Out of the Blue

In Issue 78 by Ruth Langner

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

They say that the characters in a movie are affected by the developments the screenwriter creates between each of them, and that these characters are influenced by the paths taken within the plot. I envied characters that said or did things on the screen that they would never do in real life. In some ways, my life, or existence, was like a movie script—adventures sprouting up unexpectedly over many episodes.

The remarkable thing about being a chair is never knowing what in God’s name will happen next, at least that’s how it’s been since the beginning of my storytelling time. For example, one’s future paths are not readily revealed to the likes of a chair. I know perfectly well. Take the simple case of Louise. Ever since that day when, out of the blue, I was tossed out onto the street, I had to accept life’s hard realities. It was Louise who had sealed my fate, but sometimes I thought I should be grateful and stop harbouring ill will toward the woman. And other days, I yearned for the parties and tried to imagine what the voluptuous Estelle would be doing about now.

—Oh, damn. I’m digressing. As I relate this story, believe me, the surprises only grow more outrageous and scandalous in scope.

The door to the patio was open and a warm feeling of summer wafted into the room. The guaranteed centre of attention were the two bull terriers who were never trained to sit at their masters’ feet—such injustice would not be tolerated by the pair who preferred the luxury of the soft blankets draped over the brown leather sofa. I watched as their ears perked upright in unison, their moist snouts sniffed the air, the wrinkles over their eyes arched in attentiveness. Then, they leapt from their comfort place and scrambled toward the kitchen almost skidding across the hardwood floor, all because they heard the familiar sound of the pantry door opening wherein the treats were stored. They knew if they looked sufficiently sad and pitiful, they could guilt their parent into handing over a reward.

“Uuoof,” Pablo said quietly.

Pamela reached down and scratched behind his ears.

“Uuoof, uuoof,” and their tails wagged excitedly.

Having received their treat, they stayed steadfastly at the pantry door. As far as they were concerned, the span of time between the first treat and the arrival of another was the most perilous. They licked their lips while their eyes followed Pamela as she moved away from the sacred hiding spot. Undaunted, they would play their game determined to hold their ground until their human relented, or, if that tactic failed, they would corner her like a fox in a hole.

—It’s hard for me to admit, but I’m becoming fond of the two bow-wows.

I listened while Pamela and Mike made their plans. It was Saturday and the chores were done: the laundry spun in the dryer, the floors swept, and the furniture dusted. Even the trunk had been inspected. Pamela had lifted the lid and peered inside. Today, she folded a tea towel decorated with strands of pink thyme, lavender, and oregano, and placed it gently inside. At that moment, I thought I heard the faint cooing of a contented pigeon and had a feeling that Djinn would drape his sparkling particles on the cloth the first moment he could.

Djinn had the gift of transformation. He could be whoever he wanted. And he also had the gift of imagination. I remember once he had appeared as the legendary Bob Marley with his Rastafarian dreadlocks, reggae moves and a ganja joint between his fingers. I found it funny, though, how his hair looked like a dyed, string mop straddled over his head. I guess he had been roaming around Jamaica and forgot to fully transform before showing up here. Another time, he was pretending to be the head of the famous Italian car manufacturer, Lamborghini. It was a hoot ‘n a half the way he slung his silk jacket over his square shoulder, hooked only by his index finger, while his cuffed trousers sat low on his hips and a blue-velvet bowtie filled the long space under his chin. He dangled the fine motor’s keys with a sense of superiority as though he were a Formula One driver.

—If you thought his English was poor, you ought to have heard him trying to be suave and witty in Italian! I doubt anyone understood a word he said. Except maybe his amore.

He lived in a secret world where nothing was as it seemed. Sometimes he told me things. I could feel his presence even though I couldn’t always see him. All I needed to do was believe, he had said. Like believing in you, I had asked? Like believing that he wandered the world seeking to do good amongst all the evil. Djinn was like having an invisible friend. All in all, it was good to have dreams, to fly above the clouds, to win against all odds, find the end of the rainbow. And I wished I could be like him. That’s what I was imagining.

The house settled into an eerie quiet, and I was left alone. A fragrant verbena perfumed the sweet, warm air that drifted in and swirled around the trunk. Its lid gently opened and, from deep down inside its ribbed walls, familiar glittering particles rose up and began to take shape.

****

Djinn checked himself over in the mirror after he arrived. He had the flesh and bones of an Olympic athlete—tall, tanned and toned, with thick swooping hair on his head, but a hairless chest with a tattoo of cupid over his heart. He admitted he felt a little strange in this form, but he loved his idea and he loved the thought of being near his woman; he loved her eyes filled with radiance, the soft and delicate skin on her face, her lashes so long they could hold a ladybug, and her smile that captured everyone’s heart. Yes! He loved this moment of his life.

