When Sunny Gets Blue
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
In 2012 I was looking for a story idea for my thesis film at Columbia University.
I was playing around with all kinds of stuff but it all felt forced.
At the time I was also struggling with repetitive stress injury in both my hands which involved a lot of emotions and self reflection.
One night I wrote the short story, which was named after the song I was learning to play on the piano when my hands started to hurt - "When Sunny Gets Blue".
It had a tone and feel more close to what I thought of my self as a storyteller than all the other stuff I was playing around with for a script, and I decided to just adapt it.
You can view here my thesis film, and see what happened from the initial short story to the adapted film (much had changed, but a lot also stayed the same...)
Also - here is one of my favorite recordings of the song that started it all:
The illustration are some of the concept art I did for the film.
WHEN SUNNY GETS BLUE
By Oded Naaman
When sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy... Then the rain begins to fall…
"So how are you?"
I looked at him playing with my hand.
“I don’t know. Maybe a little better. They’re stiff today more than usual.” I answered.
He moved my wrist from side to side trying to feel the range of motion. I try to tune out at this point, thinking about something else, but he always tried to open with some small talk.
“Did you read that article about yoga in the New York Times?” He asked?
He did a motion that made my joint crack. This clunky, rusty sound.
“Did you feel that?” I asked.
“This is how it’s been for the past few days.”
He didn’t respond. Just kept moving my palm.
I went home from there.
On the subway I looked at both my hands, wrapped in black splint gloves.
One or two people glanced at me. I can always feel it. The same way that a man with crutches feels piercing eyes on him.
Or maybe I’m just imagining. Maybe nobody cares.
When Sunny gets blue, she breathes a sigh of sadness… Like the wind that stirs the trees…
I walked inside my apartment, and as always, my first glance was at the piano. It was sitting there, against the wall, almost mocking me.
I sank to the couch and turned on the TV.
It didn’t take long. I fell asleep.
People used to love to hear her laugh, see her smile… That's how she got her name…
It was the middle of the night when I woke up. Since I didn’t turn on any lights, it was all dark.
I stood and started walking towards the kitchen – I wanted a cup of tea.
I was disoriented and my leg bumped into something. It took me a moment to see it was the piano.
I cursed. I wanted to hit the piano back.
Instead I sat down in front of it and opened the lid.
The white ivory and black mahogany winked at me, to touch, to pet, to caress. I moved my fingers over the keys.
I didn’t mean too, it was the middle of the night after all, but I started playing. The first melody line of “When Sunny Gets Blue”. Then the second. Then I moved into the bridge. Somehow that song really stuck in my head. Maybe because it was in the set I played in the club the last time I performed. But I played others as well. I don’t know why this one was like theme music to the last couple of months.
Since that sad affair she's lost her smile, changed her style… Somehow she's not the same…
I stopped. My hand hurt. So fast the pain creeps, crawls up from the fingers to the wrist.
I took my hands off the keyboard and rested them on my thighs.
There was nothing left to do but to go back to sleep, but I didn’t. I just sat there – me and the piano alone in the room.
I was sitting on a bench in the subway, when suddenly the familiar tune was heard echoing in the tunnel.
At first, I thought it was just in my head, but then I noticed a homeless person playing the harmonica on the opposite platform, blowing into his instrument the melody to “When Sunny Gets Blue”.
That song has been playing in my head for months now. It was a random homeless guy, with a random harmonica, but it felt as if he was playing for me, like he knew what’s on my mind, and how to penetrate my soul.
I ran up the stairs from my platform, and down the stairs to the opposite one. I don’t know why I did it, as if I was afraid he won’t be there in a few seconds.
He was still there, playing the same song.
I stopped next to him and caught my breath.
He looked at me with a funny face, as if he knew me.
I opened my wallet and looked inside. All I had was a twenty-dollar bill. I took it out and shoved it into the paper cup he had in front of him. There were only a few cents lying inside of it.
He stopped playing. We stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then I turned to walk away, but he grabbed my hand.
“Hey!” I cried.
“There are two things you need to remember.” He whispered with conviction, or at least it sounded like a whisper. Maybe it was just his voice, cracked and broken from years of smoking who knows what. “The first – there is a price for what you just did.”
“You mean me giving you money?” I asked.
“You were supposed to be on that train.” He pointed to the train that was arriving on the opposite track, the one I planned on taking. I opened my mouth to ask more questions, but he cut me off.
