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The Colors of a Rainbow
Alison stares blankly out the window at the heavy rain, trying to block out the angry words shooting her way like darts. Her mother is mad again, driven by exhaustion and stress to new levels of shrill profanity. Unthinking and blinded by her own weariness she yells at Alison, words rushing from her that she knows she will regret later. She always knows she will regret them, but she hasn’t the strength or the guts to keep them inside. Alison doesn’t listen, for she knows the words aren’t meant for her. She is calm and solid, the quiet eye of the storm around which her mother’s words blow. Alison knows by now that the words can’t hurt if she doesn’t hear them, so she lets them whirl around her, blurring together until they are nothing more than a string of vowels and consonants.
The hinges on the front door squeak and Alison’s father steps inside. The yelling stops for a moment, as mother and daughter listen to the squeak of wet shoes on the kitchen tile and the thump of a briefcase being set down. Alison’s father sighs as he eases off his uncomfortable work shoes and shakes rain out of them. He knows his wife is angry. He could feel the tension and hear the unmistakable echo of yelling radiating from the house. He hates coming home now, and sometimes sits for fifteen or twenty minutes in his car to delay being sucked into the storm of accusations and complaints. During those moments of solitude he debates turning the engine back on and leaving. He never does. He always comes home, even if more out of guilt than love or responsibility. Alison registers her dad’s arrival with an expressionless mask for a face, a tool of deception she uses to hide the turbulence rocking and sickening her insides.
Alison fixates her eyes on the clothes hanging in her backyard from a taut clothesline. The wind and rain are furious and slam against the carefully hung dresses and shirts, twisting them together and then tearing them apart in a show of crude brutality. The clothes cry as they are flung about, victims of a forgotten chore and stormy weather. Suddenly a huge gust of wind roars by, ripping T-shirts, button-downs, and blouses off the line and into the wind. Whimpers fill the air as the clothes complain of their misfortune, complain about being caught in a wild battle between the winds and the rain. As she follows their torturous dance, Alison’s memories take over and she leaves the storm and her mother’s loud drone behind.
The first time Alison became aware of the strained relationship between her parents was when she was six years old. Six years is a small age to be faced with such a heavy reality, and it cut her childhood short.
“Today we’re going to learn about anniversaries.” Her first-grade teacher had announced. “Can anyone tell me what an anniversary is?” Little Alison hadn’t taken note of her teacher’s question. All of her attention had been held by the pink and purple castle she was scribbling with fat crayons. A blonde girl had raised her hand and answered,
“It’s when mommies and daddies give each other flowers and cards and go out to a fancy dinner. I have to stay at home with my babysitter.” At that, Alison’s mousy brown head shot up and she let out an ill-concealed little snort. “How could Christy be so wrong?” she remembers thinking to herself. “There’s no day like that!” Much to her surprise, her teacher had smiled and said,
“Very good Christy! An anniversary usually is a celebration of a wedding, and a day for husbands and wives to celebrate their love for each other. Can anyone give me some examples of how anniversaries are celebrated?” Alison had stared in growing bewilderment as her peers all gave examples of hugs, presents, and parties. After class her teacher had pulled her aside in order to say,
“Alison, you were awfully quiet today. Why?”
“I didn’t know what an anniversary was. My parents don’t do that.” Her teacher’s eyes had widened in sympathy and she’d put a comforting hand on Alison’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it sweetie. Lots of kids have divorced parents.” Alison had left the classroom full of confusion. Once at home, she’d asked her mother if she and Daddy were divorced, or did they have anniversaries. Her mother’s eyes had flashed dangerously and she had barked her reply.
“No we are NOT divorced. You live here, with both of us, don’t you? And what business of yours is it if we have an anniversary? If it’s not important to your father it sure shouldn’t be to you!” She had gotten up and stormed into her room. Alison had watched her go and heard the familiar click of the lock sliding into place.
Now, as she watches the rain thunder relentlessly down from the sky with determined intensity she recalls the eye-opener that day had been for her. From then on she was constantly aware of the missing signs of affection between her parents and their hostility whenever she dared question them about it. There is one day that stands out to her though, one day that all the little slights and insults between the pair had been inevitably leading up to. Alison reluctantly lets her thoughts wander where they’re usually forbidden to go, to the furthest corner of her brain where she stores the dark secrets she refuses to give free range of her mind. They sit there, festering and writhing like angry snakes, their bodies rising in winding coils and ever threatening to let loose their poison.
It had been a hot day-and not the welcome sunny heat that evokes daydreams of beaches and picnics, but the heavy and muggy heat that drapes itself around people and then squeezes the life out of them. Alison remembers thinking that on such uncomfortable days people should be kept far apart from each other, or they will surely collide in a shattering crash of tempers. Alison, only ten years old at the time, had been eating an orange Popsicle, quietly relishing each burst of cold that met her tongue with each eager lick. Tensions had already been running high. Her mother had shared one grievance too many, her father had made a surplus of snide comments and sarcastic remarks. She had been calling him a horrible person and he had responded in kind. On and on it went, but Alison had ignored them both, focusing instead on the bright orange of her Popsicle. Orange was good, she’d thought, but next time she’d get Lemon, because that color was the next one in the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, red, orange, yellow-A shout followed by a thud had jerked up her head and brought her to rigid attention. Somehow, her parents had taken their fight to a physical level, and were rolling around on the floor. She’d seen a fist here, a foot there, heard a muffled cry one moment and a shouted curse the next. Her little girl body had stood frozen in terror, her sticky fingers tightening just slightly on the Popsicle stick. Horrible, raw screaming had filled the air, and Alison had frantically covered her ears, willing it to stop. Suddenly she’d realized the animal-like howl was coming from her, and then she had been stomping her feet and doubling over and gasping for breath. When she’d opened her eyes her parents were staring at her, their eyes wide with self-disgust and shame.
“See what we’ve come to?” Her mother had sobbed and she had run from the room. Her dad had picked himself up and headed for his car. Alison had been left alone in the middle of the room. She had stood there for many minutes, slow minutes, until she had seen the orange puddle around her feet.
“Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.” She’d whispered to herself, and had gone to get a paper towel.
The clothes lie in weary, wet, and exhausted piles on the soggy lawn. After hours of tossing and turning in the air, the storm is finally over and they can clear their dizzy heads. They can’t remember what happened, all they know is what it felt like to be tugged in all directions by the swirling winds and pounded on by the rain. Alison watches them collapse on the grass, and then lets her gaze travel up to the sky. The storm clouds are passing, and behind them lies a rainbow, a natural miracle that comes out after furious battles in order to flaunt its beauty in the face of destruction and despair. Alison’s lips silently mouth the words “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.”