“Ingrid and the Blue Balloon.”
A Magical Verité by Denise Gow
The idea of being eternally guided is a tempting one: that decisions don’t have to be made but instead everything will be revealed in some mystical meaningful way appeals to all and moves everyday existence from the mundane to the magical. In the sunrise of each new day the lost become found again in the mirror of life.
After all, can a caterpillar ever forget to become a butterfly?
Ingrid was a charming creature with a butterfly mind who loved the colour blue. She painted all her toys blue and died her clothes the same colour. But her mother was not impressed because whatever colour she made her things, she lost them anyway. She would lose her socks, shoes and house keys and many other possessions with abandon. Her mother would sew, pin or tie as many items as she could onto Ingrid, but it was no use.
‘Ingrid, you’ll lose your head if it weren’t screwed on,’ she’d say, or words to that effect. But, since her mother had married a French man and dropped her English, when she did speak it, it was kind of stuck – like a snail stuck in aspic – and she sounded more like a newsreader than a mother.
‘I have a habit of losing things, don’t I?’ Ingrid would say to her mother, perhaps as more of a challenge than a straight matter of fact. ‘Perhaps if they were blue, they wouldn’t go away.’ To which her mother felt unable to reply.
As Ingrid grew up her losing things continued exponentially and she lost her father who ran away to sea. He could be found in any Dunkerque alleyway surrounded by empty wine bottles, inspecting a ship-in-a-bottle and trying to coax the ship out. Ingrid lost her mother to another love – her mother would often appear in the high street banging a tambourine and trying to get others to join her hippy, happy-clappy group who lived off green lentils and free love. Even Ingrid’s brother ran away. He joined the Foreign Legion and sent Ingrid a photo of himself in uniform hiding behind the cook tent, smoking an oversized spliff, enjoying his moment of freedom – something neither had as a child.
All these family escapades affected Ingrid, but while she still had her best friend and her boyfriend, she managed to get over them.
However, it was when Ingrid’s best friend and boyfriend eloped together, that made Ingrid sail away to England to live on a boat with a parrot, not realising she was carrying her family pain inside her.
The boat gave her security in the way it bobbed up and down and delighted her with ever changing light which sparkled and danced through the interior. It also felt temporary, which matched her mood. You see, if she lived in a temporary manner it made it possible to deal with the confusion and pain. This was imperative.
And, without realising it, she’d lost her trust in life, so she compensated by loving things too much, thinking that if she loved things greatly they would blossom and stay.
She started her experiments with Squawker, her parrot. She would spend evenings looking at him and loving him, stroking him and playing some Mozart on an old cello she’d found in a dark junk shop, in Ramsgate harbour. She played to him as Papageno must have serenaded his Papagena – but his only reply was to squawk ‘Bugger Off’. ‘Bugger Off’ wailed Squawker. One day after so much loving he turned blue. He looked nice as an all-blue parrot. And in turn, everything else around Ingrid turned blue too. This was okay for Squawker but for her Teddy Bear and her morning boiled egg, this was a little unusual. But Ingrid accepted things, as she liked blue anyway.
Occasionally she would wear a blue t-shirt with a parakeet green scarf to see what would happen and she liked it so it became her style, her colours, her way.
One morning, bright and early, Ingrid went to her job in an accessories shop by the harbour, and lovingly found all the blue and green hair decorations, brooches and scarves and made a pretty display. But, when the manageress came in and said that blue and green should never be seen, she told Ingrid to put everything back the way it had been.
Bugger off, muttered Ingrid under her breath. ‘Pa!’ she said to the manageress and walked off – leaving the startled manageress to her own devices.
And although her friend warned her that walking away was madness and that she would never find another job, Ingrid believed she would somehow be guided and that if she followed all things blue, somehow life would come her way in the end.
But, when the days became difficult to bear emotionally she would sail to the mouth of the harbour think of home and remember. She would give her soul for a touch from her mother, or to giggle with her friend and boyfriend, say dites-moi or bis-moi, but this was impossible. So, she sailed back to her mooring and played to Squawker and imagined the friends and family she might have instead.
They say lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place but it has been found that unhappiness can. It has been proved that people who are unlucky in love have the ability to attract the same unfortunate circumstances. Fate follows those afflicted as if attached by an unseen gossamer thread. It’s also said that some people create unhappiness to bring a state of excitation into their otherwise dull, organised lives.
Ingrid wasn’t one of these people and thought all the theories piffle. She loved life and busied herself with her blues and her parrot and her boat and her aloneness. Her aunt’s will had left her enough to live on for a year so she had time to establish herself in her new life. She took up crochet and would tend the many herb seeds in pots dotted around the boat while living in the possibility that things would change – for the better.