“And second - when you can’t play this song, all you have left is to dance. Dance even if you can’t hear the music.”
But he just turned around and started walking down the platform, putting the harmonica to his lips, and started playing again. He gave a line of melody, and then started to sing with his broken voice.
“When Sunny gets blue…”
I wanted to run after him, grab him and ask what was that all about, how did he know about the song, but suddenly he seemed so far away, and my legs felt too heavy to follow him.
I dragged myself back to the other side of the tracks, hoping to catch the next train.
After finishing all the stuff I had to do, I went back home. Ever since he disappeared on the platform, the homeless man has not left my thoughts.
What did he mean by those two things he told me? What price did I pay for not getting on the train and when should I start dancing? What kind of dance?
I was sure I could handle some free style pop, and I can do a fair twist, but if I had to swing, or do a modern ballet piece I would probably be lost.
And did he mean “When Sunny Gets Blue”? Was that the song he was talking about?
My head was spinning.
I reached my building and went up to my apartment.
I opened the door and walked in.
“What the hell happened???”
I jumped, frightened.
In the middle of my living room stood a girl. A beautiful girl. I did not know her.
I tried to find the right response. If she was a fat man in his forties, I would probably know what to do. It would have probably involved me screaming, a frying pan, and a desperate try to dial 911.
But seeing this beautiful woman just standing there – It paralyzed me.
“You were supposed to show up two hours ago!” She said. She was angry.
I was still trying to formulate words into a coherent sentence.
She walked straight towards me.
“You’re in a shit load of trouble”.
Finally, I managed to let a few words slip through my lips.
“Do I know you?” was all I could do.
She looked at me strangely. Then she softened and sighed.
“No. I guess you don’t. We haven’t met yet.”
Again – I was baffled, what to say next, so I went with my first instinct.
“Can I offer you something to drink?”
“NO! We don’t have any time! They’re probably on their way here right now!” She said, with a hint of urgency in her voice.
“They are?” I asked, not acknowledging the fact that I didn’t know who ‘they’ are.
“I believe they’ll be here any moment.” She said with conviction “and besides – I already helped myself.”
She pointed to a diet-coke can sitting on the table, dripping from refrigerator sweat.
“That was my last one.” I tried to sound angry, but all I got was disappointment.
“It doesn’t matter. We have to leave now.” She said and grabbed my hand. It was covered with the splint, so I couldn’t really feel her touch, but I imagined it was soft and gentle, and that it will make my shiver. Somehow, I craved her touch on my hand, even though I only met her a few moments ago.
She opened the door and dragged me after her. I couldn’t resist. Her determination was contagious, and I followed her blindly.
We were racing down the hall when we heard the elevator door open, and the voices of two men were heard.
“Fuck. They’re here.” She said, and pushed me around the corner, into the staircase. I tried to see what was going on, but all I could see was the silhouette of two men. I think I saw one of them holding a small dog in his hands, but I wasn’t sure.
She signaled me to be quiet, and we started going down the stairs slowly, so they wouldn’t hear us.
Their knock on my door echoed in the hallway, and I heard one of them say: “Mr. Clay? Please open the door. We know you’re in there. There’s no use in ignoring us…”
His voice faded as we went further and further down the stairs.
Suddenly I knew how to ask all the right questions, and she sensed it, nodding her head in disapproval, as if she was saying not a word.
And she pulled me after her, faster and faster.
When we were far enough from my building, I stopped.
“What are you doing???” she asked.
“I’m not moving another inch before you answer some questions” I said with newly founded determination.
She stared at me for a few seconds with the same look a mother gives a child when he does something wrong, but then her face softened, and she nodded.
“OK. But not here. I know a place where we can hide.”
I sighed once more.
“Lead the way.”
It was not long after when we were sitting in an old playground. On the carousel.
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
I had a million questions. But I had to choose carefully.
“Why did you bring me here?” I immediately regretted that I asked that one.
She saw the expression on my face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“It wasn’t the right question.” I said.
“That’s OK.” She comforted me.
There was a moment of silence.
“Do you still want me to answer it?” she probed.
“This is my secret hideaway. I come here to think.” She answered. “I feel safe here.”
I thought that was a satisfying answer. I went on to the next question. This time I knew I got it right.
“What is your name?” I fired.
