“If I do not return tomorrow,” Boudicca said, “you will be Queen of the Iceni.”
Her youngest daughter looked up at her, tangled red hair washed in muddy rain that day and hanging like a wedding veil around her face. “I know.” There was fear to speak of, but neither spoke it. “Can’t I go with you?” The woman hesitated in sharpening the long knife in her torn hands grown too quickly into leather, so they cracked and bled when she moved them. She gave her daughter a thoughtful frown. “It’s just this,” the girl said in quick explanation. “If you and Erein don’t return tomorrow… then I would rather not go on living.” The mother did not answer. “Please, let me fight for my people as you do.”
The mother took a slow, deep breath, conflicted no doubt as he was. And then she reached her cracked hand to pick up a dish of thick woad on the packed ground. She knelt in front of her red-haired daughter, the girl’s eyes alight with excitement and with the dread that morning would bring. The mother pressed her thumb into the woad and smeared it across her daughter’s face. She painted her neck, her shoulders, her arms and her legs. When she was done it looked as though she had twirled in a spray of celestial mud. The cracked hand pressed the young shoulder.
“Blue, for your strength in battle tomorrow.”
The morning found blue bodies sprawled out on the battlefield, and the red cloaks of Rome stood triumphant.
Escaped indentured servants and criminals were sent there to get their hands dirty in indigo. Princes and rich men must have blue for coats, and criminals must be put to good use.
They came in several different colors, those hands that picked the weed-plant that would slowly kill them. They came in shades of blue and purple, depending on the shade of skin. A whole history of the world was painted on that canvas, and after they died were buried to let the history be stripped by the earthworms and time.
A girl escaped. It was unheard of. But escape she did, and stowed away on a ship, and then raced north, into the colonies, where she stole a pair of gloves to cover the recognizable marks of a criminal, of a slave.
The criminal stopped by a stream to wash, to scrub until her skin was raw. She did not know that the riders that came to water their horses were men of the law. They saw her hands and knew her for what she was, grasped her wrist and hair and pulled her out of the stream, dripping-wet and half naked. “This,” snarled the man, his freed belt in his free hand, “is the work you were made for.” He twisted the criminal’s purple wrist. They abused her and then they sent her back to the indigo plantation.
New York, 1918
“We’ll be back with the Metropolitan Songbirds in just a moment. And now, ladies and gentlemen, a message from our sponsor.”
“Louise, turn off that racket,” said the husband in the chair. He took a deep breath of the curdling smoke heavy in his pipe. “I’m trying to read.”
“Well, I happen to like the Songbirds,” the wife said matter-of-factly, and turned up the volume dial. She leaned over her protruding belly into the speaker, rapt in her attention.
“ – to say congratulations to all those women out there in the blush of new motherhood.”
She blushed, and looked at her husband as though she’d just proved a point.
The radio crackled on. “We’ve got all of your new-baby needs. Buy soft plush dolls, lightweight blue fabric for your little boy’s jumper or pink for your little girl.”
The wife frowned, sitting up. “I thought blue was for girls?”
“Hm?” The husband looked up from his book. “What’s that?”
“All the girls told me that I should get blue curtains for the baby’s room if it’s going to be a girl.” Her brow knitted in distress, wringing her hands. “You know I had that dream last week. And I just finished all those pretty blue curtains…”
“It was just a dream,” the husband grunted, and turned the page of his history book, and smoked his pipe. “Who knows? We might have a baby boy. And then it’ll be blue for boys.”
Washington, D.C., 2012
The slut sat before Congress and presented an argument on behalf of women for birth control.
The following week found more than a handful of stones cast at her. They cut red blood from her blue veins. We want to watch, they said, The point is reproduction, why would you do it without wanting babies, this is what you were made for, you woman, you slut…
In her navy blue coat the slut straightened her back and drew strength around her as though preparing for battle. She scoffed at the labels they threatened to tag her toes with. The slut was made for more than carrying blue-bonneted babies.
Until one day when the man said sorry, we don’t cover that, and she was trapped in servitude. But they blamed her for that, too. So the slut became the mother, and dreamed of a day for her daughter when blue would be for girls again.