Cielo Azul (Blue Sky)

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Start your story with a metaphor about human nature.... view prompt

63 comments

African American Contemporary Fiction

Cielo Azul

A short story by Mackenzie Littledale

7/15/2021

word count 1628

 “What do you mean, the blue sky is an illusion?” my mother asked, shock writ large on her face,  hand poised on the door handle of the passenger side of my car. Her sheer terror scared me for a second. I thought she might get out of my car, so I had to ameliorate the situation.

I was happy to explain, sure she’d grasp my meaning and praise my intellect. “I mean, when you look at earth from space, there is no blue sky. You can see straight through the air to earth’s surface. It’s God’s cleverest illusion.” I tilted my head with my hands out, as if to say ‘voila’. My mother seemed to catch her breath. Had I said something ‘bipolar’ without knowing again? No, I wasn’t having a psychotic episode or going off into la-la-land. She had this mistaken notion that any expression outside the lines was a smoke signal for help. I needed to explain further in hopes of calming her down. “At night time, there is no blue sky. From earth, we can see all the way to outer space. The blue of the day time sky comes from debris and particulates refracting the sun’s rays. The blue isn’t really there.”

“Well, well, well. Aren’t you smart.”

To anyone else unaccustomed to the difference in my mother’s tones of voice, I got the recognition I wanted. But I was no stranger or distant cousin. That tone was nothing short of passive-aggressive sarcasm. ‘Aren’t you smart,’ wasn’t praise. She felt stupid and masked her confusion by degrading my intellect. One day I would have to remember to tell other people besides my mother about my philosophical thoughts. Maybe I’d just grown too used to beating my head against this particular wall, because I had nothing else to talk about and I could bang my head one more time.

Mentally switching gears to reinforce myself, I said, “It’s true about human nature, too, I think. It takes the darkest of night to see the stars and that we’re not alone in the universe. It can also take the darkest depths of despair to find the light within ourselves.”

“Humph.” She shook her head and refreshed her lipstick. “No one wants to feel despair, sweetheart. What would make you think such things?”

I pressed on, though I knew I’d wind up surrendering to the impasse all over again. I couldn’t impress her. I had no deeper thought than this one. “In the daytime, all we have is the blue sky even though it’s not really there. All it does is keep us from seeing beyond to the other planets and stars. People can be like that, too.”

Her lips transformed from faded fuchsia to a full, vibrant fuchsia. She smiled at her reflection in the passenger mirror, snapped it shut and put the visor back up. “Where to next?’

I ignored her question. She knew damn well we were going to the mall for bath and beauty products. “People can act like, if they’re just happy-happy all the time, then they must actually be happy, but they’re not. Inside they’re miserable and desperate. They play pretend, like their mood is only allowed to be cielo azul day in, day out. They’re full of shit. There’s no such thing as being upbeat and positive all the time.”

“What are you talking about now?” my mother asked.

I pulled into a gap in the traffic on the four-lane boulevard, hitting the gas hard. “I’m talking about the blue sky illusion.”

“For heaven’s sake, why can’t you ever not be serious? Why can’t you just enjoy a day?”

Why can’t I have a mother who gets me? “I am enjoying the day. I enjoy the thoughts and insights of my mind. Since I’m your daughter, you might take some pleasure from knowing I can think.”

“You think too much.” She laughed in a chiding sort of way, not full on mocking but encouraging me to slink down to her mental level and cozy up there. Easy, oblivious, naïve.

“Really?” I pulled out my vape and sucked on it hard. “I find most people don’t think enough.” In my mind, I included my mother with that group of unthinking people. We passed two intersections and I turned right into the mall entrance to hunt for a parking space, cognizant of how brilliantly blue the day’s sky was. 

While I inched the car forward in search of parking, a man and woman with a child in a stroller and another in a sling made their way toward the JC Penney entrance. I marveled at them. Their clothes were crisp and clean, solidly middle class. I made up stories about their home life based on their Birkenstocks and khakis. I imagined what values they’d impart to those little ones based on their cheery smiles and how close they walked together.

