Colours

“What’s today’s colour?” The father asked during breakfast. 

Nonchalant, the daughter kept on finishing her scrambled eggs and with a mouthful of food, she said, “yellow.”

“It’s a good day, then,” he said. 

“Not the sunshine, sunflower kind of yellow. The ugly kind. You know what I mean?” The parents set their forks and spoons down then and looked at her. With a small smile on each of their faces, they urged her to continue. “Like, faded. And washed. ‘An old yellow shirt left under the sun for a little too long’ kind of ugly.”

The mother’s smile faltered and she pursed her lips. “That’s very specific,” she said before picking up her fork and playing with her food. Her plate was almost empty. The daughter noticed this and figured it was best for her to leave the dining room. She got up and was about to leave when her mother interrupted her. “Honey, you haven’t finished your food.”

“Ugly yellow,” was all the daughter said in reply and she went to her room upstairs.

Sighing, the mother looked at her husband. “How are we supposed to guess what each colour means?” He only managed to offer her a pitiful smile.

In her room, the daughter played a song from her playlist and put her headphones on. On another day, of a different colour, she would’ve ditched the headphones and played the songs out loud instead. Or she would turn down the volume just enough so she could focus while she drew. Or jogged. The songs would be from other playlists which, just like this one, were titled according to colours. 

For today, she sat by the window and looked out onto the quiet street. Nobody was out. It was winter time and too cold for anyone to be outside at this hour for any leisure activities. But she kept waiting even for the subtlest movement, like the light in a room being switched on, or a window being opened before the person closed it right back after regretting that decision, or if she was lucky, a neighbour finally getting out the door and rushing to get to work. Her father might actually leave for work in a little bit, now that she thought about it. But not her mother, because she was a teacher. She, too, was enjoying the winter school break. 

Slowly, as the daughter delved into the thought of her mother during breakfast and kept on staring at the snow-covered pavement, the colour changed in her head and the playlist felt off. With half a mind, she moved away from the window and paused whatever song that was playing. Instead, she disconnected the bluetooth to her headphones and played a piano cover of a song directly on her phone and lied in her bed with her eyes closed. Even when her mother came upstairs and checked up on her in her room, she still had them closed. “How are you feeling? Still ‘ugly yellow’?” The mother asked, leaning her weight on the door frame.

“It’s more of a dark blue now.” The mother threw her hands up at the answer. Thankfully the daughter was completely oblivious to her gesture. 

Clenching her jaw then quickly unclenching it, the mother asked, “how did it change so fast?” 

The daughter opened her eyes then and sat up on her bed before pausing the song. The mother fixed her posture but still remained by the door frame. The daughter said, “I know this whole colour system is a little confusing. And that you’re still trying to make sense of it.” Her voice went quiet, almost inaudible when she finished off with, “I’m trying too.” 

The mother walked towards her daughter and pulled her into a hug. “It’s okay, honey. We’ll figure this out together. If this is what works best for you at the moment then we’ll listen to you, okay? I promise.”

“Thank you,” she whispered back, her voice muffled by her mother’s clothes. 

“What does dark blue remind you of?” The mother asked after a few moments of silence. 

The daughter sat there in her mother’s embrace, unblinking, while she traveled back to a particular memory. “A still lake at night.”

“Again, very specific,” the mother repeated her words from breakfast but this time she was chuckling.

“I’m feeling a very specific feeling too,” she said with a small smile, engaged in the playfulness of a supposedly very serious conversation. “It’s not sadness. Or melancholic. It’s the feeling of staring at a still lake-”

“At night,” said both of them. 

“That sounds kind of scary.” The mother remarked. 

The daughter shifted in her mother’s arms and pulled away a little. “Maybe I am scared. But I put a different name for it. Because ‘scared’ just doesn’t quite cut it.”

Holding her daughter’s hands in hers, the mother asked, “what are you afraid of?”

“Red.”

“The colour?”

“Something about the colour.” Silence. The grip of mother’s hands loosened. It was breakfast all over again. “Has dad gone to work?”

The mother, sort of, paused. Then she answered, “yes, just before I came upstairs. I think I’m gonna go down and do some laundry now.” But she stopped at the door and turned to say, as an afterthought, “I love you.”

I love you.

The words rang in the daughter’s ears and lingered in the air for a moment too long. Love is usually associated with red, so how come the daughter was afraid of it? She thought hard about it but no answer came to mind but that same dark blue feeling. A still lake at night, a deceiving scenery. Such an irony; that image and the feeling she was associating it with. Suddenly she felt unsafe in her own room and figured she could only escape that unmoving mental image by actually moving. So she grabbed her coat and told her mother she was going out for a walk.

“Are you sure?” The mother asked. “It’s freezing cold outside.”

“I got my coat,” she said then immediately left, leaving no room for any arguments.

It was as cold as the daughter was expecting it to be, except maybe a little worse because she was also shivering from the unnerving fear. Flashes of red went through her head, paired with that image of the lake, like the blood moon suddenly appeared in the otherwise pitch black night. 

The streets were still mostly empty and the streetlights were no longer on. Despite it being almost 9 a.m., the sun was nowhere near to be seen, shying away behind thick clouds and the daughter embraced the quietness and the tranquility of the morning. Her mind was already too chaotic and she was overwhelmed enough that the last thing she needed was anymore stimuli. 

She took her time to look around at the snow-covered pavements and the dead trees and the grey sky. A neighbour came out and waved at her politely before minding his own business and started shovelling the snow out of his driveway. That little gesture sent a sense of warmth in the daughter’s heart. For a moment, all she could see in her head was snow falling from the sky and covering an entire field. She felt safe in white.

But that didn’t last long. The silence was interrupted. Her peace was violated. The flashes of red came back. Her body started trembling and she stopped in her tracks, only being able to stare at the source of the noise. Or more precisely the voice. 

“I don’t think you should be walking around in the snow all alone.”

I don’t think you should be outside all alone at this hour.

They were the same voice sending off the same message. Alarming red. 

The voice belonged to an older man she’d known for quite a number of years, her father’s former colleague. She believed he had retired. Her father used to invite him over to dinner, she was even friends with one of his daughters but if she remembered correctly, she hadn’t seen him around at home lately. She never knew what happened between him and her father because they used to be very close friends that he used to invite all of them to join his family vacation at their lake house.

The lake house. The blood moon and the still lake. A deceiving image.

The man walked closer to her but she was still unable to move, unable to even grasp on a single train of thought because all she could see was that image and flashes of red getting brighter and more intense. She could hear an alarm going off in her head and her heart was pounding so hard against her chest. “Would you like me to walk with you?” The man asked.

At that moment, all she could see was red and she started sprinting back home. It was all too much for her to bear, the immense fear was too much for her to handle and in the back of her head, the red started glowing as if in flame and she felt that heat in her chest. She didn’t realize in the midst of everything that her lungs were burning from the lack of air. She was running away from the devil himself; she wasn’t breathing properly and she was sobbing. 

The mother was mortified to open the door to her crying daughter and immediately pulled her inside. A quick look outside showed her nothing; no one was on the street. It appeared the old man didn’t follow her home. 

“I’m right here. You’re safe now,” her mother said.

It took awhile for her to calm down, understandably, but even after that she couldn’t seem to string words to explain what just happened. I saw red, whatever the fuck kind of answer would that be? But she didn’t only see red. She saw the still lake, and the lake house. His lake house. “What happened at the lake house?”

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