Evelyn stood and stared at the colour swatches in the paint store. It wasn’t her first time. Last time she had to navigate all the whites. Laundromats are traditionally white, but now she felt that hers was a little too sterile, and she wanted to paint one wall blue. It was important to maintain tradition as well as provide a fresh and bright environment for the customers waiting for their wash cycles to finish. To boost the atmosphere, she also had some board games and books in her office to lend out. Each game had a list of contained pieces, which she dutifully checked when each game was returned. The Monopoly was, however, missing a Fleet Street, and she had done her best to recreate one with some textas and the back of an unwanted birthday card.
Her previous experience at the paint shop, with the myriad of white paint options, had not prepared her at all for this sea of blues. She felt just as overwhelmed as last time.
‘Can I help you?’ a dishevelled man asked her. She wondered why he hadn’t at least trimmed what was trying to be a beard on his chin.
‘I want blue. The colour a fire engine would be if fire engines were blue,’ she said without taking her eyes off
the blue cards. She was sure it would have jumped out of the display if it had existed. What particularly upset her were the names versus the colours. ‘Hello Sailor’ sounded sassy, but was too dark and flat for its name. ‘Garter Blue’ had no vibrancy and was more midnight. ‘Boudoir Blue’ was devoid of love, ‘Daring Indigo’ was virtually black and ‘Tropical Bird’ bore no resemblance to any feather she had ever seen. Even in the bird park in Kuala Lumpur. As she reeled off these discrepancies to the untidy man, she thought he might have smiled under his moustache, but she was too absorbed in the blues to know for sure. Which was lucky for him because she certainly did not have a sense of humour that morning.
‘And what, may I ask, does “Flemish Blue” mean?’ she asked as she flicked the card with her finger numerous times. ‘Last time I checked, Dutchmen weren’t blue at all.’ Her outrage was taking the wind out of her sails, and she felt immediately weary. The untidy man noticed her deflation and suggested that a half-strength ‘Hello Sailor’ may well be the blue a fire engine would be if fire engines were blue. Evelyn picked it up, tried to imagine it at half strength and put the card back despondently.
‘How about I mix you a sample pot,’ he said with kindness. ‘It’s only six dollars and I believe it’s worth the risk.’
Evelyn ummed and ahhed, looked him up and down and concluded that he may well have the knowledge to produce what she was after – even if his shorts were too short. But not before a reference check. His name was Don and he had been selling paint since he was a teenager. He waxed lyrical about paint stores of the past versus the in-and-out nature of the modern store.
‘Back then, we used to talk with people. Ask what they were doing and picture their lives in the colours,’ he said
‘Well, I need a bit of colour in my laundromat. Blue is calming and I want people to relax while they wait,’ she
said. ‘It’s all too white at the moment.’
He asked about the layout of her laundromat, and she explained that she wanted the wall that faced people as they walked in to be blue. The wall that had the stable-style door to her office where she stored the immaculately folded full service washing upon completion. He asked what white was on the walls currently. She flicked the back of her hand at the plethora of whites and said she didn’t have the strength to discuss it.
‘Navigating that was just too much,’ she said. He smiled and ushered her over to the counter. Propping herself on her elbows, she watched him type some numbers into the screen. Then they watched three colours pour into the sample pot and stop with precision. He gently hammered the lid on with a rubber mallet and placed it on the mixing machine. The small can was shaken to within an inch of its life.
‘It would make an interesting carnival ride,’ Don said as he moved towards her. They watched until it was finished. It was no carnival ride Evelyn would venture on. Her limits were the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel. Why someone would pay money to be tossed and turned and spun about was beyond her. Besides, life was equally tumultuous – and it was free.
Don took the can out, placed it on the counter with a flourish and edged his mini screwdriver around its lid before popping it off and revealing a rich grey blue. Like a river on a sunny day, but towards dusk as it was a little faded.
‘It’s a most lovely blue,’ she said as she shook her head. ‘But it is not the colour of a fire engine if fire engines were blue.’
‘Well,’ Don said confidently, ‘I think that is exactly the colour of a fire engine if fire engines were blue. It’s majestic.’
They stared into the can together for a few moments.
‘I’ll take four litres, thanks,’ she said, standing up straight, ‘even if it is not the right colour.’ On occasion she lost her grace, and she was pleased that she hadn’t lost her cool this time, despite the lack of brightness in her paint. He was right; it was majestic, and perhaps more calming than the blue in her head. Don seemed to debate whether to say something more and wisely decided that it was time for him to be quiet. He mixed the full can and they silently watched the whole process with equal interest again. He rang up the sale and
Evelyn turned to leave.
‘Thank you,’ she said over her shoulder. It almost hurt.
‘If you need a hand painting the wall, let me know,’ he said. ‘I have Sundays and Mondays off and I’m happy to help.’
Evelyn was a perfectly capable woman who could paint a wall by herself, thank you very much, and she was in no mood to accept assistance. She did, however, take the piece of paper on which he had written his number and place it in her pocket. With a brief, sharp nod, she left the store and headed back to the laundromat. She needed to be manning the desk for the full-service wash drop-offs by eight-thirty sharp, so people could get about their busy days. Also, it was Tuesday, and the skinny, spotty mother who clearly found the world too difficult always brought in her little boy, who asked ‘Why?’ more than most, on Tuesday afternoons. Evelyn had the answers to last week’s three questions ready and looked forward to satisfying some of his many curiosities.
Dr Norman Swan to publish his second book, SO YOU WANT TO LIVE YOUNGER LONGER?, with Hachette Australia