The man I loved had a secret. “To do with colors,” he’d said the day we met, “how cruelly they’re treated. Look at how they’re labeled: primary, secondary, tertiary. Such ridiculous divisions—who still tolerates them? I’ve said all I can.” Thinking I understood, I spoke of blue and how trusting it was, and vulnerable. “As for shy, accommodating mauve—but you’d prefer a different subject,” I said. “We have everything to discover.”
The man spoke then of his travels, the side streets of Paris and private gardens gone to seed. In Amsterdam he liked to linger in hushed, unmapped galleries whose paintings got under the skin of life. Days flew, weeks; we kept our own hours and followed whims. None of the words we exchanged were of orange, nor any color. One afternoon I asked if what scorched my eyes would also scorch his; the man, sincere-seeming, replied the next morning that our hearts were not like other hearts.
In time the man said he would show me his home, he hoped I’d make it my own. “No one’s suited me this well,” he said. “No one else will.” Room after room contained orange. Here it drenched a carpet; there the lampshades were ablaze. Every vase was a flare of bright flame.
Across my skin, welts began to form. Where breath once filled my lungs, blisters now bubbled and bled. “Cool gray curtains,” I murmured as I shielded my eyes, “an armchair of aquamarine.” Startled, the man shook his head, delivered words that jabbed like elbows. I flinched and tried again, was set adrift in sharded silence. Yellow dripped into my veins. Puce haloed my bruises. When at last the man spoke, he lamented the ruts I held fast to, my prim, narrow thinking. He’d been so hopeful, he said, that I saw colors the way he did, the way a good person would. He hoped I could be taught.
Then, one dawn, I saw that the sky was a milky sick. I woke the man to tell him, but barbed, lonely white had snared my tongue, and there was only rasp. I pointed to the orange of the ceiling, the lurid bedspread, the man’s hard mouth. As he exited our bed he said I belonged not with him but to what was ugly in the world. He waved his hand in a gesture of flat, spent brown.
Time passed, and then years. Alone, I have become my own air. What shimmers between here and the man is distance untraveled. Once he wrote that anyway, he might have been too sharp—so much had let him down!—but now the woman who lives beside him keeps his secret, feeds his hungers with her own, their eyes are bright with burning.
In everyday places and on ordinary days, I meet corners made smooth. Their beauty is a shadow-soft green, as bordered as the past.
Lynn Bey has had short stories and flash fiction published in The Literarian (nominated for a Pushcart award), Nixes Mate Review, New World Writing, The Binnacle (nominated for a Pushcart award and joint winner of the Eleventh Annual Ultra-Short Competition), Digital Americana, Scribble Magazine, The Brooklyner, Birmingham Arts Journal, and other magazines.
A Song for Lynn