The sound of her bluidity was deafening. It was as if the universe had gathered up every dark blue water bottle cap, every fallen Oreo wrapper, every torn postcard from the lakes in Oregon and every last little clipping of the newspapers from the day of the swimming championship and mashed them up into her screams. When she yelled it was all so blue Joshua could hardly function without drowning in the streams that came from his mother’s mouth.
That was the funny thing, though. Her screams weren't what you would expect. They weren’t even screams, really, it was just the way they rushed into his ears that made him think her heavy indigo whispers, thick with I-love-yous, were actually screams.
Her words weren't choppy or violent or clipped like scraping or smashing down walls. They were so fluid. They were loud, no doubt, but their loudness, their bluidity, came from the things that built them: little fragments of life that drowned out everything else. Things like peas and potatoes touching on his dinner plate and the dust on nightstand edges that he could never wipe off. Or the paint chipping off his action figures’ feet that he tried to fill in with magic markers. All the edges of his world that he could never line up.
One day in school his teacher showed him how to make envelopes out of construction paper. Hamburger fold. He folded and refolded over and over, but he could not get the edges right. He felt them, rough and fuzzed at the same time, and it bothered him a little. Hot dog fold. Twenty-seven times. Triangle fold. Forty-three times. Over and over. Tape. He went through seven pieces before he could get it perfectly straight. Folding in the edges and then folding them across. Fifteen times. By the time he finished his envelope, all the other children were pulling their green and purple lunchboxes out and comparing the size of their carrot sticks.
"It doesn't have to be perfect, buddy." Teacher smiled warmly. He couldn't even look.
The paper and its bluidity reminded him of his mother’s screams and the whole room seemed to grow bigger and bigger around him, that was something else funny, whenever Joshua felt like the world was closing in on him, which was often, the room would grow bigger, not smaller, like he heard about in books. He would feel the walls pull away from him, the floor drift from under his sneakers, like the surfaces that made up his world were simply vast waters and everything would become oceans around him. In these moments he found himself in the middle, without anything to hold on to, wishing the clouds were more than water vapor. He thought about what it would be like to curl his fingers around the cosmic white ceilings above him.
He stood in the middle of the kitchen that afternoon, mother whispering about how much she loved him, yelling, but not really yelling, about how she didn’t care how many times he had to flip the light switch or check the door lock, and all he could think about was that day in school with the envelope, all he could see were millions of fossils of folds on the construction paper, like dark scars from a valiant battle.
He remembered thinking about those paper scars on the way home from school that day, and every time the large school bus had gone over a bump, he had imagined what it would have been like to smooth those fossils out of the blue construction paper, what it would look like for those folds to be flat again, the wounds erased.
Every morning when Joshua got out of bed he had to make sure his Captain America comforter was perfectly lined up at the corners. If one section was out of balance and hung too close to the floor everything in his day would go very, very badly. That morning he got up and pressed, kept pressing the on off button on off on off on off on off on off, until he was satisfied that his alarm wouldn't ring. He gathered the blanket in his small white hands, threw it up, and floated it down onto the bed frame, the four corners flickering as it fell, blue and red and white and blue, he loved watching the colors drift down onto the bed frame, like an uneven snow made out of the different colors flames can be, which he had learned all about in Boy Scouts. He pulled it perfectly even, checking three times to make sure all the edges were lined up. Then he wrapped himself up in Dad’s old robe and teetered down the hallway to the kitchen.
Everything smelled very yellow and his mother was cooking eggs. Her Friend from last night came in. There was so much light in the kitchen it was hard for him to breathe. He found his little corner, where his little blue chair and table sat, everything perfectly parallel to the linoleum lines on the floor, tucked away from the windows, all cool and nice.
"I love that chair, bud." The Friend's voice and the crackling of the eggs in butter in the pan mixed all together, and he hated it. It made his insides twist, almost as bad as when his peas and potatoes touched on his dinner plate.