A plan had taken hold of his mind. His ambitions, or should I say, the object of his ambitions, Pamela, was a member of the Triathlon Club. She frequently registered for the local events and had qualified for some international competitions. She had an affinity for medals. On the wall hung the most elaborate or coveted ones—Wings of Life race in Bratislava, World Triathlon, Chicago, Ironman Canada—while on a shelf, tossed into a large glass bowl were all the other podium prizes. She relished the weight of gold and silver medals—major elements of the periodic table—as they were placed around her neck.

Today, the Triathlon Club planned to do a training session—to run the course of an upcoming race, to set the terrain to memory.

“I am great Miguel Marino, one of top cyclists in whole world,” Djinn boasted to me, flexing his arm muscles. His laughter sounded almost devious. He got the notion that he would train with them: the swim, the cycle and the run. Well, maybe not the swim. He told me he had no illusions about splashing about in the water looking foolish.

—You’ve got to be truly out of your mind!

I cautioned him. If he wasn’t careful, the illusion he created would backfire. His plan wasn’t preposterous necessarily, but I had a premonition that Djinn would run afoul of his desires, and that somehow he would be exposed causing one big hullabaloo in the household.

****

It had been raining for several days—typical weather for late April. The cherry and apple blossoms were waiting to burst out in bloom. How fragrant the air felt after the rain. Breathe deep. How beautiful the world is!

“Sky is my oyster,” Djinn said raising his hands and looking up into the heavens.

Djinn had taken matters into his own hands and parked his bicycle at the end of the queue. He stood hidden with his back against a tree watching the athletes.

A powerful breed of humans like he’d never seen since Spartacus ran to Olympia arrived at the water’s edge shaking their limbs and stretching, preparing to swim in the pristine, blue waters of the lake. When they dove in, the turmoil looked like black-tipped sharks in a feeding frenzy. Not long after, he watched as throngs of swimmers began to emerge from the water, their sleek swim caps making them look like seal pups. They peeled off their wetsuits, transitioning into a city park where a straight and level pathway lined with flowerbeds led to a cluster of parked bicycles.

—Between you and me, this is big!

Djinn ducked from around the tree and strode over to the parking lot filled with titanium blue frames and wire-spoked wheels. He grabbed his bicycle and immediately blended in with the group. He had cottoned on quickly how to cycle, wobbling only the first few metres—nothing he couldn’t pass off as trivial if necessary.

They started off through an avenue of trees, emerging onto a street where the sprinklers were oscillating on the lawns of stately houses, and the smell of freshly cut grass tickled his nose. A gentle wind whirled tiny bits of paper off the sidewalk leaving the impression it had been recently swept. They rode along the lakeshore, then the route took them up a steep rise into the hills, leveling out and snaking past sprawling villas with vineyards full of gnarly, grape-bearing vines. Their bicycles raced through the countryside, past a cemetery with short monuments, a historic wooden church with its rooflines angled against the sky, and a brewery. All the while the sun beat down on Djinn’s jersey.

For a time, he rode behind Pamela as unobtrusively as possible, never leaving her from his sight, an expression of bliss on his rosy face, hiding the secret he knew, the secret he could not share with anyone. He let his thoughts drift with the wind hoping that nothing would come along to wreck his private reverie. He saw the ponytail pulled through the back of her cycling helmet that swung in rhythm to her movement, left and right like a pendulum, his black eyes gleaming with the enjoyment of watching her, his thoughts dancing along with her rhythmic pace. And so he rode through the countryside in a kind of hypnotic, joyous haze lost in the cadence of her movements.

—Seriously, I had not anticipated the next development.

It was one forty-three in the afternoon. The sun was casting its shadows on the streets when it all came crashing down.

There seemed to be only two theories that could explain his misadventure: Either he was stung by a bee, or his tire slipped on an unexpected tree root, both of which would be altogether weird. In a split second, he was catapulted into the air, somersaulting, his bike close behind, over a cliff and down into a ravine, landing on the precipice of a ledge packed with dense underbrush.

Djinn had fallen almost irretrievably. He laid semi-comatose, exhibiting symptoms of either a severe head injury or alcohol intoxication. I’d await confirmation of the former and be shy to accept the latter. Either way, it was so un-djinn-like not to have simply rescued himself. All it would have taken was a bit of dexterity...and maybe some magic.

