Did I create him myself

September 13, 2011

I wrote this story based on the colour of a man’s skin. I’d met him in high school. My last year. He had transferred. And I only talked to him once. His skin was so black that it looked blue. He also had straight black hair. And very soft features. Like some southeastern Asians have. He told me that his ancestors had been Cheyenne and black slaves that had run off into the swamp and been taken in by the indian people’s there. That’s one version. I wrote this story based on the colour of a man’s skin. That I met in university. Once again his skin was so black that it looked dark dark blue. One of the most handsome persons you’d have ever seen. And he was a cross between Cheyenne and Afro-American. Now I don’t know which of those two stories is correct. My memory holds both of them. I am sure that I had met such a fellow. So I wrote this character into my stories. Or did I create him myself.



“You’re almost blue,” Paul McGregor said to the tall African standing on the stepladder. Like Jack. On the beanstalk. The giant not Jack. Coming down. To lay out the town. Like a rug. In short the two drug store clerks were restocking shelves.

“Deep blue. Queequeg. Without the whale.” Paul lifted the diet coke. Which did feel lighter than regular coke.

Ralph. The African accepted the cases of cola effortlessly from Paul without a comment. The pile of cases had already reached about six feet. They would be gone by the end of day. Every couple of months the drug store put cola on sale. Two per customer. It amazed Ralph how much cola Canadians drank. Damn country is hooked on carbonation.

Paul wiped his brow. Some ran into his eyes. And he realized he felt wonderful.

“Man, I can’t get this song out of my head.”

“What’s the song?” Ralph asked. Who had his own problems. He had an irresistible urge to sing.

“Don’t know the title.” Paul laughed as he lifted another case. “Who would have thought that we would all end up as juke boxes?”

The air burns and I’m trying to think straight. And I don’t how much longer I can wait.” Ralph’s voice sang out. With a sharp accent. His lips massaging each syllable. Almost as if his tongue was keeping beat to the rhythm of his speech.

Paul laughed. “What’s that?”

“Heat.” Ralph said then explained. “Heat makes me want to sing.”

“But we got the AC on.”

“I was dreaming. Dreaming about being some place. Outside. Drinking hot tea. Hot tea makes you sweat. And the sweat makes you feel… so cool. Better than AC.”

Ralph said cool with extra ‘o’s in it. Making it sound like there was a light breeze moving across the vowels and making the ‘l’ flutter like a flag.

“And you get in the mood for singing.”

“And sweating. will cool you. It’s the body’s air-conditioning. Working man’s sweat. Filled with grit and worries. And the tea. Sweet. Like a cool mid-day sun shower. Rain drops running out of the eyes of orchids. Tears of God. Joy. Existence is so cool.”

Paul laughed. “Man, where did you hear all of this stuff?”

“Where all wisdom is found,” Ralph responded. “From my grandmother.”

“My granny smokes cigarettes and watches soaps,” Paul said. “The only thing that comes out of her mouth is smoke, and phlegm. You should see her spit. She can hit a fly at ten feet.”

Ralph laughed.

The two men worked for some time in silence when Paul asked.

“Why do you suppose people have different colours of skin?”

Ralph looked at Paul and shrugged.

“I used to think that it had something to do with the sun,” Paul added. “Northern peoples tend to be paler. But then I noticed how dark the Inuit were.”

The tall African chuckled as Paul handed him another case of cola off the skid.

“You’ve put a lot of thought into this?” Ralph said.

Paul stopped and took a breath. “You think the races are different species then?”

Ralph shook his head. “We’re all Africans. Some just left the hearth earlier. We’re all tourists on the planet.”

Paul nodded and didn’t say anything for some time. He took a breather and looked up at the tall African.

“You ever been in love?”

Ralph chuckled. “Depends. On what you call love.”

“You know,” Paul said. “When you can’t get someone. Out of your head. When you wake up. Worried. First thing in the morning. That she might have found someone new. Better than you. Or if not better, someone just new.”