The blue chair was one of his favorite things, painted all over with nursery rhymes, but mostly with the cow jumping over the moon. He liked all the brown little cows and the moon that was the color of mayonnaise, but mostly he liked the background, how it was all one smooth color. Not blue-grey like the speckled sky that stretched over Granite City. It was just a simple, even shade, like his favorite magic marker that he used to draw oceans, and whales, and eyes.
He mumbled a word of thanks to Mom's Friend and sat down on the moon. He hoped the moon wouldn’t mind but he figured its craters were big enough to hold the parts of him that were falling out sometimes. He thought about the book with the little gold spine and all the rhymes in it that he used to read, thinking always helped him not to focus so hard on all the dust in the kitchen corners or the way his robe was tied around him. He remembered that one rhyme that mom always read to him before bed.
Hey diddle diddle,
The eggs were starting to burn now, he could sense it. Mom wasn't looking at them; she just kept running her hand up and down on Friend's chest, her pink fingernails tracing the little yellow stripes on the robe he was wearing.
The cat and the fiddle,
He noticed a piece of dust under the leg of his table, and he bent down to pick it up. He felt the pulse of the floor and all the steady beats in his mother’s laugh.
The cow jumped over the moon.
He loved the mayonnaise color of the moon even though he didn't like mayonnaise at all and he liked to think that, when the cow jumped, he soared over every uneven thing in the universe and traveled over the moon with its craters, filled with the parts of people that were all broken and smushed, and landed in a place where everything existed in perfect angles and nothing was too bright.
The little dog laughed,
His mother stopped giggling and came over to scrape the eggs onto his plate. They were very, very scrambled. He started to imagine what would happen to him if he ate the messy eggs, and he became very afraid. He could see the monsters that would attack him, they were all so white and clean, the worst kind of monsters, the kind you don’t realize are monsters until they are eating you from the inside out. He looked over into the blinding bursts of light coming from the other side of the kitchen.
"These eggs are really mixed up, Mom."
She looked over, whispering fast apologies. She went over to the fridge and got some more eggs, and Her Friend just leaned against the wall, drowning Himself in brightness and laughing at something, Joshua didn't know what.
To see such sport,
He realized how uneven his chair legs were with the lines of the linoleum, and he repositioned it. Still not right. He tried again, and then the fifth time it finally looked okay. The eggs were taking forever and he noticed his old messy eggs were still on the plate, writhing, letting their fumes erupt all over the kitchen. He picked up the plate and opened the sliding glass door, making sure it slid at an even pace. Not too fast, not too slow. He threw the eggs into the green grass outside. The backyard was a dominion he could not control, one of those little boundaries he had for himself, so he didn't mind tossing them there.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
"What are you doing?!" Mother asked, the sliding door closing perfectly in its little socket.
"They were so messy, Mom."
She started to get that way she would get when her screams were about to be very blue, but then she heard the egg timer and she brought him a perfectly circular sunny-side up breakfast and he forgot about some things and then poked the middle part and watched the orange ooze. Those were little messes he could allow, little explosions, like volcanoes on a tiny egg island. He didn't let the ooze go outside the white part, he scooped it all up so fast, imagining he was eating spoonfuls of sand and lava from his very own island's shore.
One night there was something on the television about gorillas. He was playing with his kingdom, his army of men that were all green and shiny and had very serious faces. Everything in the living room was canyons and valleys and mountains. There was a very dangerous ridge on the edge of the television set. Only the bravest of men would go there.
So that night Mom and a different Friend sat on the couch. That was a huge mountain range, but he let them sit on it sometimes, and that night there were no missions set to go out there. He gathered the men up into four lines of six and made sure no one's feet were out of line. That was the thing he loved about army men, because their little green feet were already set in a good position, and no man could put his foot out of line, even if he wanted to.
There were murmurs and other soft sounds from the couch, and the gorillas on the T.V. were making hooting sounds. It was time for the groups to prove who was bravest. He looked at the lines and held each man up to the T.V., and whoever did not shudder from the hooting sounds and all the black hair was allowed to go on the ridge mission.
