An Alphabetic List Of Colours And My Resulting Recollections
Azure: Down the hill from our cabin, there was a small bridge that led to a dock that led to an inlet on the Bermudian shore. As soon as our feet hit the wood, the water grew turbulent with all kinds of tropical fish from gigantic groupers to tiny clowns clammering for the bread they suspected we had.
Black: I bought a bottle of black chinese ink at a local grocery with which to affect age on tin foil for a project I was developing. It smelled strongly of both rubber and gasoline and stained my fingertips for days to come. That bottle sits in a drawer unopened since that first use, because its strange chemical smell frightens me a little.
Charcoal: I found a chunk of lightweight rock in our front yard that left sooty marks on my hands. Is this a meteor? I asked, because I had just heard of meteors in school. It used to be a star, my mother said. I hid it beneath a juniper and came back to touch it every day, marvelling at the idea that, in the expanse of the universe, I would be so lucky as to touch a star every day.
Dun: My younger cousin and I ventured out from the farmhouse to the road and dragged the rubber toes of our sneakers through the dust. It was all either fine powder or gravel larger than marbles, and I pretended that this was all I had for miles and miles.
Eggshell: The first time I was old enough to pay attention to the colour swatches in a paint store, I was shocked to see that Eggshell came in so many shades with undertones of red, yellow, blue, and their myriad mixtures. I had no idea that painting a wall white could be boiled down to such a science. I left the store and never did paint that wall.
Firebrick: Just before graduation, I decided to carve my name and graduation year into the brick of the old school building that had still been in use when my father took classes. As I carved into the building with the end of an old, metal nail file, storm clouds swept in, and within a few minutes, they had drenched both the old school and me. I continued to carve, and just as I finished, a shot of sunlight hit the building and lit up its damp, reddened brick like fire.
Ginger: I saw a Charlie Brown television special called "It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown", and for months afterward, I dreamt of falling through clouds head-over-heels in love with the Little Red-headed Girl. The dream always came to an abrupt end when I fell face first on the rough carpet of my bedroom floor, except for the last time I had it. During my last dream of the Little Red-headed Girl, I managed to land softly on the ground next to her, and when I turned to kiss her, her translucent skin was dotted with soft, reddish-brown freckles.
Hazel: A classmate in grade six had such bright hazel around her pupils that she appeared to have lion's eyes. When I spoke to her, I would turn so that she had to face the sun, because her eyes would light up golden brown and wild.
Incarnadine: A friend's mother had made hamburger patties for us, but rather than waxed paper, she had separated them with tin foil before freezing them. My friend hacked and sawed away at the cylinder of meat, worrying it into a sludgy mush that oozed cow's blood across the countertop. We decided to eat cereal for supper.
Jade: A friend of mine from Vietnam gave me a jade bracelet as a sign of friendship. We wore matching ones, and she took it very seriously. One day, I fell down in gym class, and the jade bracelet broke into four, uneven pieces. She was terribly hurt and told me that it was a sign of my lack of loyalty. I did lack loyalty. Still, I wrapped the pieces in kleenex and rubbed their smooth surfaces when I wanted to remember what had happened. She taught me that people were not a matter of convenience.
Khaki: Second-hand army undershirts are a part of vanishing youth, but one remains tucked under an old Jack Daniels t-shirt in a box in my parents' basement. It was given to me when I was sick by a woman who rarely showed kindness but knew that I needed comfort, and so I keep it at a distance without being able to let go.
Lime: That Girl and I shared a lime-flavoured hawaiian slush at a festival. As we spooned it into our mouths, freezing our teeth and turning our lips green, she declared: This tastes like melted Fraggles!" I never felt more like twelve at thirty-four, and I am sure that my liver is still green.
Mazarine: High school graduation was rife with dark, electric blue from our graduation gowns to the table linens. It put me on edge when paired with all the boys in dark suits. It was as though the whole theme was young ladies on parade in shiny bright dresses. It felt like I was on a set for a stage production of "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas".
Navy: In the 1970s, it seemed to be the thing to dress pregnant women up as the babies they were going to have, and sailor outfits with oversized bows at the neck were not uncommon. Even at five years old, I could not figure out why pregnant women dressed younger than I did.
Orange: My favourite thing at breakfast was to take the peel from an orange slice and slide it in under my lips and over my teeth. I would smile as big as I could into the side of our silver toaster and laugh at my reverse Halloween pumpkin smile.
Periwinkle: The twilight in summer that settles on the prairies in those few moments between sunset and night carries a coolness and an animate buzzing that stills my breath.
Quartz: My friend told me that her parents did not like me. They don't trust you, she said, because you're different. I stomped away, angry that she was asking me to pretend to be someone else. On my way out of her yard, I grabbed some of her father's precious quartz rocks in spite from the garden. I kept those stones for over twenty years and can still feel their smooth edges pressed into the heel of my hand.
Russet: There was a red setter down the street whose owner used his ridiculous ears instead of a leash to lead him around the yard.
Sepia: The unsmiling faces that looked sternly out of my grandparents' collections of photographs baffled me. I wondered how I came from these stoic women, stout in layers of skirts, standing next to large men in wide chairs.
Terracotta: Plastic plant pots were the norm in my childhood, so my first terracotta pot was a surprise. I watered the plant and was startled to see the pot itself darkening to a ruddy colour as it absorbed the moisture. When I pressed my hands around its surface, it was cool like stones in a shallow brook and smelled like earth.
Umber: On the PBS show "The Joy of Painting", Bob Ross' favourite colour was burnt umber. His voice dropped in pitch when he said it while shadowing forest landscapes.
Vermilion: When he was upset, my older brother would bang his head so hard against the floor that I could hear his teeth clacking together. Later, it was my job to clean up the blood, which smelled heavily of iron and was thick to the touch.
White: What colour is that? my aunt asked. White, I said. No, it's wwhhh-ite, she said, blowing through the W to sound a breathy H. Wwhhh-ite, she said, and wwhhh-ich and wwhhh-ether. That is when I knew she was just as strange as my mother said.
Xanthic: I was by my grandfather's bed as he died in the hospital, and I wondered about the yellowness of his hands and feet. They were dry and papery and reminded me of aged walls in abandoned farmhouses.
Yellow: During my twenty-fourth summer, a friend and I started going for coffee at a small groceteria across the neighbourhood from my apartment. There was a house at the mid-way point whose yard was pretty much bare except for one sunflower over five feet tall that grew right next to the sidewalk. We always stopped to admire it and say hello, and it always bobbed back as though in response.
Zaffer: My favourite jeans that I have ever owned were a Christmas gift when I was twenty-nine, and they were stolen two months later from the apartment building's laundry room. At the time, I was sad about it, because I did not have the money to replace them, but now I am left with the knowledge of the perfect jeans in my mind. Plato's ideal, if you will.
The basic structure of the above list is borrowed from a previous list I wrote, An Alphabetic Confession Of Apologies Never Delivered.
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