Claire Guyton is a writer, editor, and writing coach. Her short fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Mid-American Review, River Styx, Sliver of Stone Magazine, and elsewhere. She has been a Maine Arts Commission Literary Fellow and received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
For more than a week she’d been trying to get a handle on purple.
She’d wake up, stretch, throw back her covers, and whisper, Purple. She’d hear her neighbors, trudging the floorboards above, sniping at each other in that short, bitter, morning talk. Purple, Purple. She’d close her eyes in the shower while she massaged shampoo into her scalp, muttering, Purple, Purple, Purple, and blanking her mind with a fog the color of grape-flavored bubble gum, then the color of eggplant, then the periwinkle of sweet peas, then the hazy smudged purple of smoky sunsets.
At work she typed her inspection reports in purple Times New Roman. Safety equipment was easily accessible. Smoke detectors proved functional. One employee neglected to wear gloves when handling corrosive materials. The laboratory floor was unlittered. Pass. A big Purple Pass! Purple Passion Passin’!
As she lingered over her tuna sandwich at lunch, she’d ask herself, what does purple smell like? It doesn’t smell like a tuna sandwich. She’d try again when spooning up tomato soup or tackling leftover lasagna. Purple, Purple, Purple. What does it feel like under my fingers, on my tongue, slung over my shoulder?
It wasn’t working, all this intense purpling. Frustrating, because it is her job to understand the way the world works and color is a simple thing. Light waves, reflection, rods and cones, etcetera etcetera. But there’s understanding and then there’s being. She wanted to be purple.
She had conquered green in only a few days. It helped that it was early summer then, so the world was offering up bounties of green just when she needed it. It helped, too, that she ate a lot of salads. Sadly, purple food is much harder to come by than green food.
Yep, she could slip into springy, cheerful, eyes-wide-open green anytime she felt like it. She sensed that purple would be more restful.
Scraps of paper with handwritten lists rode the river of her desk. Plums, grapes, blueberries. Mom’s silk scarf, the velvet curtains in the old Grande downtown, a favorite pair of socks when she was a child.
Purple Prayerful Plumply Pimply Peppermint Pots.
Purple Pinball Players Posing Primping Princely.
At night, when she brushed her hair sixty strokes on each side of the part: What kind of personality does purple have? When she awoke at 3:00 AM to hear the neighbors screaming at each other—You always always say that! she shrieked, I never ever say that! he raged—she asked herself: Can it make you laugh, purple?
Does it stop talking just when you need it to, just before you’re going to lose your mind to the meaningless buzz-buzz, but otherwise drone on, telling every story in far too much detail, noting prices and weather and what it had for breakfast? Or is it mysterious and quiet, wearing a half-smile, doling out its truths in dribs and drabs?
What does a drib look like when it’s purple? A drab?
And then she was walking to work, her chunky heels clip-clopping the sidewalk, her tights twisted a bit at the top, her hair flying in a slapping Maine wind, and she got it all at once. Under her fingers purple felt like a slick marble floor. On her tongue like a ribbon of snow. Slung over her shoulders light and soft as a cat’s belly, cool as a blanket left by an open window. Purple.
She was stuffed with it, it was leaking out of her, she wasn’t sure where she began and where purple ended. And then she realized that purple doesn’t end.
Black as night, they say, but no, purple. Still as a grave, still as purple. The purple-black void the endless purple the end the end the end of her.
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