The Blue Collector
Sara is quite sure it started on her eighth birthday. One of the candles on her cake was blue, bright blue. She made her wish, blew the candles out and quickly pocketed the blue one. Later she would wash off the frosting, trim the burnt wick and place it in the secret drawer of her music box. This was a very good color, this blue. It wasn’t the baby boy blue, all powdery looking, and it was darker than a clear day’s sky blue, but not a blue like the sea. It was somehow brighter. It dazzled. This blue was a blue to watch for.
The next time she had this blue in her hands was holding a book from the school library. The outside cover was faded and scratched, but when she opened the book and saw the inside where the blue was folded over and tucked under the paper lining, well there it was. Sara peeled a bit of the paper away and dug at the blue edge. When enough came up she cut a small strip, put it in her pocket and glued the paper back down. Now there were two blues in her secret drawer.
She gave up asking her mother for blue things like dresses and shoes because her mother just did not understand what blue Sara wanted. Blue was blue to her mother and there was no point trying to make her see that what might well be blue to her mother simply wasn’t the right blue. It was up to Sara and her alone to find the blue she wanted.
She stole a blue barrette from Ida Mae when she left two on the shelf of her open locker in gym class. Ida Mae couldn’t remember where her mother got them so Sara had no choice if she wanted one for her collection. She made a point of helping Ida Mae look all over the floor for the missing barrette that was safely tucked into her training bra. Sara also kept an eye on Ida Mae’s dresses just in case there was a bit of that blue in the fabric that had warranted her mother buying those barrettes.
The collection soon outgrew the hidden drawer and moved into other parts of the jewelry box. Then the whole collection was moved to a shoe box hidden in Sara’s closet. But not really so hidden. If you put a shoe box on the floor of a closet and put a pair of shoes on top, who would think to look inside the box?
By the time Sara turned sixteen the box was three quarters full of blue….the right blue. And sometimes, not often, she would not just lift the lid to stuff another piece of blue inside but actually take the box out of the closet and sit with it, touching all the pieces of blue and remembering where they came from. The piece of blue masking tape from art class picked up its own collection of blues, a rubber band, clothing label, a bit of ribbon and even attached itself to Ida Mae’s barrette. She pulled them all loose and folded the tape in half to stop it from sticking itself to another blue.
Over time Sara became more selective with her collection. If she had a particular item like let’s say a milk carton cap in the perfect blue, she did not need to have another one. This did not mean she was going to throw away duplicates already in the shoe box. It meant that there was enough and she would have to look further for her blues. And the object had to be completely blue, not just part of a pattern with other colors.
And so it went. One piece of blue following another into the shoe box.
A few years later Sara moved her blues to a small suitcase. Not once did she think, ‘I have enough now and will stop.’ Like most obsessed collectors quitting was not an option. There was always going to be another bit of this particular blue out there somewhere and Sara just needed to keep an eye out for it.
If her desire had been, let’s say, aubergine, then the collecting might have ended with the latest color of nail polish and the result would have been a small collection still being housed in the shoe box. But no, it was this dazzling blue that was always showing up and catching her eye.
Sara not only collected her blue, she studied it. She knew the history of blue beginning with human awareness in pigments made from lapis, the semiprecious stone mined in Afghanistan about 6,000 years ago. And how the Catholic Church in 431 AD officially made it the color of saints. Hence blue was the color that conveyed trust.
Not least of which was the use of a blue like those in Sara’s collection by the male Satin Bowerbird of Australia to attract his mate. Once he built an elaborate bower made of sticks and shaped into an arch, he went about collecting the blues from wherever he could find them to adorn the entryway to the bower. Once the female saw this careful arrangement of blue and came in for a closer look the male would further entice her with his agile dance performance and thus begin another generation of those under the spell of blue.
Sara preferred being alone. Her career choice of research in rare diseases kept her even more isolated from people. She did not much like being around other people and privately considered them like red meat and insects, something to avoid when possible. When she met someone along the way on her morning walks, she never said ‘Good Morning” first, but with a quick glance up mumbled something like it in response to their greeting. She kept her eyes focused on the ground ahead sweeping side to side just in case the perfect blue had been discarded or lost along the way.
This was her life with very few exceptions, day after day, year after year.
When Sara was in her sixties she began thinking about retiring from her job and moving to a senior’s home called The Blue Heron. It was located just outside of town and offered the conveniences someone her age required. She made an appointment to look at one of the available apartments the following Saturday.
When she pulled into the parking lot that morning she glanced across the well-maintained lawns stretching out from patios in the complex. And there it was! That blue! In the form of not just the hat a man was wearing but his mittens as well. One of those blues would be a very nice addition but stuffing all three into her suitcase would be so much better. Yes, she could live here for sure.
Sara put in her notice at work and her house on the market. Within a month she was moving into The Blue Heron only two doors down from the man with the blue hat and mittens.
She watched him first from a distance to learn his schedule of coming and going from his apartment. It took several weeks to see that he like her was a person with little variation in his routine. There is a security in keeping to a schedule, knowing what was coming next. She liked that about him…almost as much as she liked his hat and mittens.
Sara arranged her walking schedule to be returning when he was leaving. Then one morning she did something she had never done. She said, “Good Morning”. He smiled and nodded back. This was good. She did not want to have this be a daily and therefore a too repetitive exchange between them so would let a few days lapse before meeting him going out as she was coming in. He seemed in no hurry to stop and chat with Sara so one morning she pretended to be looking for something right in the middle of the sidewalk where he would have to step around her or inquire what she was looking for. It worked. He asked if he could help locate the key to her apartment that she slid into a crack in the sidewalk to get him to stop. Now she could see the mittens up close. Yes, they were the perfect blue. Then he did the unimaginable and removed one for her to hold while he dug out the lost key.
It not only was the perfect blue but felt like something she needed to own, just to slide her hand into on a cold morning and hold tight in a clenched fist. She asked the man where he bought such a lovely hat and mittens set so she could get her own. He replied his sister in Sweden had knitted them for him. Her hopes in owning her own beautiful blue hat and matching mittens were about to be dashed altogether when she remembered Ida Mae’s barrette. She would have to steal them. Reluctantly Sara pulled her hand free of his mitten to trade for the key held in his cold hand.
Whatever Sara was going to do to get the man’s perfect blue would have to be before the winter ended and them being safely tucked into a drawer or on a shelf in his closet. She thought of asking him to come over for afternoon tea or something stronger. Then once he placed them on the table by the door she would drop her scarf over them and gather everything up in a wad to move onto her own shelf. When he would look for them after tea Sara would convince him that he probably left them in his apartment or on the bench by his back door. It seemed such a good plan but Sara’s desire to be left alone won out and the invitation was never extended.
Another month of infrequent but casual greetings passed between them.
And on the morning of March 10th the man was not where she expected to see him. Instead he was sitting on the bench by his back door. He did not wave back. Sara went closer. His eyes were closed and she thought he must be napping. His hat was pushed back and his hands were tucked inside his matching mittens and folded on his lap under the table. He was very still. She cleared her throat to wake him. Nothing. With her left hand she swept the hat from his head and pulled the mittens free of his hands with her right. The fact he didn’t stir Sara took as permission to keep what was now tucked into her pocket. Pulling out her key Sara turned and walked two doors down to her own back door.
Once inside she went straight to her room and pulled the suitcase from under the bed. She unlatched the clasps and threw the lid back, put both her hands deep into the blue and spread her fingers wide. Shaking her hands in quick motions made the blues come alive and push against each other to vie for her attention. She smiled and pulled her hands free to gently lay the hat and mittens on top.
Maybe now she had enough of her blue…..maybe not.