Battle Tales: A Mostly True Story is a Prince Edward Island competition which takes place every year in the month of November. We are happy to feature winner Olivia Robinson for her piece, “Watercolour”.
It is an ocean-sky combination that can only exist in Newfoundland.”
The postcard taped to the wall beside my bed is an unremarkable watercolour of the ocean and sky. It was completed hastily by the artist one afternoon on Fogo Island while she showed me different techniques to make the ocean waves look realistic. And it is a very believable ocean, a tumultuous grey blue, but when viewed in relation to the bright blue sky with wispy white clouds, it doesn’t make sense. The postcard-sized mistake was destined for the garbage had I not told the artist I enjoyed the dichotomy. I explained to her that despite its seemingly unrealistic appearance, it is an ocean-sky combination that can only exist in Newfoundland.
When I first met the artist I thought she was much younger than her thirty-five years. She walked through the yellow door of the Baker house on Fogo Island with a backpack over her shoulder and a case of beer in her hand. With beautiful curly dark hair bobbed short and no makeup, she looked no older than me – twenty-two. She was wearing a black and white checkered short sleeve blouse and jeans and a ball hat pulled low over her curls.
Desperate to be a writer but still terrified to call myself one, I admired her confidence. We ate Jam-Jams for breakfast with our coffee and sat out on the porch in our pajamas. At night, we drank beer out of blue bottles and listened to Joni Mitchell’s Blue and did our laundry in a garage down the road. In between loads, I got her to cut my hair short with kitchen scissors.
She was adamant she didn’t want children, an uncommon opinion at a kitchen party, but she acknowledged the biological clock ticking. When I confessed to her later that I didn’t want them either, she was the first person who didn’t tell me I would change my mind.
At her studio, the Red Shed, she made a ringtone for me which was her voice repeating wake up you fuckhead. I can hear the smile in her voice when I listen to it, her laughter from across the hall when I programmed it as the morning alarm on my phone and it echoed through the house.
We spent an entire day walking around with big headphones on. They were connected to microphones to record sounds like the crackle and swish of walking through tall grass, the waves, the hollow sound when she hit a salt beef bucket with a stick, pigs squealing, chickens, the bell on the door at the ice cream parlour, the wind. Always the wind, threatening to drown out everything else.
We drank beer out of blue bottles and listened to Joni Mitchell’s Blue.”
The Father preached and the seagulls swirled and the fog rolled in.”
She was amazed when I told her there was no need to lock the door and she was even more surprised when a lady left a tin plate of homemade baked goods on our kitchen table while we were out on a hike. We went to a church service on an even smaller island accessible only by boat and ate crowberries while sitting on a huge rock. The service took place outside the church because we couldn’t all fit inside. The Father preached and the seagulls swirled and the fog rolled in.
Later, while on an evening hike, we joked about the sermon, all that talk of staying on the true path. But I know now you can only really see the true path by looking back at where you’ve come from.
One night, we drove home in her red truck with the windows rolled down. I pulled over on the side of the road by the pond where the local kids swam when the weather was warm enough. The two of us stepped out of the truck into a blue night.
“To the English it was the gloaming,” Joan Didion wrote. “During the blue nights you think the end of the day will never come.”
A few kids were swimming and had a boom box perched on a rock at the edge of the pond, rap music blasting from the speakers. We stripped down to our underwear and slipped under the glass-like surface of the pond. I watched her float on her back like a starfish and I wanted time to stop. Our clothes lay in a heap on the shoulder of the road and for a little while I knew how it felt to be infinite.
As darkness crept in we reluctantly got out of the water. We walked back to the truck dripping wet, goosebumps rising on our arms and legs. We both had farmer’s tans and bug bites from hiking and the smell of pond water in our hair. I drove barefoot through the twilight toward home and our wet bodies left marks on the truck seats in the shape of us.
On our last day, we hiked to the top of Brimstone Head to watch the sun set. As we climbed, I felt like a different person than I was when I arrived on Fogo Island two months prior. I thought about Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin writing in their diaries about their multitude of selves and I finally understood what they meant.
When we reached the top, we sat on the rocks and looked out to sea. We exchanged sunglasses to see the sunset through each other’s eyes. The lenses of hers were tinged blue and made the sunset look unreal, like I was on another planet. I turned my head to look at her and she snapped my picture. Every time I look at that photograph I never see myself, I only see her reflected in the blue sunglasses.
Our clothes lay in a heap on the shoulder of the road and for a little while I knew how it felt to be infinite.”