written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Monday, November 2, 2009

Colbalt Green

This short story is another one from the archives -- I'm guessing that I wrote it about ten years ago. First clue that it's an oldie, again: First person point-of-view (and once again male). And the second important clue that this one is an oldie, is that it's mainly a narrative (which like the 1st person pov, I'm not into anymore).

The story was originally tittled "Strange Water," and I loved that title. In fact, I titled this story before I even knew what I was going to write. Then three friends read the story and all three said that this should definately be called "Colbalt Green." My husband agreed. Now I'm not one to change a title just because someone suggests it, but four people out of four? That convinced me. So, I'm wondering, what do you think? Colbalt Green or Strange Water?

Colbalt Green
(Strange Water)
By Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Nature’s Tonic. Dad, Mom, Deb, they loved the stuff. Couldn’t get enough, you know. Like, who cares about water? For me, tap’s good as anything. Don’t trust none of those fancy waters.

Mom started first. The Dame said, “Single best thing you can put into your body.”

Couldn’t fool me. I saw the effects of that strange water right off.

You should have seen her – singing to laundry, dancing down the hallway. Called the family to dinner in a damn song. Nature’s Tonic turned this place into some crazy musical extravaganza. A regular music hall, for godssake.

Sure, first it was only humming. But then the whistling started. Mom dug out these bizarre boxes she called eight tracks. Before I knew it, she bought a stereo, a pile of cd’s. You should have seen it. The Dame put radios in the bathrooms, one in the kitchen, another in the hall. She bought Deb singing lessons. Even had the piano tuned. Dad couldn’t believe how fast Mom picked it up again. Said he never heard her play so good. He was sure one to talk. I never knew Pops even owned a fiddle.

And Dad, Mom, and Deb – they thought I was the crazy one.


Say, what self-respecting water comes in Cobalt Green bottles anyway?

“There’s no such color as Cobalt Green,” Mom and Deb said.

Distraction: the oldest trick in the book. Well, not exactly the oldest. “There is so a color Cobalt Green. It’s the color of Cobalt Blue, only green,” I told ‘em.


Wouldn’t have been so bad, you know, if it hadn’t been day in, day out. Don’t get me wrong, I like music and all. But damn, it wasn’t just Pops singing in the shower, you know. Dad, Mom, Deb, they sang at the kitchen table, sang to the T.V., performed concerts in the living room. You should have seen it. Mom at the piano, Dad with his fiddle, Deb beltin’ out a song. Who knew she had a voice like that? The water I tell ya. Heck, she’s only a kid. A kid with a stack of awards . . . not to mention that date to sing the anthem at the Hollywood Bowl.

We were becoming a regular Partridge Family for godssake.

She tried to get me musical, you know, The Dame – drums, tambourine, anything . . .

“Here, have some water. Just play along, Sweetie.”

“Not likely,” I said, not to hurt her feelings and all. But what could I say? I was a well-adjusted, happy guy, you know. No way you’d catch me singing and dancing like some damn fool.

The stuff this family put me through . . .

In broad daylight, smack in the middle of the grocery store, for godssake, Mom broke out into a sing-along with intercom music. You can be sure that I was out of there by the second note. What were people going to think?

The dame’s whacked, that’s what they thought.

Mom really went nuts when Deb won that scholarship and the whole family that crazy, European Musical Masters Tour. You should have seen it; when Mom found out she skipped around town singing at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t show my face outside the house for days. You would have thought it had been her life-long dream to see this guy Bach’s harpsichord, or Beethoven’s grave.

You should have seen them. “La, la, la, lalalala,” they sang.

Dad, Mom, they threw a big bash to celebrate. Aunt June, Uncle Jack, Mom’s friend Rita, they all came. The Adams next door even showed. Suspicious all right. As far as I knew, the Adams had never set foot in our house. I’ll tell you, at the rate Mrs. Adams gulped down that Nature’s Tonic, I sensed she’d be back.

