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Amanda McLeod

Blue Tiles

Ante la Nada by Sebastian Picker

I lie on my back, the blue tiles pressing against my skin. My father built this reflecting pond for my mother as a wedding gift, carefully making each tile by hand. Donyaele used to bring her lovers here, and they would leave with their backs tessellated. Now I bring mine, and the pattern of the blue tiles echoes through history.

Donyaele was my mother’s twin sister so that makes her my aunt but I have never known a woman less aunt-like. She breathed a different air and told me secrets, like that the world was full of fairy flight and tinkling bells and music and laughter and that people like my mother missed it because they were too caught up in mundane things. My mother said all that talk was just a symptom of Donyaele’s fragile mental state so I immediately resolved never to tell my mother that I could hear the bells and the music and laughter and that I could fly too, lest she label me insane the way she did Donyaele. It makes my mother sound harsh and in many ways she was, but she kept Donyaele with us instead of sending her away which was what the doctors suggested.

Here’s how it would happen. In the evenings my father would retire to his study after dinner, clutching a glass of single malt whisky, a cigar, and a book. He would turn on his reading lamp and the leather of his armchair would creak and moan as it settled itself around him. Mother would kiss him goodnight, a brush of her lips against his cheek, and I would hear her sensible shoes walking up the staircase, and the click of her bedroom door closing. After a while, I would hear a door open, and Donyaele’s bare feet swishing along the floor. I would hear the creak of the screen and the dusty whisper of footsteps on the back path. Occasionally I would deliberately cross paths with her as she tried to sneak out, but our conversations were invariably similar.


“Oh good evening my precious girl.” That voice, soft like starlight, without the edge Mother’s voice so often had. “What are you still doing up?” And she’d take my hands and swing me around gently, like we were both five years old and sharing a delicious secret.

“I heard a noise. Where are you going?”

“Darling child, look out there at the night. Isn’t it inviting? It calls to me” – that breathy voice – “like a lover.”

Then the whisper from outside, the unknown voice. “Donyaele?”

“See?” Her face sparkling with delight. “I’m going out to bathe in the moonlight, and lie on the blue tiles.” Fidgety, her hands running all over her body. Someone else’s hands would follow them soon enough. And Donyaele would be out the door, shimmering softly as she moved. There would be a pattern pressed into her skin when she tried hopelessly to sneak back in. Sometimes her skin would be perfectly smooth but that just meant somebody else was sneaking into their own home with the pattern of the blue tiles scattered across their back. In the dead of night her feet would whisper her secrets as she crept up the stairs, and in the morning I would hear Mother’s tread on the staircase again, and see nothing of Donyaele until after dinner.

Donyaele was certain her secret was safe from my father but he knew. He also knew he couldn’t stop her and he didn’t want her to feel bad about something she couldn’t control, so he made sure his evening retirements were conspicuous. Mother must have had some idea about her sister’s antics but her feelings towards Donyaele ranged mostly between contempt and resignation. Certainly the whole town knew what was happening – after all, Donyaele’s lovers had to come from somewhere, and the transient population of timber workers that drifted through the town never stayed long enough to understand who Donyaele was, so she kept her stream of lovers outside of the people we knew. But to their credit nobody ever spoke of it to my father, at least not publicly. And they were very kind to my mother and supportive of her choice to let Donyaele stay.

Donyaele was like a glass sculpture; beautiful but fragile. As time passed, she became more…I want to say delicate, but I think unhinged is probably closer to the truth. The veneer of discretion that afforded her some protection started to lift away. Donyaele began to emerge during the day. This perturbed my father, as he could no longer pretend oblivion. Her bare feet would trace their dance-like patterns down the stairs and she would float out the door to rendezvous with one of her temporary lovers under the summer sun. Despite their passion being on full display, the size and isolation of our plantation limited the audience. Until Donyaele started going into town, to meet her lovers on a much bigger stage. The sheriff brought her home one day, just after lunch. He’d found her and her lover in flagrante delicto in the back seat of a car, on the Main Street.

After that my father put his foot down. He told my mother Donyaele had to go. She reluctantly agreed to start taking the medication to suppress Donyaele, and the doctors were pleased she’d finally taken their advice. Mother’s twin sister slowly disappeared. After that there were only fleeting mentions of ‘crazy Donyaele’.

Like I said, I never told my mother I saw the world Donyaele could, because she would have called me insane. I’m a twin too, you see; Amelia is to me what my mother was to Donyaele. And I saw what they did to Donyaele, how they made her go away. So I’m careful not to let them see me. They see Amelia, and I sneak out at night to lie on the blue tiles in the summer breeze.

Amelia would never approve.


About the Writer:
Amanda McLeod is an author and artist, creating on the east coast of Australia. Her fiction has appeared in KYSO Flash, Five2One’s, The Sideshow, and elsewhere.

Image: Ante la Nada by Sebastian Picker (1956-). From the Soliloquies series. Oil on canvas. 80 x 80 cm. 2006. By free license.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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