Minutes seemed like hours. Was his back broken? Was he to lie reviewing his life day by day, minute by minute until all was exhausted? Out here, he couldn’t just dissolve into the ancient trunk, could he?

—The first question I’d have to ask was: If a djinn fell in the forest, did anybody hear?

Inevitably, some unexpected thought would stop Djinn’s meanderings, some uninvited memory pop up and disturb his peace. Like, what were his happiest moments? Was he happy when he was paraded through the neon-lit city as a hero, having secured victory for the national hockey team? Or was he happy when he walked on the moon with the astronauts, stuffed into their cumbersome suits and breathing apparatus, and stuck their crisp new flag into the rocks for them, because they couldn’t? For a thousand years he had sojourned the globe sharing goodwill with whomever he met. He could have been shaped by successive years of change: the industrial revolution, scientific revolution, French revolution, the years of witches being burned at the stake, the sixteenth century killjoy Puritans. At times, he had imagined he was the centre of the universe while truthfully he went his way most often unrecognized. Yet somehow, after all of that, he genuinely appreciated the smallest of tokens. Through all the decades, he never looked to the future, loved his home in the desert sands, and now, after such a long period of time, had bonded with me, his buddy, Red Chair, or Ruby as he now took to calling me.

Djinn had shifted his attention, closed his eyes, and drifted off into a dreamlike state, all his adventures tumbling through his mind. As he had lain twisted into a pretzel, he remembered the story told by his ancestors: that when his time came to die, his love would come close and surround his body with her warmth. And so, his thoughts had drifted mostly to her; he felt her breath on his face, her firm arms wrapped around him. How close was the end now? Was the earth about to lose a gifted and gentle soul, an extraordinary being with extraordinary talents, a mysterious phenomenon? To whom would they deliver the unhappy news? And, who would be there to raise the first glass in his memory? He heaved a great sigh and shuddered. Was he to breathe his last mortal breath? Bisalama. Dasvidaniya. Adios amigos.

—And, was I expected to write his obituary?

Then...he blinked. He blinked again. Someone had touched his hand, lightly, as if he were porcelain. Thanks to a glint of sunlight that sparkled on the spinning spokes of his bicycle’s wheel, he would be saved. Fortune had tapped on his shoulder. Death had been postponed.

At this point, the script was as predictable as cotton candy at the carnival and popcorn in the movie house. Of all the people to come and rescue him, it surely could have been none other.

“Are you alright?” There she was, bending over him. He recognized her immediately—her huge brown eyes full of wonder and intrigue.

—Jiminy Cricket! Can you imagine the look on Djinn’s face?

Resolutions of the cheekiest kind were formulating in his mind. He was melting in the thrill of being in her presence at this very tenuous moment. His teeth chattered, his voice was unable to make any sense.

“Marrakech? Have you been, ever?” Djinn asked unexpectedly.

Whereupon Pamela had responded that indeed she had. “Not so very long ago.” And with that, she gave him a rather quizzical look. “Just a second,” she said, her voice warm and sweet.

There followed a rapid chain of events. With arms as powerful as a Kung Fu fighter, she lifted the bicycle off his chest and, in the few instants it took her to turn it around, scrambled it easily back up the embankment. When she returned, she began asking a million questions about moving this or that body part, all of which he demonstrated satisfactorily. She knelt over him gingerly parting his hair to examine the wound. “You’ve a nasty gash in your head from your fall. You may have concussion. I think you should be seen by a doctor.”

I could see Djinn was becoming distraught. I thought to interrupt, raising my hand politely as an audience member wanting to ask a question, but lowered it again.

—Let me see him leapfrog out of this one.

Djinn was now edging on frantic. He mustn’t let that happen...be seen by a doctor. He couldn’t imagine the inquiry when they found no pulse. Already, she must be wondering why there was no blood. “I’m afraid we have not met. I, Miguel Marino, am greatest cyclist in whole world.” He pummeled his fist on his inflated chest. “It cannot be known I have fallen. It would be disgrace to me. A shame I could not endure.” He kept his boyish gaze steadfast on her eyes. “Please. It is much to ask, but let me to rise up and continue.”

— I’d say, the ice on which he was skating was getting awfully thin...or, let me rephrase, the asphalt on which he was cycling...

She gave him a pleading look, but relented. “Well, alright. Just don’t get too far away from me.” She extended her hand to pull him to his feet. For his part, he took elaborate efforts to keep a respectable distance and not rest his head on her shoulders.