I thought back to my parents’ parties for family; I never sat with the women. Once their conversations inevitably turned to crochet, knitting, recipes, and housecleaning, I lost interest. They weren’t keeping pace with the changing times and the men were always more animated, laughing even as they argued. Their debates had a dynamic balance of fire, intellect, and respect. The balance would ebb and flow: embrace, reject and embrace again. The men let their inner lions circle their prey with rhetoric and unassailable logic, but at the end of the night, they remained on speaking terms. No one got eaten. They’d debate the merits of feminism while the women giggled about eye shadow. I wanted to grow up to be a powerful and knowledgeable woman. I’d choose my eye shadow in the morning in private and never speak a word about it around the dinner table. 

“You should take a break from thinking.” My mother pointed down the next aisle. “There’s a good space there.”

I directed the car toward the next aisle and maneuvered to back in to the space.

“Why not just park straight in?”

I let out an inward sigh and appraised my mother. Stubborn in her own way. She’d never talk back in an argument – at least not directly in a straight line. My mother spoke in concentric circles away from a point, whether she was right or wrong. She emulated Jesus facing his crucifixion. Never spoke a word in her own defense, and it incensed my father. I’d grown up to experience the trap myself. She’d doggedly pursue a habit that had no beneficial purpose for anyone and to ask her to change led to begging her to change, which led to blowing a fuse. But her silent response invariably led to feeling guilty for being a bully. The habit in question continued unabated, which led to feeling powerless and unable to cope except to surrender. My mother was water lapping against stone seawalls. One day, the walls would crumble, yielding to the never-ending, senseless lashing. We all crumbled around her, but wasn’t it our strength and worldly wisdom that she relied on to keep her safe? She undermined us, one and all. 

We got out of the car and went inside the mall toward Bath & Body Works. With my deeper thoughts exposed for inspection and rejected, I resorted to the lighter side of womanhood – bath products that would smooth and soften, scents that would entrance and delight, sugar scrubs and body butters. I loved giving them a place. For an activity like shopping, my mother was a good companion. The philosophy would have to be shared with a higher mind, or I’d have to validate myself on my own terms. The final option would be to abandon philosophical thoughts altogether. If only Bath & Body Works had products for people like me. Instead of sugar scrubs to exfoliate the skin, they should offer a dictionary to exfoliate the dead from the spirit. Instead of body butters to smooth the skin, a thesaurus of words to smooth bruised egos. If I could pluck the right words to lubricate my spirit, I’d finally learn to master building and sustaining a meaningful relationship with the one woman with whom relationship should be easiest and deepest.

A perky salesclerk separated me from my mother with her intoxicating invitation to sample smell A Thousand Wishes, Coconut Lime, and Black Cherry Merlot. I waved to my mother. “We’ll meet up by the register.” Her back was already turned and she wondered among the shelves as if I wasn’t there anyway.

I reverted immediately to childlike enthusiasm for the wonderland of products and it didn’t take long to rack up a total exceeding a hundred dollars. After my purchases filled two shopping bags, I rejoined my mother with her modest purchase of bath gel and body lotion.

My mother’s eyes landed a sharp look a little too long on my shopping bags. “You sure like to splurge on yourself.”

I sure like to comfort myself and smelling good is a happy byproduct. “These will last me for several months, Mom.” The temptation to resume my philosophical thoughts on the blue sky flashed through my mind ever so fleetingly. “Mom?”

“What is it?” Her smiling face and hands clutching her shopping bag gave me pause. What good would it do to try to resist her water with my stone seawall?

“Don’t you just love this store?” I asked, smiling back with my decision to revel in my commercial femininity. Why should I scare her with my deeper thoughts? We could simply look in the mirror and see ourselves, not each other. In my reflection, I’d validate my own philosophical musings, keep the bipolar managed, and blend into society, if ever I could find a place to belong under the brilliant blue sky.

July 14, 2021 20:32

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63 comments

Amanda Gocel
19:34 Jul 21, 2021

This is fantastic!! I like the idea of being able to embrace conventional feminity while also having a constantly thinking mind.