But the test was interrupted a few times, because on the seventeenth man, Mom scolded him and tried to pick up the whole army and put them back in the closet. He screamed because she had stopped him on an odd number, and he noticed how blue his screams sounded, but they were more like a grey-blue, like the fuzz that came over the T.V. set when the signal got lost.
She went back to the couch, but he held the men up a little lower so that she and Her Friend could still see the gorillas tromping through the forests. Although, they didn't seem to be watching anymore, and sometimes he wasn't sure if it was his mother or the gorillas making odd noises.
Once he determined the bravest men, he crossed the room and helped them move across the huge river of blankets, over to the side of the television set, climbing up, then across the top, and then came the hardest part, the men had to fall off the side and engage their little parachutes. He watched their green figures plummet onto the carpet, and if one or two fell face down they had to go again.
His small body became a silhouette against the buzzing T.V. screen. He pressed his face up to it and he could feel the static electricity graze his cheek like a timid hand. The cable had gone out because of a storm moving through and the screen became incredibly blue, like the way he saw both of their screams. That night he imagined it was an ocean, and he wanted to let the men swim through it, but he was afraid of upsetting mother so he looked behind him. They weren't watching, but the blankets on the couch were moving very strangely. They were a light blue-grey, and he imagined that the way those quilts were writhing and swirling would be the way the sky would look at the end of the world.
So he turned back to the ocean and let the men swim. They had had a successful evening of missions, and altogether, it had been a good day.
There were days where all the blue in the home and in his life would converge with his mother. Instead of screams that were full of plastic shrapnel, or giggles that were yellow like eggs, everything would come together and she would fasten the Velcro straps on his tennis shoes.
He loved the sound of the Velcro coming together, the fuzzy and the hard, making a soft brushing sound. He loved how his mother would line the straps up perfectly and how, once they were stuck against each other, the only thing that could pull them apart was a very harsh ripping.
On those days they would step out of the small grey house and go to the park on the corner. It was hard for him though, because he had to count the steps, and even though he knew there were exactly six, and if he missed one he absolutely had to go back and start again. That day he got it on the first try, counting as he went down, making sure not to step on the lines in the weathered wood. He balanced on the tips of his sneakers, smiling and thinking he must’ve looked like those black birds that balance on the tall piles of trash in the city.
They walked out onto the sidewalk and everything in the air was a strange mix of speckles: the smell of the factory, the mist that came before rain, and little specks of sun that managed to cut through the clouds in spectrums. He was okay with how the air was all mixed, and his mother said she loved speckled air because it matched the freckles on his face, and that anything in the world that looked like him was something she loved.
But he got distracted as he looked down, he had been watching the ground beneath his sneakers and suddenly he realized he had stepped on a crack five squares back, and so he turned and ran to find it and start again. It was his rule.
But as he began to count again, mother and her long blue dress came trailing behind him and whispered "I have a fantastic idea."
"What?" He had a steady pace, six squares, back on track, no cracks.
"You can ride on my back, Joshua. It will be just like you are one of your army men that you love so much, or like Captain America. I'll be your fighter plane and you can pilot me all the way to the park."
Eight squares, no cracks, he decided this idea might be okay though, because she was wearing that dress and it would be just like a cape flowing behind him. He jumped on her back and muttered some important takeoff commands. Then she ran, zooming over the concrete, the world behind both of them with all its uncounted steps and stepped-on sidewalks.
He knew, somehow, deep in him, that she knew not to step on the cracks, even as they flew to the park. Her long legs were strong, and he held on to her dark hair. He loved the smell of it, like tomatoes and his Captain America comforter. He steered her towards the park and she moved in a rhythm, leaping, one square after the other, her sandals always landing right in the middle, slapping the concrete.
He found a way not to think about the sidewalks, somehow, in that moment. He cared more about how the speckled air whizzed by, he and his mother, with the cape flowing behind them, becoming one long blue scream, a streak moving fast against the static sky and the grey concrete around them.