You Wore Blue

It’s funny about wars –

(No, you’re right. Nothing’s ever funny about wars. But you remember what my sense of humour’s like, remember how it got me into trouble even at the best of times?)

But all I mean to say is it’s funny how wars get so familiar, like family. You don’t notice it at first but, after you get up close to a few, real close, you can’t help but see how much they all resemble each other. You see the same heartache etched on every face, and betrayal. That family likeness is unnerving. Most families share blood but this one shares bloodshed. It’s rising up all around you, day-by-day. It’s like a biblical flood with no Noah in sight who’s sailing to rescue his chosen few. Well, maybe Noah does still turn up to rescue the chosen few. What would I know about that? None of my crowd was ever lucky enough, or smart enough, or just low-down cunning enough, to get counted among the chosen few.

Anyway, I guess I never had much time for the chosen few any time I met them. And they had even less time for me.

(Good judges of character, those chosen few. Am I right?)

Let’s raise another glass to the chosen few! No, I can’t remember who the other glasses were raised to, either. I gave up keeping count a long, long time ago. I guess when you own half-a-dozen bars for half your life then alcohol’s the easiest way to go. At least you know you’re getting trade rates on the disease that’ll carry you off. That’s some consolation.

(I used to wonder if I would’ve made a decent consolation prize for you. I don’t bother with that anymore. You had the war and no-one could compete with all that history and glory you went chasing after. Where did it get you in the end? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear.)

Pause. Rick drinks, rubs his eyes.

When I get to looking back what I mostly see is you. I won’t lie. Then I see regrets. I get tired of all the regrets. They sit around like they own the place, putting their feet up on the furniture. No-one ever puts their feet on the furniture in my establishments, it’s not allowed; not in the States, not in Europe, Casablanca, Singapore. But those regrets of mine are impolite. They talk too loud and they point and stare like they’re a goddam bunch of VIPs invited along to see some circus act they’re sure is beneath them. So they spend half the time looking down their noses and half the time staring up where the tightrope walker goes wobbling along his bit of string. They’re waiting to see him fall, getting impatient and checking the time because there’s someplace else they’ve got to be, someplace more stylish.

I’ve been a tightrope walker all my life, but you already knew that. It’s not a career I’d wish on anyone. All that endless balancing tires you out. As for me, well, in my time I’ve balanced every competing demand you’d care to mention: smugglers, cops, pimps and heroes; liberty, equality and Nazis. Then, once you get too tired to keep on balancing anymore, you crash.

(I was crashing when I first met you. You wore blue, remember?)

The impact makes dents in you. It dents the better parts of you, leaves them faulty and hanging loose, exposed. They start to get callous then: your spirit, generosity, your hopes and trust. You can’t help it, no-one can. You get beaten out of shape as time goes by.

As Time Goes By…

He played it for you and sometimes, after you left, he still played it for me. And he always played it note-perfect. Tender. The patrons sighed, held hands across the tables. You’d have smiled to see them. I smiled at how little they understood. I smiled at how little you understood, too. It was an ugly smile; it got stuck in my teeth. Because no-one ever wins a war, Ilsa, not really; not even you and your heroes.

I never told anyone this but I used to picture that blue dress you wore, all red with bullet holes. And each time I pictured you like that I told him to play that goddam song. He never refused and he never once mentioned that anything was wrong, never let on that he knew. But Sam was never the same again.


This story was written in response to the speakeasy writing prompt #167 – You must include the following sentence as the LAST line in your submission: “But Sam was never the same again.”



26 thoughts on “You Wore Blue

  1. I had to chuckle at the opening, the mental digression about wars…it provided a great opening to get inside this person’s head. I also loved the part about the impoliteness of regrets. Regrets really are rude like that 🙂

    • Thanks. Yes, I had the narrator fairly drunk and morbidly reminiscing, so I wanted his thoughts to wander a bit. I tend to like it when you start to understand characters at a slight angle, if you see what I mean?

  2. “I never told anyone this but I used to picture that blue dress you wore, all red with bullet holes.” Wow. A startling image. That sentence is really something. Its one of those sentences that really just sticks with you. A stark image.

    • Thanks. I suppose it is fairly stark 🙂 Yes, a strong image always makes an impression. There’s a poem by Ted Hughes called “Pike” and I really can’t remember it except for one image: “green tigering the gold”; that line always stayed with me and came back to me instantly when I read your comment.

  3. I really enjoyed your take on the prompt. I particularly enjoyed the line, ‘I get tired of all the regrets. They sit around like they own the place, putting their feet up on the furniture.’ Wonder why it is that regrets always hang around?

    • Well, maybe we’re a bit unfair to regrets in the final analysis. I mean, they’re crucial a part of who we are and yet when do we ever make them feel welcome? It’s so easy to outstay your welcome when you were never made welcome in the first place 🙂

    • Thanks for the lovely thought, although I doubt if Rick would keep talking for too much longer in this scene – he seems to be heading quite quickly towards a drunken stupor…

  4. Ah, play it again. I loved this, and as soon as I realized it was Rick’s voice we were hearing, it popped right into my head and crystalized everything that had come before.

    • That’s cool, I’m glad I was able to voice Rick’s character to an extent. I caught some of Casablanca on TV the other week, which is why it came to mind with regard to this prompt – I was just trying to echo the feel of Bogart’s character, then make him a bit drunker and more melancholy…

  5. What an interesting take of what happened after Ilsa gets on the plane, leaving Rick in Casablanca to ponder what happened. And choosing to leave your piece with Sam’s silent presence throughout was touching.

    • Thanks. I was a bit wary of using such well-known, well-loved characters and giving their story a gloomier twist, so I’m glad to hear the attempt was at least partly successful 🙂

  6. Very creative take on the prompts. I really enjoyed the personification of regret — plopping their feet up on the table, making themselves at home. Guilt is always drinking up my coffee. 😉 Wonderful job with this, Sue.

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