Neon Blue (suspense) and This Shoal of Space (SF) by John Argo were the first two e-books ever published online for download, in the history of the world, 1996-7 in innovative weekly serial chapters. More info at the museum pages. If you enjoy this free read, which is offered in the spirit of the Golden Age of the World Wide Web, please consider buying a print or e-book edition as a way of thanking the author. A fine E-book is typically priced at the cost of a latte, yet offers many more hours of enjoyment than a cup of coffee. Thank you (John Argo).
Blue spent two days with her parents in Connecticut, thirty miles west along the coast from the town of Hamilton, and about a million miles from her former lover.
She packed a single suitcase with only the most dire necessities, including several stuffed animals. She took the helicopter shuttle from the old Pan Am skyscraper in Manhattan to JFK, and a Pilgrim Airlines puddle jumper from Long Island to New Haven.
At home she was a kid again, after a fashion. Slept in her old room. Watched late movies with Dad. Made sandwiches at midnight, like the old days, only Dad tended now to be asleep by the time she brightly reappeared in the living room with a sandwich tray.
Things got a little heated only once, at dinner on her first evening at home. Her mother, a small fussy woman of Italian extraction, had made kielbasa, sauerkraut, and potatoes. Her father, a big quiet man of German extraction, had drunk several beers and looked a bit glassy when he came to the table. Blue shook her head and looked down in embarrassment, fiddling with her food. Her mother began scolding Dad.
"Things haven't changed," Blue said. She rose, picked up her father's beer, and poured it down the kitchen sink. Then she hugged him.
"He would never allow me to do something like that," her mother said loudly while serving up the potatoes.
Blue laughed. "You just don't know how to handle men."
"Tomorrow," Dad said, "we'll take a look at that car of yours." He was referring to the MGA in the garage.
"That thing goes in the paper," Mom said, meaning not the car but the ad to sell it. "And he does not lift the battery with his bad back."
"I'll lift the battery, Mom. Please, sit and eat will you?"
"Whatcha figure you'll get for it? And are you sure you want to sell it," Dad asked chewing a piece of kielbasa dipped in horseradish mustard.
She put her elbows on the table and leaned her chin on her hands. "I dunno. Two grand? It's in pretty good shape, except a little rust around the wheel wells."
"We could get Artie to patch her up for you." Artie was his boyhood friend who owned a service station on Ocean Avenue.
"Yes, I want to sell it," she said. It was the quintessential family conversation, everybody talking at once, each with a conversation of their own.
"I could put in a sewing room in the back of the garage," Mom said. "You could help me sew things. I always wanted you to learn how to sew."
"She can sew buttons on, what more does she need."
"Mom, I'm living in New York." Blue laughed. "You want me to commute here every evening after work to sew?"
"You could spend more weekends like a good girl."
"Girl? Anna, this is a woman. A grown woman. She has a college degree and works for the government." That impressed Dad. He'd never finished high school, and he'd worked forty years at the rubber factory in Allingtown.
Mom stepped behind Blue. Massaging Blue's shoulders, she declared: "This is my little girl. What's happened to you, Laurel? What happened to my little girl who used to play piano in the living room for all the family?"
"I grew up, Mom. Went into the world and became worldly."
Dad said: "They do the damndest things in college. Always did, Anna. Used to swallow goldfish."
"But she's done with college," Mom wailed. "Married, divorced, gone and joined the DEA. Shoots a gun for all I know. Where's the husb"
"MOM! Don't start that, will you?"
"Now, now," Daddy said, "let her be herself. I never did like that Latin creep. She knows what she's doing. I always tell you that, Anna. She's a modern woman, and you've got to give them their head of steam."
After dinner they watched TV. Dad got a couple of beers from the garage. Mother and daughter exchanged glances but said nothing.
Mother said: "I'm always so glad when you're here. You have my eyes, you know, dark and flashing like your Uncle Pasquale. And my build, not big like Daddy. And my nose, thin like. But you have Daddy's square face. German." She made muscles and fists. "Strong."
"Anna, watch the show," Dad said.
"But those clothes."
"Still rebelling. Always rebelling."
And so it went. By ten, Mom kissed them goodnight, put the cat outside, and went to bed. The news update came on. "I'm going to fix us some sandwiches," Blue said to Dad. "You want liverwurst? Summer sausage?" He grunted, and she took it for a yes. She went to the fridge. "And a pickle. Yep. One for me, one for you. Horseradish, even though it makes you fart all night. Wow, here's a few deviled eggs. We're going to live it up, Daddy."
When she came into the living room with a laden tray, however, he was fast asleep, snoring with his face tilted up, his socks at the ankles, his gnarled wrists curled over the arm rests.
"Jesus Christ, I might as well go out and feed the alley cats with all this stuff." She ate a sandwich, a deviled egg, drank a beer, and then did the remaining dishes. Put the left-overs away. And stepped outside into the cold winter air for a cigarette under the eternal blanket of stars stretched over the barren trees.