“It’s the single best thing you can put into your body,” Mrs. Adams said.
She’d been talking to The Dame.

I call that night the turning point. The twelve packs of sodas, not a single one touched. Hardly a brew cracked all night. As a matter of fact, the next morning I checked and counted all but three beers gone. And two of those I took myself. Slipped out to guzzle them underneath the house. Wasn’t even missed, you know.

You can believe they sure did guzzle the ole’ Cobalt Green though. You should have seen it. Had ourselves a regular jubilee. Deb took up the mic, Uncle Jack strapped on the accordion. In and out, in and out. Aunt June jumped up and down banging a tambourine on her hip like some lunatic. Then there was Pops. He played that fiddle like a mad dog, Mom beside him at the piano – grinning like some sort of schoolgirl. Then Mr. Adams pulled up a chair and whipped out a harmonica. Mrs. Adams got so damn excited, she danced around her husband’s chair, real sexy like, sitting on his lap sometimes to bump and grind to the music. Talk about embarrassing.

Then about midnight the cops finally showed. “It’s about time,” I said. I called about that strange water half a dozen times before. But if you can believe it, they didn’t come knocking about the Cobalt Green. No, they showed because of the NOISE.

“How about a beer boys?” The Dame asked in a sweet, hospitality-like voice. An obvious attempt to win them over. She actually played “The Theme from Dragnet” for the cops. Can you imagine?

“Mighty kind of you to offer, Mam’,” one of the cops said, “sure you understand, duty and all.” Well, to make a not so long story even shorter, Mom, you guessed it, passed them the ole’ Cobalt Green. They had no idea . . . unsuspecting victims, you know. Never saw it coming.

Before I knew it, those two cops were dancing a jig, whistling to some Irish Folk tunes off the new stereo. You should have seen it. They left last among the party goers, two in the morning, for godssake.

You can’t blame me. First things first, you know. I fired up the internet to find out just who made Nature’s Tonic. And here’s where it got even stranger. The bottle said that the ole’ Cobalt Green was pumped from natural springs in Texas and bottled in Corina, California. Funny thing though . . . there’s no damn Corina. There’s a Corona all right – out near San Bernardino somewhere, dairy land. There was also a Covina, Los Angeles County, some god forsaken place. But no Corina.

The Dame said I ought to try another map. That I did. In fact, I checked twenty-five different websites. And as I suspected, not a single one listed a Corina. All had a Corona though, and each one, a Covina.

“Look,” I told The Dame, slapping my stack of printouts before her. “What do you have to say for your ole’ Cobalt Green now?”

Mom giggled.

“Obviously, they’re hiding something.”

“Oh, Sweetie,” she said. “I’m sure it’s just a typo.” Then tap, tap-tap, tap, she proceeded to drum out a jig.

Typo. Yeah right.

I’ll tell you what I thought. It’s like the Pied Piper, you know, only this time he’s bottled in Cobalt Green. No, the Piper didn’t whistle the family off to Europe. It’s the Pied Piper who’s gonna call them back. After that, I don’t know. Maybe it’s some kind of communist plot to lure us out to the country, get us all rural again. Maybe the government just wants to put us out graze. Hell, who can tell? For all I know, Hollywood’s behind that strange water, the ole’ Cobalt Green – some crazy scheme of a talent hunt.

Well, I didn’t bite, that’s for sure. The night before they all left for Europe, I waited until The Dame and Pops fell asleep. Then I crept into Deb’s room to break the news. As I figured, she was still awake, checking her list to make sure she packed everything. She was humming a tune over the headphones. I remember the song: “Bridge over Troubled Waters.” Apropos.

I told her that I hadn’t really been packing and all. That it was all a facade.

“But your suitcases,” she said wide-eyed.

“Stuffed with blankets.” Had no intention of traveling to Europe – not with this whacked-out family. I said that I was sorry and all, but I thought she ought to know. She’s my baby sister, you know. Didn’t want her to worry.