“Hello Sunny.” A voice came from behind us.
We both jumped.
Next to us stood the two men from my building, those who had knocked on the door of my apartment. I was right. One of them was holding a small dog. That was the one who spoke. The other one just stood next to him. He had a hat, a fedora. I don’t know why I noticed that, but I felt that was important. One with a dog, one with a fedora.
The girl looked scared.
“How did you find us?”
“Why Miss Sunny, there is little that I don’t know about you.” The man with the dog said.
I looked at the girl.
“Your name is Sunny?”
“Now is not the time” She said, still staring straight at the two men.
At that point, the man with the dog turned to me.
“And you, Mr. Clay. You got a lot of nerve.”
“I do?” I must say I didn’t really follow what was going on.
“We are going to have a little chat” He continued, ignoring my baffled state.
Suddenly, again, I regained my wits.
“OK. Let’s have a talk.” I said with conviction “There is a lot I want to know”.
The man smiled to the other guy, the one with the fedora, and then he turned back to me.
The fedora guy walked to me and without any warning sent his fist into my face.
Slowly I regained consciousness slowly.
Still blurry and dizzy, I looked around, trying to orient myself.
I was sitting in a small supply room. It had shelves filled with toilet paper, soap, cleaning supplies and so on.
I was tied to a chair, placed in front of a small wooden table.
“Are you OK?” I heard the girl’s voice behind me. I turned as far as I could, but I couldn’t see her. She was probably right behind me.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” I waited for a second “Your name is Sunny?”
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
”I thought I was Sunny.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Like in the song. ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’.”
“I’m not sure what...” she was interrupted by the sound of the door opening.
Our two friends walked in. He was still holding the dog, and the other still wearing the fedora.
The dog guy sat in front of me while the fedora guy just stood behind him. The first one snapped his fingers and the other one brought him a folder. It was green.
He opened it and read it while making “Ah ah” noises once every couple of seconds.
“So, Mr. Clay.” Finally he said “Do you know why you’re here?”
“No.” I answered, plain and simple.
The dog made a sound. I looked at him. There was something about the look on its face.
The guy noticed me looking at his dog.
“I don’t know.” I said “It seems like the dog wants to say something.”
“Of course it does.” The guy said “It’s a talking dog.”
“A talking dog?” I asked, dead serious.
“Then why doesn’t he say something?”
“He’s mute.” The guy answered.
I examined his face carefully, trying to figure out if he was joking or not. I decided he was, so I chuckled.
The fedora guy swiftly walked to me and slapped me on my face, then returned to his place.
I was stunned and couldn’t speak.
“Don’t laugh at Sir. Nibbles” The dog guy said, and opened the folder “Now, today, at 10:45am you were supposed to be on a train, headed downtown. Is that correct?”
“Yes.” I decided not to play games.
“And you were not on the appointed train, were you?” He did not lift his eyes from the folder.
“And are you aware that because you were not on that train you started a chain of events, or did not start should I say, that caused a great discomfort to our employer?”
“I did not.”
He stopped and looked up, baffled.
“You did not what?”
“I didn’t know all the stuff you just said.” I said.
He looked at me for a second more, and then at the fedora guy, who just shrugged. He turned back to me, closed the folder and stood up.
“We’ll be back soon.” And they walked out.
For a moment I tried to get my wits back. Then I started dragging my chair sideways, trying to turn to Sunny.
It took me a while but then I managed. I was right. She was tied up standing to some pipes behind me.
We stared at each other for a while, not saying anything. I broke the silence.
“Are you OK?”
I looked at her face. She didn’t look stressed or anything.
“You care to tell me what the hell is going on?” And all my questions just flowed out of my mouth “Why did you come to my apartment? How did you get in? Who are these guys? Who is their employer? Why did they tie us here? How come your name is Sunny? What do they want from me? How did you all know I missed the train?”
I was breathless.
“Are you done?” She asked dryly.
“I think so”.
“OK. I’ll try to answer whatever I can.”
“I’ll take whatever you have”.
She coughed, and then continued.
“Apparently, you were supposed to get on that train and reach your destination. When you got there, you were supposed to witness my old boyfriend hitting me, and intervene, trying to stop him.”
I couldn’t really understand what she was saying yet.
“But what you didn’t know is that my old boyfriend is working for the Boss.”
“The same employer those two clowns were talking about.”
