Florentine Blue

Short Stories

Florentine Blue
by Michael Albanese

It didn’t take Kenyon long to agree.
The doctor was optimistic.

This was a good word.

Optimistic.

He had never seen the word written or the written word for that matter. He hadn’t a clue how symbols, lines and shaper strung together to form the word, any word.

Those words created sounds.

Those sounds created meaning.

Optimism meant very little until that brief encounter. If he were ever to see, with his eyes at least, this was one way.

An experiment.

In thirty-five years, Kenyon E. Sellers had seen nothing. This was difficult to imagine since he was a man who seemed to know everything. He had learned at a very young age that he was both
blind and capable of learning as much as his mind willed.

And so, with a mother that loved him and a father that left him, young Kenyon embarked on a lifetime of listening. He listened to everything.
Lovebirds at play. Slow drips of the kitchen sink. His mother entertaining strange men. Distant hammering of new homes in an affluent section of town.
Rhythmic pounding of a heart fending fever. Sniffling of an old clerk at the bank.
Nervous clicking of a pen in his employer’s hand.
The mumbling about inflation.
The swallowing of air. The gasp of embarrassment. The silence of uncertainty.
Kenyon heard everything.
And, he counted everything too.

He knew how many times he sneezed, how many times he heard his mother use profanity
and how many times he walked to the small grocery store where he worked as a stock boy.
Pile one: soups.
Pile two: canned meats and vegetables.
Pile three: canned fruit.
Pile four: frozen items, including his favorite pizza which he made daily in the break-room
located next to where you punched in when employed at Maggio’s Grocer. He cooked the pizza in a
dirty old microwave that radiated countless food molecules before him.
Kenyon never saw the squalor of the small oven nor the snarl of a dirty look.
He knew the pizza shipped thirty frozen pies to the case. Ten were plain-cheese. Ten,
pepperoni. The final ten pizzas, Kenyon’s personal favorite, were garden-fresh vegetable, even
though the pizza – and the vegetables – were anything but fresh.
Pile five: dairy products; milks, cheeses and other creams, sweet, sour or otherwise.
This went on and on, pile after pile, foodstuff after foodstuff.
Kenyon lived in an ordered life of numbers and kept these numbers in a notebook that
nobody, including himself, laid eyes on.
He knew how many yogurts could fit on the small, dedicated shelf. Fifteen.
He knew how many apples could fit into their basket before bruising as they rolled across
the old, wooden floor. Twenty-one.
Only twenty cans of soup fit on the shelf so that they were presented in an attractive manner,
all labels facing to the front.
Numbers were Kenyon’s eyes. He knew they would never lie to him the way his mother told
him his father did.
He knew the exact steps to and from his home in Edwardsville to Maggio’s. He knew the
number of steps from his back steps to the small creek which ran perpendicular to the house. He
would sit by the creek, his bony white feet splashing in cool, clear water. He would listen to old tapes
about art-history, mathematics, war, religion and just about anything he could get his hands on that
fit in his father’s old tape-player. He always took mental notes, sometimes with his toes grasping a
stone in the creek bed.
There was a rhythm to Kenyon’s life.
The tambour of his footsteps to the places he knew well: work, the creek, the cinema (where
he listened to films), to church (where all you needed to do was to listen) and to the home of a young
girl he loved. With Lillie Anders, Kenyon would have shared all the wonderful things he had learned
at his long visits to the creek and cinema had she not moved away years ago (that was the first time
he heard the sound of heartbreak).

He would tell Lillie that he was going to learn Italian after listening to the romantic voices of
the melodious language. He went to a retrospective of famous Italian film directors in a major city.
Accompanied by his mother and a wallet stuffed with three months of wages, he was to pay for their
bus fare, hotel and tickets to the various films the retrospective offered. He enjoyed the language on
the unseen silver screen, the way Italians were passionate (angry) without effort, the way the music
was quirky with effort. He would one day save more money and visit Italy, Florence specifically,
where he maintained a deep love for Renaissance artists, even though he had never seen their work
nor a colors they used, especially his favorite, Florentine Blue. His mother tried to explain this color
to Kenyon. But, he said what he saw in his imagination was more vivid, more blue, more beautiful
than anything she could form in words.
Imagination is the limitation of words, he used to say, even if only to himself.
Words annoyed Kenyon. He thought there were too many that people didn’t know and too
few people didn’t use.
Even though he was blind, people around him often behaved as if he was deaf.
How does he know where to put that? one man whispered to his friend, who smelled just like
pencil lead.
How does he not break the eggs? another customer asked the manager.
He’s never broken anything the manager replied. I don’t know how, but that’s Kenyon for you.
Just on the other aisle, beyond the boxes of instant cake mixes and synthetic colored
frostings, he would listen to all the gossip that is fit to hear. This is where Kenyon first heard about
the doctor.
He’s an atheist.
Patty said that he tried to look up her skirt.
You can’t trust a man if you don’t know where he’s from.
George says he’s a quack and it’s the first time I’ve agreed with him in thirty years.
Dr. Jackson Wentworth was new in town.
It was true he did not talk about his past.
It is not true that he tried to look up Patty Eubanks’ skirt .
It was unknown if he was an atheist.
And, time would tell if he was, in fact, as George Williamson, the barber, called him, a quack.
I can make you see.
That is what Kenyon heard. Kenyon knew he had not misheard because he did not mishear
things. Hearing had become an art form, a masterpiece three plus decades in the making.