One day, an unexpected thing happened and a white puppy appeared at her window on the port side (that’s the side by the sea). This was impossible, say more or less, she mused, as the sea was there. She tapped on the window and the puppy made a little noise. Ingrid was confused but went outside to have a look at the impossible apparition.
As expected there was nothing there except the side of the boat and the lapping waves. She was quite puzzled because as you might remember the puppy was white and Ingrid was used to all things blue.
But she forgot about it. And then, soon after, on one of the early sunny and spring-like days full of blue skies Ingrid decided to relax on the boat deck. No sooner had she lain down than something tickled her toes. She looked up to see – the white puppy. It cocked its head in a cute kind of way, but she told it to go away as it probably belonged to someone else. But she let it stay there tickling her toes nevertheless.
When Ingrid went below to make a cup of peppermint tea the puppy followed her and Squawker shouted, ‘bugger off’.
Undeterred the puppy snapped back.
‘Bugger off’ shouted Squawker.
Snap, snap, snap! went the puppy until Ingrid had to call a truce between them. Later on, she picked up the puppy and put it back on the quay and told it to go home.
‘Shoo. Home,’ she said. ‘Va-t-on!’
After drooping his head, the puppy turned and padded off.
With some regrets, Ingrid returned below deck still thinking about the puppy. In the kitchen, she noticed a caterpillar had fallen from the leaves of a peppermint plant, onto the work surface.
‘Silly caterpillar. If you don’t eat, then you’ll never grow up to become a butterfly,’ she said as she popped it back on a leaf and turned round the herb pot so the caterpillar wouldn’t end up in her tea.
On a particularly sunny day, Ingrid was washing her blue socks and darning the toes which had begun to fray when she fell asleep on the boat deck. Next thing she knew, she awoke as the puppy jumped onto her tummy. Ingrid sat up with a surprise and the puppy was inadvertently knocked off and fell into a pail of dye – blue dye. She fished out the little body which was now looking rather blue and dried it off with a hair dryer. Now sitting nose-to-nose in front of a blue puppy, she realised its owners probably wouldn’t recognise it anymore and because it was blue, it must surely belong to her.
Ingrid enjoyed walking her blue puppy up and down the Quay and was fascinated by the skill it used to negotiate the deep cobbled stones, never once getting its paws stuck in the ridges. On one extremely hot day, they took a walk through the winding Regency crescents of the old town and – got lost. Ingrid couldn’t decide which way to walk home and became confused. When she reached a split in the road, she started to go left but the puppy pulled her to the right – tugging really hard until Ingrid was forced to stop in her tracks, which was lucky because, suddenly, a paint-pot fell from a second floor window ledge. Ingrid watched incredulously as navy blue paint swilled over the street.
‘Sacré bleu’ she said, and looked down at the puppy. ‘That was lucky.’
Had she been just lucky, or had the puppy sensed something about to happen?
The puppy knew and held his head high as they turned out of the crescent and headed for the boats in the harbour below. And Ingrid knew too and smiled as they continued on their way home.
But back at the boat, Ingrid discovered a very sad thing – Squawker had died.
‘I have a habit of losing people,’ she said to the puppy who had as yet not been named. She sat down and it seemed like the puppy understood, as he remained quiet for some time in reverence to the dead parrot.
Then a familiar heaviness gripped Ingrid, only this time it wasn’t going away. She felt pregnant with pain and a sensation which started in her abdomen caused a wall of hot tears to shoot vertically from her eyes as all the loss that she’d been running from and all the pain she had buried erupted into bodily sensations, seeping from every tissue.
The puppy remained still until Ingrid reached for a tissue – only then moving closer to comfort her by laying his head softly on her knee. Soon Ingrid and the puppy were breathing in unison. ‘If I name you, then you too will disappear’ she said to the puppy while stroking its head.
Ingrid decided to have a funeral service for Squawker, out at sea. She wanted him to float away, back to where he’d come from. She wanted his soul to be happy and reunited with other dead parrots and just needed something to make the floating cortège complete.
Ingrid went out to buy a big blue balloon and as she walked back round the harbour with it trailing behind her – it burst. Down cascaded confetti of coloured letters, which landed on the quayside and spelled out L O V E in pretty pinks and blues. Ingrid looked up and noticed that all around her had turned from miserable black and white to colour and she smiled.
So, the next time you see a pretty girl walking along carrying a blue balloon – stop, take a deep breath, smell the flowers, look for a butterfly – and understand everything all at once.