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20:21 Jul 21, 2021

Hello and thank you Amanda! It's an easy balancing act for the character. There's no reason why an intellectual man or woman can't also enjoy the more superficial conventions of their gender. It's all part of life. I appreciate you sharing your impressions. Be well, Mackenzie

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Richard Bist
11:29 Jul 21, 2021

Brilliant piece, Mackenzie! The dialogue is wonderful, so natural and real, and the interactions between mother and daughter are sublime. You do an amazing job of creating real characters. There's nothing fictitious about them, they live and breath on the page. Thanks for sharing this story. It's going to be replaying in my head the rest of the day. :-)

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11:42 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you and good morning Richard! Since you're an editor and a writer in your own right, your observations mean a great deal to me. I'm so proud of this story, so your insightful feedback really lifts me up. Be well. Mackenzie

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Ashley King
22:15 Jul 20, 2021

A beautifully written short story! I adore your writing style and always get sucked into any story you write! There were so many brilliant parts to this one, but this part really got me, "If only Bath & Body Works had products for people like me. Instead of sugar scrubs to exfoliate the skin, they should offer a dictionary to exfoliate the dead from the spirit. Instead of body butters to smooth the skin, a thesaurus of words to smooth bruised egos." Thank you for sharing your words with us!

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03:20 Jul 21, 2021

Ashley, you will always be on my list of favorite readers. Your impressions and full immersion into my characters' worlds give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Thank you so much for sharing. I will continue to write. Mackenzie

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Natania Kurien
05:11 Jul 20, 2021

Wow, this was beautifully done! I really enjoyed your writing and love how you wove in really interesting thoughts and larger concepts while expertly navigating this complex mother-child relationship. You handled it in such a way that in just this many words, the reader got a full picture of both the child and her mother. I also love the narrator's comments on femininity that were important and organically included. Also, I feel like you do a great job of writing in metaphors - not just the blue sky metaphor that was the perfect start to thi...

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08:11 Jul 20, 2021

Hello Natania, I appreciate your time for reading so carefully and for leaving such a glowing response. I'm particularly proud of Cielo Azul, so you really made my day. Be well, Mackenzie

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Wa Simpson
02:23 Jul 20, 2021

Wow! This was amazing. The way you explored the relationship between this mother and daughter in such a concise way but you got right too the heart of the story. Very deep if you'll pardon the cliché. This is a winner if I ever saw one. Good luck.

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08:08 Jul 20, 2021

Hello WA, thank you for your insightful thoughts, kind words, and best wishes. I appreciate that so very much. Have a magical day! Mackenzie

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08:09 Jul 20, 2021

Hello WA, thank you for your insightful thoughts, kind words, and best wishes. I appreciate that so very much. Have a magical day! Mackenzie

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Eric D.
00:31 Jul 20, 2021

This is very deep and philosophical, cant wait to read more from you.

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00:49 Jul 20, 2021

Hello Eric, Thank you so very much for reading and liking. In my heart, I feel like Cielo Azul is one of the very best shorts I've written. I'm working on another submission for next week. In the meantime, I have a handful of shorts posted on my blog www.mackenzielittledaleauthor.com/blog. My debut mini collection of shorts Testing the Ties That Bind is available as an ebook on amazon. Thanks again and be well! Mackenzie

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23:57 Jul 19, 2021

Aww, thanks for sharing your beautiful story!

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00:02 Jul 20, 2021

Hi Soulla, I'm tickled pink that you enjoyed it. Honestly, I feel like this is one of my very best. Be well! Mackenzie

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Cray Dimensional
22:16 Jul 17, 2021

What beautiful story. Stubborn moms are fun to deal with.

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01:38 Jul 18, 2021

Hello Cray, thank you so much. Be well and have a magical day! Mackenzie

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Victor Thomas
21:08 Jul 17, 2021

Beautiful story! Reminds me so much of my difficult, stubborn mother. She is a wonderful writer.....