I can make you see… but only for twenty-four hours. Dr. Wentworth said with optimism,
eating an apple, the sharp crunch of teeth on apple flesh not loud enough to dim the words ringing in
Kenyon’s ears. Dr. Wentworth was also not wearing a long, white coat either, but Kenyon did not
know this.
I can make you see… but only for twenty-four hours.
It didn’t take Kenyon long to agree.
The doctor was optimistic.
This was a good word.
The process would be simple and painless. Dr. Wentworth explained the methodology to his
experiment, each word landing like a hot air balloon. The complimentary evaluation lasted twenty
minutes, but it was the last few questions Dr. Wentworth posed that rattled Kenyon.
What have you always wanted to see? Where have you always wanted to go?
If Kenyon’s sight was to last only twenty-four hours, where and how would he spend them?
Minutes of thought seemed like hours of sleep. Would he retrace his entire life since childhood using
eyes instead of counted steps? Would he spend it at the creek or at Lillie’s Anders’ old house
recreating memories he never had with her? Would he study his mother’s face, a lovely countenance,
wrinkled before its time? Perhaps he would just sit before a mirror and see himself for the very first
time. He would examine the pores on his face, the hairs on his head, the color of his own eyes, which
he realized, sitting before the doctor, he never really knew.
The possibilities were endless.
Italy.
The sputtering a bold declaration and yet far-fetched question.
Nothing is impossible, even if it’s only for a day. Dr. Wentworth replied, smiling with his voice.
And, so, with an unmarked prescription bottle of experimental pink pills, Kenyon made his
way with blind confidence from Dr. Wentworth’s office to the grocery store to stock shelves. This
work shift would be different than any other. For there was no math to what could be, no measure
to the unknown.
Hope was something that could not be counted.
That night, there was only inanimate objects meant for consumption and replacement.
There was only locals murmuring at the checkout counter. There was only the incessant doorbell
that chimed every time a customer entered and exited the grocer.
One hundred seventy three. That was the record. That was how many times the door
opened in one day. It was when panic approached quicker than the blizzard that sent it.
Kenyon did not hear gossip or door chimes or mice in the basement. Tonight, he heard only
the sound of his imagination, of plates of bright food, greens and yellows and purples.
He saw why red wine was called red.
He saw striking oranges and pinks, sunrises against greens and browns and grays.
He saw Florentine blue.
On his dinner break, with his frozen garden-fresh pizza, Kenyon slipped a small pink pill into
the back of his mouth. He washed it down with this nine hundredth and twenty-second Coca-Cola.
He was instructed to take one pill a day for a month in order for the experiment to succeed or fail.
And with a satisfying belch, Kenyon knew he had taken a step toward taking another step onto a new
path, even if that path were to end in eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds.
When he arrived home that evening, his mother was on the porch smoking a cigarette.
Kenyon found his way to her cheek, gently kissed it, then walked inside the house. Not a word was
spoken. His mother thought this odd since Kenyon would regale her with recycled gossip overheard
at the store that night. His evening stories, she decided, more informative than the morning
newspapers.
Kenyon proceed upstairs to his bedroom, where he locked the door and sat at his desk,
which was meticulously organized. Notebooks were neatly stacked, aligned with the back edge of the
wood. These notebooks filled with all the numbers in his life. He had created his own kind of Braille,
mysterious and cryptic symbology that represented unforgettable experiences.
He reached into his pocket and placed the bottle of pills on the desk in front of him. He
grazed his hand against the leather spines of each notebook, silently counting them left to right. He
stopped at the ninth notebook, pulling it carefully as to not disturb its siblings. He ran his fingers
along the paper’s edge, opening to a page half way filled with symbols and drawings so striking that
one would never believe it was Kenyon’s hand that drew them.
How could he know what spiders and gabled roofs and fishing docks looked like without
ever seeing them?
On the opposite side of the page, there was a drawing of a lamp, whose bulb was the earth’s
globe. The ink still fresh, the globe giving the illusion of a spin. Kenyon had no idea how remarkable
his own hand was, how it had captured vivid details in untold ways.
He picked up the bottle of pills with his left hand while his right hand begin to sketch a
symbol on the bottom of the page. Next to the symbol, he made a small, black slash, presumably
representing a one, a first.
Twenty seven days later, Kenyon had a visit with George Williamson.
It was time for a haircut and shave.
The last time Kenyon visited GW Barber & Son was seven hundred thirty three days ago,
when George cut his ear during a trim. The two men had never spoken of the incident. By the time
Kenyon sat in the old Koken chair, George had clearly forgotten it. Kenyon had unclearly not.
The men made small talk.
Weather.

