CW: Infant loss
“Anne Gudger’s piece “Blues” is our Flash CNF Editor Pick for Issue 20. Emotions leap off the page, with lyric language that is both dreamlike and achingly real. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
We were introduced to Anne’s work when her essay “Fish Boy” was published in Issue 15/16, Fallow/Unrest. We’re delighted to publish Anne again. “Blues” first appeared in a micro print-only publication in 2017 called Here Comes the Sun from Laguna Writers.”
— Ann Kathryn Kelly, Flash CNF Editor
Born under Montana’s Big Sky Blue Sky, she took breaths then steps then runs then skips then heart bursting, heart mashing moments under the blue, blue sky that fit her like her favorite blanket, the one her grandma Sally gave her with its faded watercolor flowers. Sky kissed her skin. Sky tattooed her pores. Sky braided into her cells.
She knew sky before she had words.
Knew the shades. Bright blue in summer’s mornings. Softened to Robin’s Egg Blue by the afternoon when clouds would slip in, sometimes like torn cotton candy, sometimes puffy with flat bottoms, like mounds of snow sizzling on a griddle.
She’d squint at the sky, name blues out loud, roll blue around in her mouth like it was her favorite marble, the one that looked like a tiny earth. Sky, Cobalt, Persian, Dodger, Egyptian, Electric, True, Ocean, Midnight, Steel, Royal, Sapphire, Alice, Azure, Pacific, Blizzard, Glacier, North Carolina, Robin Egg, Indigo.
She collected blues. From scraps of ribbons to wrapping paper to the deep blue of a mug her high school boyfriend made in second-period pottery class. “He’ll never amount to much,” her dad warned, as she daydreamed of a life in the arms of a potter with eyes the color of a Siberian husky, who played the French horn, who believed he introduced her to The Blues while The Blues already unpinned her heart.
B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Billy Holiday, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Hendrix, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin.
She was nine the first time she saw the ocean, heard pounding waves, felt sun and salt and grit on her skin. She raced into the watery blue, goose bumps going numb. Too cold for her parents who stood on the shore, blocked the sun with their hands like they were searching for ships. She jumped waves as they crashed into her lunar girl belly. In three years it would flatten like she was squeezed between planks that smoothed out her round, squished the round to boobs. But at nine she didn’t know flat stomach and boobs. She knew the icy water, the tingle between her legs, the wiggle in her stomach like a flutter, like more. Mermaid scales sprouted, that iridescent blue/green, camouflage in the sea. Between waves she studied the horizon, the in between place where blue sky butted up to watery blue, where sky skin met mermaid scales. She put her hand up and drew the line with her finger, traced the flat line in her memory. “Sky, fly, my,” she whispered. “Sea, bee, me.”
When her baby was born with his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck, stone still, blue baby in the doctor’s hands, her own heart jerked to Stop. She was sure he was dead. Her breath and his, harpooned with an icicle. That endless moment between life and death. The in between space. Blue Baby, the blue of a blanket her grandma’s childless friend knitted, not like the blanket, more the shade of blue her lips turned that first time she played in the Pacific Ocean. That shade. She stared at her still son. Couldn’t scream. Throat squeezed to a pinhole. Dr. Ray slipped a bloody finger under the sausage-looking umbilical cord, unfurled it once, twice, easy. Her son pinked up, jerked his tiny arms and legs, cried his boy cry that pierced her terror. Air and light and heart flooded the cool delivery room. She bawled and held her son close on her chest. Pink and swaddled. Her heart pounded her ribs. She knew in other rooms, other hospitals, other parents weren’t so lucky. Strangled babies. Dead babies. Dead blue.
She collects blues. Seven miniature glass bottles, some with stoppers, some without, shaped like the women in her life—tall, short, straight, round—all indigo, that deep blue Newton added in his revised account of the rainbow in Lectiones Opticae, 1675. Indigo, a dye that originally wasn’t a color until it was washed and fermented and exposed to air. Seven miniature glass bottles, the dark side of indigo, almost cobalt. Little bottles she lines up on a window in her 1937 home, that ledge in the middle where the bottom half of a double-hung window meets the top, the in between space meant for seashells and rocks and bottles. Past the indigo bottles, winter glistens. Snow tipped branches bend at their wrists, dipped in marshmallow cream. A hummingbird hovers, a fierce warrior, a messenger of healing Native American lore says, flashing its mermaid blue bowtie. Steel grey winter sky. Sunbeams slice clouds, beams of light that always remind her of a cathedral. This is church, she thinks. And nothing like church. She steps to the window, plucks the tallest bottle from the line-up, turns it on its side. She runs her finger along the bottle’s edge, admiring its beauty from a different view.
Header photograph by Larena Ortiz