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01:39 Jul 18, 2021

Hello Victor, I'm astounded at the number of readers telling me they can relate to the complex relationship, but perhaps that's somewhat universal. Stick around for more stories! Be well and have a magical day, Mackenzie

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C. D'angelo
18:07 Jul 17, 2021

We need more writing like yours in the world. So touching and meaningful.

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01:40 Jul 18, 2021

Hello C, that's high praise and I aim to put more writing like this in the world. I'm glad you were touched and found meaning in the story. It's one of my favorites. Mackenzie

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Elaine Cohen
18:20 Jul 16, 2021

Great story - love the ending. An excellent relationship tale.

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09:59 Jul 17, 2021

Thank you so much for sharing your impression of the story, Elaine! I appreciate it. Be well and have a magical day! Mackenzie

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Carolyn Orban
18:02 Jul 16, 2021

Very interesting window on the mother-daughter relationship. Beautifully done.

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09:55 Jul 17, 2021

Thank you so much for that, Carolyn! Have a magical day! Mackenzie

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Mark Gelinas
17:25 Jul 15, 2021

This is very thought provoking, and perhaps a little sad.

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18:38 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you for sharing your impressions, Mark. It is a little sad when it comes down to it. I always wanted my creative works to be thought provoking, so you made my day. Mackenzie

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Dizzy Cricket
16:04 Jul 15, 2021

Such a touching piece. You wrote a line that is one of the most profound things I’ve read. “ It takes the darkest of night to see the stars and that we’re not alone in the universe”. You have a special insight of human nature. Just wonderful!!

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18:39 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you for commenting Dizzy. I always appreciate your insights, so it's a profound honor that you've acknowledged mine. I hope you stick around for the next story I write. Mackenzie

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Terri Harrington
15:00 Jul 15, 2021

A wonderful story of how complicated it is to be an adult and still a daughter. The relationships we have with our mothers are intricate and Mackenzie tells this with honesty and love.

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18:41 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you for sharing your impressions of Cielo Azul, Terri. I appreciate your perspective and being an adult child is truly complicated. Mother-daughter relationships are in fact intricate, as you mentioned. Mackenzie

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Norma Williams
14:55 Jul 15, 2021

I understand the mother and mourn for the daughter who is in desperate need of therapy to function without persistent pain. Like her mother, I seek peace and a certain amount of tranquility in the midst of this chaotic life. I also want that peace for my children. It is is upsetting to see your child in a constant state of mental distress. Mackenzie describes this conflict very well!

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18:42 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you so much for sharing your impressions and insights as a mother, Norma. I appreciate that. Mackenzie

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Joseph Kavanagh
14:49 Jul 15, 2021

A beautiful story. It's both personal and yet general to any reader. The author was able to introduce us to both mother & daughter in quick order. We knew the dynamic between them which is anything but typical, in a matter of a few words. A lot is going on in this short story and it's all good. After reading, I'd bet anything it was more than 1628 words. I mean that as an absolute compliment.

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18:43 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you for commenting Joseph. Compliment taken. I don't know if you're familiar with another short story I wrote Freedom 500, but it was under 3000 words and nobody believes it. Stick around for more. Mackenzie

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Chuck Bretzels
14:32 Jul 15, 2021

So much good stuff in this short story. The challenges this daughter faces came through very clearly to me. The family relationship, the mental health, the sense of wanting to belong. Nice story!

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18:44 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you so much for sharing your impressions Chuck. I'm glad you saw good stuff here. Stick around for the next story. Mackenzie

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Dutch Simmons
13:37 Jul 15, 2021

We all must travel through the dark to appreciate the light... Well done.

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18:45 Jul 15, 2021

Hello Dutch, thank you for sharing the idea that impressed you most. Be well and stick around for the next story. Mackenzie

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13:32 Jul 15, 2021

It read like a piece of fine art. So many ideas to sift through. Very well done!

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18:46 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you so much Phebe. A piece of fine art - wow! I've always hoped to create thought provoking work, so you made my day. Mackenzie

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