The old water tower that was coming down.
The new bridge that was going up.
Things are always changing George was known to say, this day no exception.
George did most the talking, Kenyon most the listening.
Italy was not a subject of conversation, although it would be three days from now, when
Maggio’s would buzz about Kenyon’s mysterious absence.
Kenyon thought about what the people would say. And, for the first time in his life, he would
not be around to hear them. He silently, secretly relished this thought while expertly, George,
scissors in one hand and a comb in the other, moved around Kenyon’s head as if conducting an
orchestra.
With a clean cut and smooth face, Kenyon hopped up from the chair, handed George
Williamson a twenty dollar bill and went on his way, confident that he was now presentable enough
to accidentally catch his reflection in the glassy storefronts of via Tornabuoni.
The loud roar of the engine was exhilarating, the thrust of the aircraft like the indelicate rush
of a first kiss.
It took twenty-one minutes from take off to reach the cruising altitude of thirty-seven
thousand feet.
Kenyon counted every second.
One one thousand…
Two one thousand…
Three one thousand…
And so on until the Captain announced that it was safe to move about the cabin, his voice as
sonorous as he had always heard in the movies.
Kenyon’s mother had fallen asleep already, her vodka tonic at the airport an unexpected
travel companion. As quietly as he could shift in his seat with undoing his belt, Kenyon reached in his
pocket, pulling out an old, silver pill box. It had belonged to his grandfather who brought it home
from Russia along with news that he was dying.
He slowly pushed open the box, the silver, he could not tell, tarnished like all things, with
time. Inside, was one pink pill. He stuck his forefinger inside the box, batting the lone pill around
before removing it. He slid the box closed and waited patiently for his complimentary soda.
As Kenyon swallowed the last pill with the first beverage above the earth’s surface, the cabin
lights dimmed. It would only be a matter of time before he could notice this for himself.
He slowly closed his eyes, the sound and marvel of engineering all around him.

One one thousand…
Two one thousand…
Three one thousand…
The seconds were minutes, the minutes hours.
But, Kenyon did not mind.
Good things come to those who wait he occasionally overheard his mother say to the men
who dropped her off at night.
Good things were coming.
Four one thousand…
Five one thousand…
Six one thousand…
Nothing is impossible, even if it’s only for a day.
His eyes heavy.
Seven one thousand…
The lullaby of six-hundred miles per hour.
Eight one thousand…
Nine one thousand…
Florentine blue.
Ten one…
…black, deep sleep.
When Kenyon awoke, he reached for his pen and journal, each an arm’s length away. His
fingers brushed intentionally along the pages until he stopped at one that was severely earmarked.
He opened to this particular page filled with small, enigmatic symbols.
He ran his fingers along the ink imprinted glyphs as if numbering them. As he placed his
pen in what he knew to be an empty space on the page, he began to replicate what had been before
created countless times.
Imagination is the limitation of words he thought, the sound of his pen pressing harder now.
As he closed the journal and put it aside, Kenyon wondered if he would ever stop dreaming.
With this thought, he slowly climbed out of bed.
The seventy-seventh day of his thirty-fifth year was waiting.

1 thought on “Florentine Blue

  1. I deeply enjoyed the order in which these words were presented. The effect on my brain is resonant with who I believe I am. Thank you for helping me see them in this order. I appreciate what it looks like to me in my head and the pains you took to show them in this light.

Leave a Reply