The Color of Symphony

August 10, 2011
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Meme’s house smelled like a mix of old people, cinnamon, and gumbo. I hated it. I went to Meme’s everyday after school to make her dinner, clean her house, and listen to all the colors she had seen in her 98 years. She had lived in New Orleans all her life in this puke-ugly, salmon-colored house two miles out of town just north of the bayou. It was old and shabby, just like Meme, but it wasn’t special like she was; it just sat there out on the bayou.

Meme loved talkin’ ‘bout colors, she’d say it’s like we’re all made of clay and glazed with this special stuff only she could see. Our colors didn’t change, according to Meme, we’re born with them and they said who we’d be for the rest of our lives. We got to learn our colors ‘fore we died; somehow Meme always knew when our time was, even when we didn’t have no idea. Like Paddy, the little baby that got his color the day he was born. He had seemed perfectly healthy, but three days later he died. She always knew, and she said she told people their colors so they’d know where they were going when they died.

I was cleaning Meme’s house when I decided she need to tell me my color; I was dying anyway.

“Meme,” I said, dusting a stained, crystal vase.”When you gonna tell me my color?” Meme looked up from her poetry book; her round little glasses sparkled in the afternoon sun.

“Child, what do folks say ‘round town about the colors? What’s the rule?” she asked.

“Nobody hears their color ‘til they leave God’s green Earth,” I sighed.

“’Xactly. And you ain’t dead yet, are you?”

“No, but I could drop dead, stone cold any second, Meme! Doctor’s ain’t got a cure for Parkinson’s. They say it’s advanced for someone my age and I’m terminally ill.” She smiled, the wrinkles in her face crept in, crow’s feet and little crevices by her mouth and eyebrows destroyed any image of a younger Meme. She was one of those people that must have always been old because it’s just so hard to imagine a kid version of her old body. She stood up; her back hunched, and shuffled towards me.

“Child, my pretty little Symphony, when it is your time, I will tell you what your color is. But until then, you mind your studies and chores,” she placed her old hands around my face and kissed my forehead. She shuffled in her little lavender slippers and lavender robe into the kitchen. She clanked around in the cupboards for a while and then shuffled back with a ratty, torn-up journal in her hands. She sat me down in the uncomfortable, antique, cream-colored loveseat in the middle of the living room and plopped her plump body next to mine. Meme placed the journal on my lap and smiled.

“Meme, what’s this?” She flipped the journal open to the first few pages, and all I saw were pictures with names underneath them on the left side of each page, with a description of their color and what it meant on the other.

“It’s my colors journal. I take pictures of everyone in town and write down their colors. I ain’t never shared this journal with nobody,” she said, her old, gray eyes scanning the pages. “I write everybody’s colors down, even ‘fore I really meet ‘em. I write their colors down and then glue their pictures in every few years ‘fore they die so I ‘member what they looked like.” Memories flooded Meme’s face and eyes, and I smiled to myself and grabbed her old, cold hand.

“Meme, am I in here too?” I asked, hoping she had gotten the journal so I could read my color. Maybe I was purple, or blue, or a warm orange. Meme looked at me, slammed the journal shut, and tucked it away inside her robe.

“Child! What did I tell you? You ain’t hearing your color ‘til you dying, I don’t want to hear anymore about it,” she scowled at me, and some hot, furious anger bubbled up from my belly and into my veins. I stood, up, and kicked the air.

“I deserve to know! I come to your house everyday and feed you, clean you, and listen to your stories. If anyone should hear their color, it’s me! Not Paddy, some little baby that don’t know what you saying or what colors is, but me! I take care of you when I don’t have to, and I hate it! I hate your house, I hate the bayou, and I hate that you won’t tell me!” I screamed at Meme, mad as frog caught in a trap. She started to protest, putting a hand on my arm to calm me down. I shrugged it off and shook my head in disgust. “It ain’t fair, Meme. I get teased ‘cause I got a tremor, I sweat too much, I can’t sleep at night, and I eat too much at once. I get teased and made fun of ‘cause I’m dying and you don’t have the decency to tell me what my color is? You can’t even tell me this one little thing so I can have a piece of mind when I’m at school and my arm has suddenly twitched during a lesson? I can’t stand being around you and your God d*mn rules anymore!”

“Child, just listen,” Meme began, but I refused to let her finish. I stomped out the door of her puke-ugly, salmon-colored house and spit on her porch. I was mad like H*ll and I didn’t ever want to go back. For weeks, Meme wrote me letters, and for weeks I threw them away. I couldn’t bear the thought of being in that ugly house dusting her ugly furniture without her telling me. My tremors got worse and more frequent, I just knew I was dying but Meme would never believe it. She’d go on pretending that I was fine and that it wasn’t “my time”.

Two months had gone by before I decided to go back to Meme’s. I felt like the end was near, and maybe if Meme saw the shape I was in, she’d finally tell me. I walked up to the little brown door and knocked. No one answered, so I walked inside. A fire was burning in Meme’s little stone fireplace, the very same fireplace I used to cook gumbo and stews for Meme on cool, winter nights. I walked ‘round, scanning the condition of Meme’s poor house. It hadn’t been dusted since I threw my tantrum, thick layers of soft, gray dust blanketed Meme’s vases and little China figurines. I listened, but I couldn’t hear Meme’s soft shuffling or heavy breathing. My heart began to race; my head swirled with dark, terrible thoughts. She’s just napping upstairs, I reassured myself as my hand glided over the banister. Before entering Meme’s bedroom, I let my eyes linger on picture of Meme and me hanging on the wall. I was seven when my parents took the picture, Meme was dressed up like Santa and I had on a little green holiday dress with a red ribbon sash. I pushed the door to Meme’s room open, and saw her lying on her little bed, a book in hand. I sat down on the edge of the bed and smiled at how peaceful she looked.

“Meme,” I whispered. She didn’t respond. “Meme?” I asked, putting my hand on her leg. It was icy cold. I touched her hand, her stomach, her neck, her face- each one was colder than the one before. Tears filled my eyes and my heart sank. “Meme,” I said again, but more to myself and the still air around me than to her. I took the book from her hand and laced her fingers in prayer. I brushed her hair, covered her with a quilt, and headed down stairs.

I sat in the kitchen, holding Meme’s book when I realized what it was. It was the God d*mn colors journal, containing everyone’s colors and their meanings that had angered me so much for some reason. I stared at it, unable to think or move. Do I read it? I thought, stroking the seams with my finger. I’ll just read my color, and then I’ll put the book back with Meme, I decided and I settled down on the floor in front of the fire. But I couldn’t make my fingers open the stupid thing; it was like they were broken. I thought about Meme’s rule, that one shouldn’t know their color ‘til just ‘fore they die. I thought about how she had refused to tell me, even though my tremors were getting worse. I thought about how short my life was going to be and how I’d never be a mama or get married or nothin’. I cursed when I thought about how she didn’t even care about how much agony I went through every day, how she kept a secret from me when I had told her everything. I hated the way she got to play God with her knowledge of colors, how she already knew where we’d go when we died based on something only she could see that she claimed as unchangeable. It made me angry with the world, with Meme, with what was going to happen to me. Tears of pain and anger streamed down my face, and with a loud, vicious sob, I threw that God d*mn journal into the fire and watched it burn.

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dolphinportkey7 said...
Sept. 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I love the ambiguity of it, and the accurate dialects. It was cool seeing you incorporate something like Parkinson's into a story; it hardly seems to ever get used.


Very, very good job. :)

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