On a cold, overcast day, a girl leans her back against a cypress tree and feels the strips of rough bark through her coat, a coat that matches the sky. Her friends – aren’t they her friends? - rush to the other side of the playground, a fluttering flock of birds flying away from her. She closes her eyes and tries not to cry.
Everything is yellow. The day is yellow, my sleeveless over sized shirt is yellow, dad’s jeep is yellow, happiness is yellow. Summer is yellow too and it shows up as pale streaks in my long long brown hair. The day wears a July’s burn - though - it’s not really a burn but a cozy warmth in which we wear almost nothing.
I’m walking down the hallway to meet my friend Dhara for lunch. I smell wind and leaves. I pass classrooms, people spilling out into the hall, I see tan lockers, I hear the sound of lockers opening and closing. I feel footsteps, I hear people moving echo down the hall. I walk fast, I feel my muscles, strong from track team practices, the angular slant of my hips. Fluorescent lights follow me down the hall into the geometry room. Berkeley grey cool morning slants diagonally through the window into the class, which smells of chalk and desks and math smell. I smell the cold. And I hardly walk into the room and he’s there, luminescent brown eyes. He’s standing with Dhara, looking at math books, and I don’t even see him cross the room and he’s asking me about a geometry final. I hear him say, “Are you in first period?"
I write this as a sit vigil in a hospital room. The walls are a pale shade of pink—a color known to soothe the seer’s eyes and mind. Yet the color pink is not as strong as my powerful melancholy, which seems to wash my world in grey. His skin is a deep purple against the crisp bleach-white of the sheets, and my eyes are red. But outside a warm, golden yellow glows through the cracks of a pale blue cloud, and the fabled silver lining appears.
Colors are the most basic and definitive descriptor (“Roses are red, violets are blue…”), and often assumed to be universal. But consider that the Japanese language originally had no word for the color blue. It's not that they don't have blue skies or birds, they just don't differentiate between the colors of grass and oceans. A translated description would paint a very different picture.
Animals developed eyes some 600 million years ago, before which color didn't matter. If all the animals of earth developed eyes at different points during evolution, how can we be so sure that my orange is the same as yours or another animals?
If a forest is green in a blind world, does it have a color? Is color so black and white?
As a matter of fact, we do know that the ability to see red is associated with the X-chromosome, and since women are born with two Xs to a man’s X-Y, scientists concur that women are able to perceive a broader spectrum of red than men. If, in theory, everyone may be perceiving colors differently, then how we associate the linguistic symbols for colors with certain ideas or emotions should yield some interesting literary illustrations. We’ll explore this with four stories from our Sense Writers.
“Being Sure,” deals with just this issue—perception vs. reality—but the eyes of Linda Moniz’s protagonist do not fool her even after all these years. Susannah Hardaway’s “Gray Ghost” shows us how a color can be imprinted with a lasting and poignant childhood memory. At one point, the protagonist describes herself as a ghost in limbo, stuck between heaven and earth. Yet, is grey not also a color in limbo, not quite white and not quite black? The repeating use of yellow in Iva Radivojevic’s “Soup” is somehow both appetizing and innocent. And Lynley Shimat's untitled piece is simply palpable and almost synesthetic in its colorful descriptions. In this issue of Popcorn, explore your perception of color in literature because, while colors may just be in our heads, it sure makes our world interesting.