Ralph laughed.

“Who is the unfortunate girl?”

Paul blushed.

“She worked here. For a while. A college student. Real smart. Smarter than me. Do you think that’s a problem?”

“Josephine Baker,” Ralph said.

Paul’s mouth dropped. “How’d you know that?”

“I saw you too chatting it up,” Ralph said. “Hardly able to get you to do any work. And she is smart. Isn’t that why her father forced her to quit? Afraid that Josephine was liking the job too much. When it was you she was liking too much.”

“You think she’s too smart?” Paul asked.

“Most women are too smart,” Ralph responded. “Too smart for men. If women waited for their equals, the species would die out.”

Ralph put the last carton on the shelf. Paul took a deep breath. Ralph looked down on Paul. As he descended the ladder.

“You’re a wise guy, Ralph,” Paul said. “Where’d you learn all this shit?”

“It is my tribe. We were known as the Blue Men. Our wisdom was known throughout the region. Before the Europeans showed up. And taught us to read.”

“Socrates did not believe that one should write down one’s thoughts,” Paul explained. “A great idea does not need a publisher. It needs a conversation.”

Ralph nodded. “That was like the great thinkers amongst the Blue Men. For generations they debated the important questions of existence. In this way, our young people learned about their world. Appreciated the life around them. It wasn’t thought necessary to write anything down. Then the conversation stopped.”

Ralph folded the stepladder up. Paul lifted the skid up and the two men dragged it toward the back of the store.

“What stopped the dialogue?” Paul asked.

A grimace appeared on the face of the African.


“Fear?” Paul asked. “Fear of what?”

“The white sails of the tall ships,” Ralph responded. “The slavers.”

The two men dragged the skid into the shipping department and laid it on top of a pile of skids.

“My ancestors were Scots,” Paul said. “A warrior tribe. They used to paint their skins blue before a battle. To scare the enemy. We fought the bloody English for hundreds of years. They kept knocking us down but we kept getting back up.”

Ralph laughed. “Well, maybe we are related, Paul. Both of us being a blue people.”

Paul chuckled and shook his head. “My grandmother wouldn’t want to hear that. She’d choke on her cigarette.

“Do you ever want to go back to your homeland?” Paul asked.

“Yes,” Ralph replied. “I will return to my homeland for a vacation someday. With my new bride and child.”

“I didn’t know that you were married,” Paul said.

Ralph laughed. “Well, I’m not. Yet. Still looking. But, I’ve got my eyes on a few prospects.”

Paul laughed. “A few!”

“Well,” Ralph smiled, “you’ve got to have a back up plan.”

The two men stepped towards the back entrance to the drug store. Paul reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarettes. He offered one to Ralph who refused. He had his own.

“What about you?” Ralph asked as he lit Paul’s cigarette and then his own.

“Marriage?” Paul responded. “I don’t believe in planning. It ruins the now. Besides you can’t marry and be a writer.”

“Writers can’t marry?” Ralph asked, the light grey smoke filtering out through his deep blue lips.

“You’ve got to be married to your work if you’re going to succeed.” Paul took his cigarette out of his mouth and looked at it. It was a habit he had picked up. It served no purpose but he couldn’t stop.

“I don’t think,” Paul continued, “a woman wants to take a back seat to my word processor.”

“And what will you write about?” Ralph asked.

Paul shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been writing a lot of sci fi recently. Got this story in my head about people living in an insane asylum. It’s from the perspective of the patients. They think they’re living at a summer resort. They all play roles. The parts of people you’d likely meet at the resort.”

“Interesting.” Ralph nodded as he drew lightly on his cigarette.

“You think so? I’m kind of stuck to tell you the truth.”

Ralph thought for a moment.

“Why don’t you make one of the inmates of the asylum a murderer?”

Paul looked at Ralph and laughed.

“That’s it. Murder. Someone is killed. That always picks up the interest of the reader.”


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