“But what about Mom and Dad?” Her eyes welled up with tears real sad like. “Andrew! They’ll drag you along if they have to. Ohhhh,” she whimpered, “if you make us miss the plane, they’ll kill you.”

“That’s the beauty of it,” I assured her. “Mom and Dad, they won’t miss the flight for the world, you know. Tomorrow when they see I’ve left, and you won’t say a word,” I told her, “you all will just have to leave without me.”

My news came as a shock. Poor Deb. She looked like she might burst into tears. So I, very gently, you know, covered her mouth with my hand. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be back home once you’re all gone.”

I could tell that Deb didn’t like my plan. She cried, despite my hand covering her mouth. Fortunately, The Dame and Pops didn’t stir, and I got a promise from her that she wouldn’t holler as soon as I left.

At three in the morning when I was certain the entire house slept, I laid out the note about how I wouldn’t be going on their dream vacation, because it was so dorky and all. I didn’t mention that the family was just too damn whacked to be seen with in public – even in Europe. Didn’t want to lay it on too hard, you know. I ended the note with something about how in a few days, they could reach me at home. Then I grabbed a sleeping bag, a couple those leftover beers and headed for the storage cupboard in the basement to hide out.

Heard a couple of doors slam. Pops made some grumbling noises. Couldn’t make out any words, but I could have sworn at one point Pops was singing.

After a couple hours I finally I heard the van pull out of the driveway with some classical tune blaring from the stereo. I can’t tell you how glad I was about my decision. Besides, attached to the note upstairs about how furious they were, how they’d call me, and how I’d better stay out of trouble, was Mom’s bank versatel card for my “basic needs.”

I got quick to work as soon as they left. Pulled up a list of every bottled water company in the damn U.S. Thirty-seven of them, you know. Who would have thought? Yet, not one of them Nature’s Tonic.

Wasn’t surprised.

Finally I phoned the grocery store manager. “Can you please give me the name of your Nature’s Tonic Distributor,” I politely asked. “I really love the stuff and can’t get enough.”

“Listen punk,” she said, “You call again and I call the cops.”

I waited a day and phoned again. Said I owned a cafĂ© in town, needed fifty cases of Nature’s Tonic. I only needed to know when they expected their next shipment, you know. Damn, you’d have thought I was asking them to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Meanwhile, I hit the library to research strange water situations. No luck at all, when this grandma-like librarian showed me an article on this funky film, nothing more than a pain in the ass to load up on some square dinosaur box. It talked about a drug called Lithium that’s found naturally in some water. Well, Lithium’s this drug they give manic-depressed patients, you know – those people who one minute are perfectly happy, then in the next practically suicidal. I know a few myself.

Anyway, the article went on to say that the Fountain of Youth that ancient guy from Italy searched all over Florida for, was probably this Lithium water. Didn’t mention though, about the drug keeping you young. More likely, you might not care so much about getting old. Well, from what I could make of it (you know those academic types, gotta use ten sentences when they could say it in one), Lituium makes you feel evenly fine. Fine all the time, in other words. You know, like nothing is terrible, nothing is wonderful. Just how life is naturally, you know.

The article went on to say that there were pockets of Lithium water all over the country. Towns sometimes boomed around the water. The rich and famous dudes vacationed in these towns, drank and swam in pools of the stuff. Then when it dried out for some reason or another, well the town just died. Hotels closed, people moved out, the place became a regular ghost town.

Certainly a case of strange water you know, but the article made no mention about Lithium making you sing, nothing about dancing, or playing the fiddle. Awfully nice of the librarian to find me the article though. Without her, you know, I might never have realized the solution to our strange water problem around here.

I decided to put an end to the Pied Piper myself. Decided to dry this town out. Sure I might turn this place into a ghost town. But that was just a risk I had to take. And fortunately for me, time was on my side.