Next day, Dad took her down to Artie's and got the battery for the MGA recharged. She labored lovingly over the ancient sports car most of the day, washing and polishing it then rolling it out into the driveway. She lifted the battery in. She took off the oil pan, lying in the heated garage under the car into the evening with a beer at her side and the radio playing rock music. She sprawled under the car, small breasts floating under her olive t-shirt. Cleaned out the oil pan, changed the filter, bolted the oil pan back on, and poured fresh oil in the engine before starting it up. By then it was late night.
Blasting rock music from the car stereo, she went for a ride down along the beach. Felt nostalgic driving past West Haven High, Ocean Avenue, South Street beach. Took Murphy for a ride down to the beach, watched fog roll in with the tide. Heard the mournful basso of ocean freighters at slow intervals.
Blue had a way of separating things into boxes. It was the way she had always been. You had to do it, she figured without thinking about it much, to survive. A box for work. A box for shopping. A box for Mom and Dad. A box for memories. A box for love, and that was the most tightly shut box of all.
The old subjects would surface inevitably, she knew as she tossed a stick and tired old Murphy chased after it. Why the DEA after she'd spent time and money getting a degree in chemistry, why Manhattan, why no new and better marriage. She smoked while she waited for Murphy. Damn things; she'd quit one of these days. Why did people smoke anyway? Frustration?
Why no marriage? Why, indeed? All through high school, Blue had been a shy, quiet girl. Naive. Pianist, giving little family concerts: Beethoven, Satie, Liszt. Unaware that people hurt each other. She gone steady with Ted Monahan who was a year ahead of her and played varsity football. Silly thing, she'd loyally gone to every game. Good old Laurel, skirt folded awkwardly between her legs, cheering touchdowns, yelling herself hoarse. Eating popcorn, letting him pet her at the movies, but unwilling to go all the way. He screwed around left and right.
College, and how dumb could you be. A replay that wouldn't quit. This time it was Donald Sagus, hockey team captain, varsity football, same old shtick. Nice looking guy, enviable Blue, until she'd learned about the others. Donald had given her clap to boot. And run off with an Olympic discus hurler named Tessie O'Brien. Good old Laurel, shouting herself hoarse at the hockey games and football games. Helping Donald with his goddam math, his physics, his chemistry. Today he was probably using some other unsuspecting well-meaning dopey dame to keep his head above water in some corporation. Blue had seen him at one or two ball games with Tessie, a tall blonde with the wide shoulders, frizzy hair, and green eyes. Stunned, Laurel had realized a double pain. First, because she had been dumped and abused again. Secondly, because she realized she had a crush on the woman who was doing this to her.
Blue had gone to work for a consulting firm in Hartford, and helped write proposals for sewage treatment plants. She'd met and married a tall, handsome Ecuadorian-American named Mike Aguilar. Laurel Aguilar. Little more than a shadowy memory now, hard to believe those two years had ever happened.
A radical change: DEA; Manhattan; black belt in karate; jazz and rock gigs around the Apple. And then, Maggie. Solace for a time. Maggie: An older woman, 35, attractive, a nurturer of sorts, when she was not drinking gin out of paint-smeared coffee cups. Wounded, Blue had crawled into her arms. Lost innocence, making up for years spent being the girl next door. Into punk, post-punk, neo-punk. An easy leap into all-woman bands like The Toasters, Five Bad Girls, The Cheries (or The Cherries, as the girls sometimes called themselves). A double life for a while. Straight-arrow DEA by day, rock bitch taking a walk on the wild side by night. Probing. Trying things. Manhattan, everything possible. What an exploration! A shadowy world, opening up stranger and stranger in the people who frequented it. People who showed up at Bad Girls concerts, men with lipstick, women in tuxedoes, cross-dressers rocking and blaring in a sort of neon wash. Maggie had painted her, too: Girl With Flower, Soft Girl, Love In Clouds, some award winners, a few hanging in the living rooms of Maggie's wealthy admirers. Blue had never allowed Maggie to use 'Laurel' in any of the titles, so Maggie's paramour would forever remain a mystery woman. Always a chimera of sorts, girl with pout, lady with dark sensuous eyes, unreachable. Cat-girl, spitting fire, poised on a tree branch, fight or flight. Flower-girl, Blue's crisp square face drowning in summer sunlight in Maggie's fevered imagination. In her aching woozy love-beyond-love, unrequited love. That, too, was a part of the past now.
Tonight she was here on this familiar beach, with the little family dog, Girl Next Door, Girl With Dog, Girl Confused, Longing Girl, changeless being home again, older but wiser (Hendrix: Are You Experienced?), still looking for that Big Love to fill the void. Alone with mournful fog horns, she wasn't sure whether it was a Donald or a Tessie who would satisfy her. She knew only that there was a longing in her, deep as the ocean, and it ached like a hunger.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.