. In fact, she grew to love it and wore it with great pride. No hats or scarves covering her brilliant head of hair. Now, she heard these wise words again, so loud and clear that Mum could have been right there saying them. She stood up and marched back in the store, holding her head high.
“Did you have enough time to rest?” Maggie asked as soon as she came back into the store.
“Yes, love. Thank you.” 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 brighten you up?” No hiding her cockney accent.
“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 brighten up the drabbest of places.”
Grace Mattioli is the author of Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees, Discovery of an Eagle, and The Bird that Sang in Color. These family drama books are available from all major online book sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.