“He came back with some of his friends, and they took you to the Boss”.
“I assume it’s not good.”
“No.” she paused.
“And then what?” I asked.
But then the door opened, and the two guys walked in.
“We’re taking you to see our employer.” The dog guy said.
“The Boss?” I asked.
“Indeed” the dog guy conformed.
The fedora guy untied both of us and pushed us out of the room.
We walked side by side quietly, until I turned to Sunny.
“Can you tell me what happened next?”
“Shut up.” Said the dog guy.
She whispered back without looking at me.
“It doesn’t matter now.”
“But what IS IT THAT I DID? Why is this happening?” I whispered back.
“Don’t you understand?” she looked at me “You changed the story.” And then she looked forward again.
It was a big room, kind of an old gentlemen’s lounge. Big high sofa chairs with red velvet covers. A library filled with old books. Dim lights.
A baby grand piano.
We were standing in front of one of the big chairs. A man in a suit, holding a pipe in his mouth was staring straight at me. I assumed he was the Boss.
“They call me The Boss.” He said calmly “And I don’t like being deprived of what I deserve.”
I didn’t say anything. On both sides of him the two guys were standing.
In the corner stood another man. Very handsome.
I looked at Sunny. She shaped with her lips the words “My boyfriend”.
“I understand you have no knowledge of the mess you caused.” The Boss asked.
I shook my head.
“And you do not know this girl.” He pointed at Sunny.
“I met her today.” I said “but I understand I was supposed to meet her under different circumstances.”
The Boss stood up.
“Oh. So you do know what’s going on.”
“No. She told me some of what’s happening.” I wanted it all to be over.
“And what exactly do you know?” He asked.
I told him.
After I was done he sat down again. I guess he calmed down.
“Yes. This is all correct. Do you want to know what happened next?”
“It’s pretty simple. You were supposed to be brought here, where I intended to kill you for hitting one of my men.”
“But you did something unexpected. You asked to play the piano one last time.”
“And being the man that I am, I allowed it. So you played a song for us.”
“When Sunny Gets Blue” I said quietly.
“That’s right. How did you know?” He was surprised.
“That’s what I would have played.” I said, almost to myself, and I looked at Sunny, but her face was expressionless.
“Anyway” The Boss continued “The moment you started to play I was captivated. Mesmerized. Childhood memories and images of lost loves appeared before my eyes. I felt like my grandmother is hugging me.”
At that point, I really didn’t know how to respond.
“Tears started to flow from my eyes and from all of theirs” he gestured to the other people in the room.
I looked at the fedora guy. It seemed to me he had moist eyes right now, as The Boss told his tale.
“If you had played me the song, I would have CHANGED.” He said, and seemed to be finished, but then he remembered something, like an afterthought.
“Oh. And Sunny over there” He pointed at her again “She was supposed to fall in love with you at that moment.”
I looked at her. She was looking straight at me, with piercing eyes. It was the first time I saw her unraveling through our little adventure.
Now she was a swirling tornedo of emotions. But she said nothing.
“And all that didn’t happen.” The Boss continued “And I hate to be deprived from something so glorious, so you can understand why I’m upset.”
I nodded. I understood. I would have been upset too.
“Now, I decided to give all of us a second chance” He pointed at the piano “Go ahead.”
“I can’t.” I said.
A moment of silence.
“You CAN’T?” The Boss asked.
“No. I can’t.”
The fedora guy took a step forward, but The Boss lifted his hand, and he stopped.
“I don’t really think you understand the stakes.” He said “So let me make it clear for you – it’s life or death.”
“I understand. But I still can’t play the piano. I have injuries in both my hands.” I lifted both my hands, showing him the two black splint gloves I was wearing.
“Injuries?” The Boss said and lifted his hands again. The dog guy immediately gave him the green folder.
The Boss quickly went through it.
“I don’t see anything about any injuries in here.” He said.
“I can show you my medical file. I’m doing physical therapy and everything. They’re talking about at least six more months of recovery.” I replied.
The Boss was baffled. He looked through the file again and then lifted his head.
“Then how were you supposed to play the piano if you did get on that train?”
“I have no idea.” I shrugged.
“What kind of injury do you have?” He asked.
“Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.”
“Carpel Tunnel Syndrome?” He turned to the dog guy “Do we have anything on that?”