****

Late the next afternoon, Pamela got the idea that she ought to find the mysterious Miguel Marino and see how he was doing. She was not unfamiliar with the inner workings of the Triathlon Club as she had served on the Board of Directors in the past, and initially considered inquiring of the current Membership Director as to the personal contact information contained on his application form. To be frank, she was not inclined to call on him at his home, and would rather phone, but in the end she felt that whole approach unethical and abandoned the notion.

—You must jot this down in your personal journal.

Pamela endeavoured to speak with the President, in confidence of course, only to find that he had no information that could add to her investigation. Several of Pamela’s closest friends in the club admitted none had seen Miguel Marino since the training session, if they recalled him at all. At the time of the incident, she had noted the make and model of his bicycle and decided to further her inquiries at the only shop in town that sold that brand. She questioned the manager.

“Have you sold many of these bikes recently?”

To which he replied, “Recently? None at all. It’s not a very popular model. Frankly, an athlete would never ride this. The frame is too heavy for serious cyclists. Titanium is light weight, giving it significant performance value over these frames,” he replied patting the saddle of the preferred bike.

She nodded, “Titanium blue.” She probed a little deeper, describing the cyclist Miguel Marino, and commenting on his self-reported fame.

“Never heard of the guy.”

On hearing of Pamela’s intentions to find this Miguel fellow, Mike pressed to know why on earth she was taking these unusual steps to find someone she hardly knew. To that, she couldn’t answer.

“You’re being melodramatic,” was all she offered weakly.

—Mike, Mike, Mike. Don’t you go breaking your pick trying to figure out women!

This led to a discussion about likely scenarios, bizarre possibilities, and downright ridiculous assumptions about Miguel Marino—a debate that could have carried on for an hour, thank you very much. In the end, Mike shook his head and announced he had better things to do with his time, and showed no further curiosity about the now errant M.M.

As for Pamela, she continued to examine her inner self. Other than a natural desire to ensure his safety and health, why exactly was she so interested in this man, Miguel? It surely wasn’t because he had captivated her mind, was it? Of course, he was extremely handsome. And she couldn’t shake the thought of those adorable, penetrating, blue eyes locked onto hers. But the very thought of a relationship with another man had been abandoned long ago when she married Mike; and so to experience a twitter in her heart was beyond troubling. She felt a typical pride in her sport, and to a lesser degree, had wondered how long M.M. had been training as a triathlete and how dedicated to the sport he actually was. She argued she had always taken opportunities to promote the sport and considered it profoundly reasonable to reach out to new members to include them in the club’s activities.

****

At five o’clock that very same afternoon, there was a knock at the door. The gentleman who knocked was ushered into my domain, and with a perfunctory wave of Pamela’s hand was offered a chance to sit on my cushions. If you must know, visitors vastly prefer miserably hard stools to resting their hind ends on my fabric, except that darling Estelle, and so I was not surprised when he declined to sit. It’s not that I expected the waving of flags, banging of drums, and the throwing of rose petals at my feet as if I were the head of state...

—But, it is charming to imagine, nonetheless, wouldn’t you say?

Where was I? Oh yes, the visitor. All in all, he was the rather nondescript, balding bureaucrat type, the clipboard and list checker, boring sort with the slouching posture of one having spent too much time humped over paperwork. By all accounts he could have been a tax collector except for the scar on his head. Then again, the public harbours deep sentiments towards tax collectors, and someone could have come at him with a meat cleaver. He handed Pamela a business card that I was not permitted to see.

The visitor immediately broached the raison d'être of his arrival. “I should not be troubling you, but I am commanded to take initiative over small matter, discreetly, of nature. It is mystery to solve that famous young cyclist has vanished, disappeared. Poof! Gone!” With this, he threw his arms up dramatically in the flourish of a magician. “Very famous man in my country. Name Miguel Marino. All world cry if he is not found. If I may say, the information is clear. He was to be seen with you on triathlon training session, yes?”

— Oh, c’mon. One bit of tomfoolery after another.

Pamela listened with genuine curiosity.

“Strangest possibility is I have questioned all peoples on training ride and not one has heard about him. Even members of triathlon club is becoming negative in response. It must be that you can be big help to me.”

—The room took on the pervading silence of a Catholic church.

Pamela rotated the business card around her fingers and tapped it unconsciously on the counter while she considered answering his question. What realistically could she say? Simply this: She had assisted a man who had fallen off a cliff with his bicycle following right behind, and hadn’t, in the moment of confusion and excitement, thought to solicit his personal information, address or country of birth. So, why was she feeling apprehensive? She wondered why this man had left his questioning of her to the last, when all along he knew she had been with Miguel? Odd, his voice sounded familiar. He even spoke like Miguel. On reflection, she admitted it was natural that they would sound similar being kinfolk. Was she right to be concerned about him, Miguel, that is? Every country has its heroes. But, who was this Marco Polo-esque person travelling the world on behalf of a cyclist, both appearing seemingly out of the blue?