For an entire week, I watched the grocer’s shelves. Customers grabbed up the ole’ Cobalt Green by the case. When I saw the supply falling low, I grew giddy knowing soon I would make my move. Giddy, can you imagine? And then finally, one Monday afternoon it happened; I arrived to fully stocked shelves of Nature’s Tonic. Four shelves high, Cobalt Green glistened down the side of an entire aisle. There was an old woman humming some church hymn who reached for a six pack. A mom with her baby strapped across her chest, sang “Sunshine, my only sunshine . . .” as she loaded her cart with the stuff. Truly a sad sight.

Well, I returned to the store an hour before it closed. Waited by the newspaper stand outside so I could enter with other customers. Didn’t want to stand out, you know. So later, when I slipped into the back, ducked down between some crates, I would be scott free, and no one would ever realize that I hadn’t exited the store, being no one noticed me enter.

Didn’t have to wait long, cramped down there on the floor. Within the hour, I’d say, the place pitch black, death quiet, except for freezer motors running and shit, I decided to make my move. I pulled the ski mask over my face, bolted up and made right for it. First in the back, I located a hundred or so cases of the stuff neatly stacked. I took a short running start and pushed my weight head-on into it. You should have seen it, the entire stack fell as one chunk, smashing the bottles into a million Cobalt Green pieces. Tremendous noise, I’ll say. Surely someone must have heard. So I rushed off like mad to the front of the store to finish the job.

I huffed and I puffed and I pushed all my weight into the aisle. That damn thing wouldn’t budge. So I just started kicking bottles off the first shelf all the way down the aisle until I reached the end. Then I turned and made the trip back bent over and all, and pushed the bottles off the second shelf. I did the same for the third shelf, this time, running upright. Then I gave it another try, maybe now the aisle was light enough to tackle. Yes, indeed. I pulled it down in three sections, crashing the last of the Cobalt Green to the floor.

Except for bumps and bruises to my head from bottles that fell off the top shelf, my plan went down without a hitch. Without wasting any time, I burst out the back door, sounding the alarm. I sprinted two blocks to the mall. Took in a movie before I headed home, victorious over the ole’ Cobalt Green.

Victorious, until they restocked a week later. On a Sunday this time. Who delivers on a Sunday? But I was prepared, you know. I did the exact thing again, hid out until everyone had gone, donned my black ski mask, then destroyed all of that strange water. There was much improvement in my speed. Accomplished the deed in half the time, with half as many knocks to the ole’ knocker.

I had to act cautiously after that, you know. There’d been a write-up about me in the paper and everything. “Water Bandit,” they dubbed me. No doubt, everyone expected the culprit to show up the night of the next shipment. But you can be sure I didn’t make an appearance. The beauty of it was, I didn’t have to make an appearance. The Post Office did it for me. In fact, the grocer got my letter in a day. Oh, you should have seen it, the entire aisle of the Ole Cobalt Green taped off. They didn’t allow anyone near the stuff. That was, not until those dudes figured exactly which two bottles had been tainted. Of course, they didn’t find any. The letter was just my genius hoax, you know. Where’s a kid like me gonna get cyanide?

After hoax number one, I printed up a flyer, five hundred of them to distribute throughout town – in mailboxes, newspapers, church confessionals, all about how Nature’s Tonic was dangerous to your health. I put in some clever stuff about how the company’s procedures were unsanitary and all. “One customer even found a rat’s skull in her bottle of water,” I wrote.

After the flyer, I had more planned, you know. I’d dry this town out yet. Had been practicing with gunpowder, learning to make a bomb, and all. I swore I was gonna blow that damn aisle down. Then maybe they’d learn – stop it already with the Cobalt Green. I won’t quit, you know, not until I’ve chased the Pied Piper out.

The Dame, Pop’s they’ll be back real soon. Sure, I guessed they’d be back sooner. Any day now, they’ll rush through the front door. Back for a bit of the ole’ Cobalt Green. It’ll be tough for them once they find out we’re just about dry. But I figured they’d get over it all right. Until then, I’ve got myself some peace and quiet. No more strange water. No more silly song.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

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