A Blue Gaze or Her Story Is Mine
Laura Tansley (University of Glasgow, Scotland)
George William Laver, having been forced to retire, left the Royal Porcelain factory on September 8th 1893 clutching his paintbrush in between oak knotted, arthritic fingers past the river and home to his wife whom he had not told. 112 years later when fifteen painters left out of protest for the redundancy of 100 factory workers, his great-great-granddaughter would walk through the background of the ‘Midlands Today’ news shot, her porcelain skin unblemished by any flaw, freckle or hand, unaware of any family connection. Two years later we would share a bed for six weeks to save money.
I travelled to India with her because I wanted to see if she would stain like a tooth from coffee, or like the brown stomach of a teapot. When we arrived, her fine, delicate hair frizzed and waved its self but she did not sweat; her taut skin would not allow it. We were tricked by an unmarked taxi into paying too much and she was wide-eyed, succinct and assertive. I was loud and unnecessary and was told to, ‘Be quiet, Madam’. I tried to redeem myself later by haggling for expensive water, showing the vendor that the price was printed on the bottle cap but I was still always the one asked, ‘Want weed? Want massage?’ and she bartered the rickshaws.
In between red vermilion dots, the red eyes of Kathakali dancers, wet-red earth and grey sea was us; we were white like nothing else, not the froth of the waves, the roaring, sickly jasmine or the flour that the baker with two thumbs on one hand rolled his dough in. I wondered what the people thought; perhaps that he was very adept at kneading because he had an extra digit, or that the touch of him must be very odd. I wondered about the feel of her. She is not white like me. I am pink, damp and itchy. Is she lighter than flour, turning transparent in my fingers like jasmine petals? Would my sweaty hands disintegrate her like tissue paper? Perhaps she is rough like the unglazed pumice of a cup; her voice is like the tinkling sound of a spoon against crockery.
We spent some time on the backwaters in a houseboat where the mosquitoes flocked to us; our blood, our scent, we didn’t know why but we huddled in a double bed under a short fly net while the captain and the chef slept outside in only their mundus and short-sleeved shirts. The power, estranged from a house that we stopped by at night, kept shorting and the ceiling fan stirred off and on leaving us hot and me feverish. The lingering smell of coriander cooked for us for supper had given me strange dreams about calling out names but not being able to shout. I woke suddenly, up onto my elbows, and she was leaning over me. There was no light, not even her whiteness. A pool of sweat on my breastbone that felt like a lake spilt over me. I couldn’t remember where we were until she touched my arm, you were shaking, she said, and I had to go to the toilet to vomit.
I found her family history. She doesn’t know about it. It is mine then, I think. Mine to suppose. Mine to wonder about the tea sets sent to the East India Trading Company. I’m the one that visits the museum and studies the Balwyn Swan vase with a blue glaze and I wonder if, where she is travelling now, it gets so cold that the bases of her almond nails are glazed blue.
Laura Tansley is 24 and is from Malvern in Worcestershire. She cites this as a place of fondness and inspiration but only when she is distanced from it, which led her to Glasgow where she now lives, works and studies.