The gentleman caller made use of the interlude to survey the room as if never having seen it before and took special notice of me, then matter-of-factly walked across the room and straightened a picture that hung slightly crooked. He stepped back and admired his accomplishment before returning to the counter, leaving not a hint of acknowledgement. I thought to myself that he was like one of those huge museum paintings that tells an epic story on one single canvas.

When Pamela regained her composure and her thoughts were orderly, she answered his question by asking another, “Where do you suppose he could have gone?”

The tax collector put his hands on the counter where his business card lay with its printed side down. “Ah, Madam, that is great poser of day. It is great puzzlement, but is told me, there is question mark about his return to desert. To Marrakech.”

“That’s it!” exclaimed Pamela. “Miguel mentioned Marrakech in his delirium.”

Shortly after, the tax man left the house with a firm handshake, though I could tell he was dissatisfied with his investigation. Who knows, but he definitely left for Morocco empty-handed—no Miguel.

****

Djinn had gone silent. I looked at him with admiration sitting on the settee with a satisfied expression on his face, having finished relating every detail of his adventure that I was unable to see for myself, and discovering complete contentment in doing so. I felt blessed to have him as my friend, for I don’t suppose one meets a djinn every day. Then again, I don’t suppose people go around talking to a chair every day either.

Transformed again, he sat across the room crossed-legged, a newsboy cap pulled over locks of flaxen hair that cast shadows on two compelling, clear, blue eyes I could swear could have been those of Cillian Murphy.

I knew he wouldn’t stay here with me much longer. For as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West and every river leads to the sea, so it would be that Djinn would slide back into the trunk and return once again to the place of his ancestors. But before he left, it was fitting that I know the truth, because imagination is sometimes larger than reality.

I’d been thinking it over...trying to make sense of the craziness of Djinn’s personalities. I replayed the script in my mind. In the opening act, the presence of Miguel could be felt everywhere, yet he was invisible—hundreds of years of fairytales would have you believe in this possibility. Discounting myself, no one had seen or heard of Miguel, save perhaps the tax collector, and Pamela, of course. It was the suggestion of the tax man that Miguel Marino was just a name written on a slim piece of paper entered for a door prize, and picked out of a hat, if you can believe that. Did Miguel Marino wander around unseen by everyone but Pamela, for even the tax man had not confessed to having actually seen this Miguel, only that he was looking for information about him? Being invisible, would one notice if one accidentally bumped into him standing on the street corner waiting to cross?

—All bets were off.

Then comes Act II. Like a sandcastle washed out by the sea, Miguel Marino had disappeared without a trace, if he ever existed at all, but not without leaving a huge kerfuffle in his wake.

—Before you sweep this story under the rug—heck there’s been so much swept under the carpet, it’s lifting off the floor—let me usurp a little more of your time to decipher the rest of the story.

For the record, I had asked Djinn, prior to embarking on his previous ridiculous transformation, why he hadn’t told me his plan. Given his penchant for doubling down, was he also portraying the part of the bureaucrat, the man I earlier described as the tax collector? Or was there another djinn skulking about? Who was this actor—just another prop to make the story more interesting? Does he come back in Act III? What was the point of all this illusion? I mean, key to keeping the story live, the screenwriter introduced the unpredicted appearance of the tax man whose role appeared to be nothing more than innocent deflection, and looming large, the intent to blur my understanding of the situation. Could it be as preposterous as that?

—Face it Djinn, you’ve created enough drama to keep an afternoon soap opera popular.

“My dear friend, how can I be telling something if I am not existing?” he replied as his lips curled up along with an eyebrow.

My fabric turned red as raspberry jam. Of course, he wasn’t going to confess his tricks, and I should have known he’d leave me hankering.

“Top of happiness, Ruby Red Chair!” Then, somewhat out of character, he tilted his cap and gave me a deep bow before the character of Cillian Murphy melted into the trunk.

****

It seemed that I was constantly bidding Djinn adieu just as one would do seeing a friend off at the airport. Thus, having wished him well and a safe journey back to the desert, how could the story end otherwise?

...with only a few weary triathletes left to be dragged over the finish line?

About the Author

Ruth Langner

The author is retired and lives in a winter city in British Columbia, Canada. She has published two novels and five of her short stories have been published in The Write Launch. She enjoys connecting her creative mind with everyday life experiences.

Read more work by Ruth Langner .