Two blocks due north from the sharpest bend of the Chesapeake River sat a small brownstone apartment home with three broken blue shutters that lilted and groaned in the wind. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Rodolpho Rinnovo, the ever-corpulent owner of the apartment home, these blue shutters had been replaced three years before – though with their cacophonous racket now who would know it? – by ordinance of the Chesapeake County Noise Patrol Committee for the Public Good.
“Why bother worrying about a few creaks here and there?” Mr. Rinnovo had said when the ordinance first arrived, sealed in a yellow envelope and signed by some county official with lopsided handwriting who was, according to Mr. Rinnovo, “very obviously a negligent, unattractive person lacking the kind of decent social graces that would’ve told him or her to refrain from allowing this message to be sent.”
“Mmhm,” said Dustin, Mr. Rinnovo’s chestnut-haired nephew too gangly to be considered handsome and too quiet to do his uncle any good. Mr. Rinnovo let out a lengthy sigh and the next morning a crew of two men in matching grey uniforms arrived to replace the shutters, at Mr. Rinnovo’s expense.
The neighborhood heaved a collective sigh that day, glad to know the reverberating eooooh wheeeeer eooooooohs of three noisy blue shutters would no longer be heard.
One week later, when the weather turned gusty, all three shutters continued to moan.
“Aha!” Mr. Rinnovo cried with delight. “And so it is revealed that these sapphire-painted flaps of wood are just as outspoken as the old ones had been, my Dusty boy! Isn’t your uncle the smartest? No letter can tell the great Rodolpho Rinnovo what to do! In case you ever doubted your luck growing up by my side, this fiasco should make you feel utterly and, dare I say it, shutterly grateful that you have me to show you the way through life!”
Mr. Rinnovo had been squatting – not sitting because his legs wouldn’t allow it – on the cream-colored Chesterfield sofa that took up half the living room with its leathery show of tufted pomp.
Outside, windblown leaves crunched against the side of the brownstone and the three blue shutters squealed in the strong breeze.
“You see, Dustin? Let this be a lesson for your worldly edification: You cannot mess with the hands of destiny in every one of its beautiful pursuits!”
Though Dustin Rinnovo said nothing, he absolutely believed in destiny, in a greater fate written in the stars. It was the one thing of which he was most certain; the last thought to rumble inside his head at night and the first idea that crossed his mind each morning.
In fact, this was what came to him today, exactly three years from that silly day when the new blue shutters and their two-man assembly crew had arrived at the brownstone’s front door. Dustin yawned from beneath his blankets as the winter sun wriggled free of the horizon and crawled through his window, destined to spend a cold, lonely day lingering in the sky.
He dressed quickly and purposefully, then spent the rest of the morning sitting on the Chesterfield drinking his cup of Earl Grey, sipping also on the plump silence that filled the empty room.
Such quiet at the small apartment home was rare, what with the three blue shutters and Uncle Rodolpho talking on and on about whatever was bothering him that day. Rodolpho had taken a weekend trip to his cabin upriver and Dustin felt a hint guilty that he wished his uncle might extend his stay.
It wasn’t that Uncle Rodolpho was a cruel man – some part of Dustin somewhere probably admired him for every inch of his bombastic ways – but there could be no denying that the most prominent pastime of Rodolpho Rinnovo was to practice the art of hearing himself speak. It didn’t matter what subject was at hand – the extinction of the Dodo bird, the best vegetables to buy in the spring season, the proper way to encase a pillow in silk – Rodolpho could expound upon it easily and with enough conviction to make you think he knew.
Dustin had learned long ago that the best way to survive in the small apartment house with his uncle – he had no other choice, anyway – was to say nothing and fade into a resilient type of shyness that would always get him through.
Today, there was no need to be silent. Even the three blue shutters fell still, as if they were, for the first time in their obnoxious three years of life, now politely allowing Dustin a day to himself.
For several hours until the sun fell to night – and through six cups of Earl Grey and one cup of Kukicha – Dustin remained on the Chesterfield, sometimes with his feet dangling toward the wooden floor, sometimes outstretched with his tea balancing on whichever hand was nearby, listening to the unfamiliar sound of soundlessness and allowing himself to think.
He thought about everything: about the fated life he’d been living, about the plans he might make to escape the small apartment home and find a decent, Rodolpho Rinnovo-less life, about how he might miss his uncle if he left and about how he might not miss him at all.
Then, he heard the shutters wail.
And part of Dustin snapped. Maybe it was the same part that liked Uncle Rodolpho; maybe it was the part that had always wanted to say, “this is stupid,” or “I don’t believe you really know about the inconsistencies of salmon migration patterns, Uncle Rodolpho.” Whatever part it was, it broke with the whines of the three blue shutters in the wind.
With speed he didn’t know possible for his skinny frame, Dustin ran outside and hurled the rusted silver ladder from the garage to a place just under the shutters. Then he worked to rip them down one by one until all that remained were three windows covered in murky, years-old condensation. When he was done, Dustin took the splintery cobalt chunks under both arms – they were small enough to carry – and walked toward the sharpest bend of the Chesapeake River to set them free.
A brittle wind blew as he sojourned toward the water but Dustin didn’t mind; he felt like a man – or maybe a grown boy – ignited and even more so as he watched the bright blue pieces float downstream, wordless and defeated.
Just to the right of the riverbank where Dustin had let the shutters escape was a medium-sized hill that Dustin used to climb as a young child to see if he might be able to touch the sky. It had never worked then but now – but now! – maybe.
He walked with blue shutterless-purpose toward that spot, barely visible in the midnight dim. When he reached the top of the hill, Dustin looked up, surprised to see a bright surge of stars above him, just barely within reach. He looked to the stars, to the fates they might hold, and told them whispered secrets he’d long kept tucked away. He spoke about redemption, about renewal, about the absurdity of Rodolpho and asked if they might be able to make sure his uncle would be alright then set his own life on a wonderful course unknown. And as he talked the North Star winked, the Big Dipper dipped and in the starlight that poured down on Dustin Rinnovo like drops of Earl Grey from the sky, he understood that he would one day have the courage to shut the old world out and start anew.
[This story is a little word art collaboration, an ongoing project to team up with talented illustrators from around the world. To see more of zzzur, the artist responsible for the drawing featured in “Three Blue Shutters,” click here.]