The dog guy immediately approached the library behind him and looked.
“Hmmm… Hmmm… Oh! There we go!” He picked out some medical encyclopedia, flipped through it until he found the right page, and handed it to The Boss.
The Boss took it and started reading.
After what looked like forever, he looked at me.
“It doesn’t sound that serious.”
“Well – It is.” I said.
The Boss slammed the book closed and gave it back to the dog guy.
“You’re going to play anyway.”
“I don’t…” I started to speak, but the fedora guy already stood next to me, grabbing me and dragging me to the piano stool. He forced me to sit down and opened the piano lid.
I turned to The Boss.
The fedora guy slammed his hand on the piano, making it produce the most awful noise.
At this point I was scared.
“PLAY” The fedora guy said his first word to me.
I slowly took off the splints and placed them carefully on the piano. I placed my fingers on the keys and took a deep breath. It seemed as if everybody in the room also stopped breathing. They all looked at me.
I started playing. ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’.
It was fine at first, but the stiffness and the pain took over my hands and it reflected in the playing.
I was frustrated. I don’t know why, but I wanted it to work. Not because I feared for my life, but because of the magical idea that I could have that effect on those people. On the Boss. On Sunny.
I tried to push through the pain, but it got to the point where it was impossible.
My hands slipped on the keys and created a dissonance sound. I stopped playing.
The air stood still. I didn’t know what would happen next. Is fedora guy going to hit me? Kill me? I didn’t know.
And then all the frustration, the uncertainty, the anger, all of those emotions I kept bottled inside the past few months just washed over me.
I wanted to scream. To cry. To let my rage loose.
And then I remembered.
‘when you can’t play this song, all you have left is to dance. Dance even if you can’t hear the music.’
That’s what the homeless man told me at the subway.
But I could hear the music. I could hear it clearly in my head.
So I danced.
I stood up, and started moving from side to side. At the beginning it was kind of a waltz, but as the time passed, I became free, uninhibited, loose. I was just jumping and moving in the room.
My eyes were closed, and I was smiling. I let all the black stuff that was sitting at the bottom of my stomach be washed away into the air while I was dancing.
I don’t know how much time I passed, but it just ended abruptly.
I stood in the middle of the room, breathing heavily and still smiling. I opened my eyes and looked at The Boss. I knew this is not what he wanted, but I felt it was so organic, so special, so natural, that he wouldn’t be able to ignore what I just did.
I was right.
“What the hell was that?” He shouted “That was the most pathetic display I ever saw!”
“I was dancing.” I said, not sure of myself so much anymore.
“Dancing???” He grabbed his head with his hands and sighed loudly.
It took forever until he lifted his head again.
“Six months you say?” there was a hint of desperation in his voice. He snapped his fingers, and like from out of nowhere, the dog guy handed him am appointment book. The Boss flipped through it.
“How about March 17th?” He asked?
“What?” I wasn’t sure what was going on.
“March 17th. We’ll all meet here again, you’ll play and we’ll finish this thing.”
“March 17th…” I repeated slowly.
“You said it will take six months. Until you get better.”
“True.” I agreed “Alright. March 17th.”
“Great.” The Boss said. “See you then.”
I was standing in the street outside. I wasn’t sure what my next move is, but I was gravitating towards just going home and lying down.
I turned. Sunny was approaching me.
“Are you OK?” She asked.
“Good.” She turned and walked in the opposite direction from where I was going.
“Wait!” I cried after her.
“Do you want to come with me? We can grab something to eat…”
I was quiet. Didn’t know what more there was to say.
“But don’t worry. I’ll be there on March 17th.” She paused for a second “It’s part of the story after all.”
“And will you fall in love with me then?” I asked.
“Who knows?” She shrugged.
But then she also smiled. A beautiful, gentle smile. A smile that left no doubt in my heart as to what will happen that day.
“Then I’ll see you then.” I said, smiling back.
I got home when it was already completely dark.
I stood in the entrance for a moment, and then I looked at the piano.
March 17th is too important right now. Everything depends on that date.
I must practice, be ready, so nothing will go wrong.
I walked straight to the piano, opened it and sat down.
I started playing, but soon enough the pain came back, and I stopped.
I sighed, closed the lid, and stood up.
In the dark apartment, I dragged myself to the couch, laid down on it, and closed my eyes.
Tomorrow I’ll try again.