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Fiction #136
(published May 29, 2003)
by David Erlewine

Why hasn't he just said blue? That's what they are.

They aren't visible now, of course, haven't been for eleven minutes and forty-three seconds.

He'd been halfway into his ploy, pretending he'd forgotten today's significance, making Jan watch a movie he loved and she didn't. He'd figured thirty minutes into "The Big Lebowski" would be perfect. He'd get up, snatch the gifts from the closet, and surprise her. But, not even five minutes in, right in the middle of the first bowling scene, she'd whispered how pretty his brown eyes were. He'd murmured thanks, said hers were too. Then she'd asked for details.

Now, her lips press together; her shoulders slump, rise, then settle somewhere in between. The movie's pause has turned into a stop. Now the TV plays some Division II championship football game.

The first three minutes or so had been him laughing, telling her to open them so they could watch the movie. Minutes four and five had seen him think too much, feeling more indecisive every time he checked his watch. Six and seven had gotten ugly. He'd feigned outrage, calling her stubborn and weird. Since then, silence.

His instinct is blue. They are blue. Jan has blue eyes.

Yet every time over the last twelve minutes he tried saying that word, it died somewhere in his vocal cords.

What if they're green? And at this point, why couldn't they be? He has only had 730 days to notice. All those candlelight dinners, afternoons playing Trivial Pursuit, mornings sipping coffee and switching newspaper sections. Sure he'd looked, and probably at times even thought to himself, her blue eyes are great.

He's let this go on too long; he just can't settle down.

He closes his eyes, trying to visualize hers; instead he sees brown, hazel nut brown, the eyes of his ex, Diane.

"I'm going to take a bath," Jan says. She grips her college graduation close-up, keeping it in front of her eyes. The frame's backside stares at him. She'd grabbed it during moment three, before he'd thought to look.

"Not scalding," he says, "but hot enough to make a baby scream." This is a gamble, his recalling her phrase from their second date, when he'd gotten thrown by the silence and asked how she took her baths.

She stands. "You do remember something."

Downstairs in the kitchen is a collage of their pictures. But the last three steps creak and she's too cynical not to know what he's up to. "Let's take it together."

She taps the picture. "Three, two, one."

Why is he pausing? What's wrong with him? She has blue eyes; he can picture them: light blue, turquoise.

Or are they green? Surely he's told her before how pretty they are. What did he call them? Did he say turquoise? If he says blue now, and she says wrong, turquoise, he'll have an argument that turquoise is blue. The key will be to laugh when he does, not get defensive.

Even if they're blue, and he says so, she'll tell her friends. They'll laugh. One or two will probably roll their eyes at his comment that if she loved him she would know he knows.

Diane never asked him what color her eyes were. Right now, her cheating doesn't seem so outrageous.

Jan closes the bathroom door.

He's going with blue. He eyes the stairs; then he grabs the two gifts from the closet, jiggles the locked bathroom door and knocks.

The bathwater runs loud. He knocks again.

He slowly exhales. "They're blue."

The bathwater quiets. "More specific."

Before he can doubt, he says, "turquoise."

The door unlocks; he waits for her to open it.

After counting to ten, he does. She's in the tub, her turquoise eyes moist.

He holds out the gifts. "Happy anniversary."

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