though seeing, they do not see: A short story

Illustration of a female face, with colors overlayed
Franchesca Spektor/Staff

Content Warning: violence, suicide


        Today, I am purple.

        Purple is OK, I guess. A little too flamboyant for my taste. But purple makes me feel like a queen.

        I go out to get milk from the grocery store, and a little girl points at me.

        “Mommy,” she whispers under her breath, her voice tingling with innocent curiosity and a hint of reverence that I’m not sure she herself notices. “Look at her.”

        I disregard the small family and take care that my crown doesn’t slip. Purple brings with it feelings of opulence. It makes me want to indulge myself, so instead of buying milk I splurge on caviar and aged red wine, and I don’t regret it for a second. It’s my mandate today to treat myself. Purple commands me to treat myself like royalty.

        The boys bow when I glide by; the girls curtsy. Anything to gain favor in the eyes of their queen.


        Today, I am red.

        I remember not liking red in the past, but that feeling quickly washes away and turns to anger. The anger is oppressive.

Pale white crescent moons beam at me from the palms of my hands, imprinted into the skin from my clenched fists. I am aware of the blood, boiling hot, lacerating the inside of my skin. I am aware of the muscles in my body, aware of their power and their capabilities.

        A man with skin like creamed coffee gives me the once-over when I hold the door for him, raking his eyes down the length of my body in a crude “Thank you.” I am red, but not ugly. I suppose I should be flattered, but instead the only thing I can think about is how his neck would snap if my hand placement were just right.

        I buy a six-pack from the grocery store. I decide to toss in a red lighter after the cashier has rung me up. He’s not happy about this. “Are you fucking kidding me, lady?” His black eyes flash with my reflected red when he glares at me, and right then I swear I know the Devil’s friendship.

        I tell the other sheep at the store that the blood waterfalling down his lips is from a bad nosebleed. Of course I don’t remember my blood-red fist flaming across the cash register to strike home. The police don’t seem to believe me. My story angers them. My red skin clouds their eyes with fury.


        Today, I am blue.

        Blue is drowning, suffocating. Blue makes me long for my other favorite colors and wallow in their absence. Blue is my piano, tied to my ankles and pulling me down. I am not stronger than my piano. Today, blue is my death sentence.

        An older woman watches me with ancient eyes as I carefully select rope in the store. She looks at me as I ponder over the strength of various brands, and she knows when I try to hide the tears tracing paths down my cheeks. I finally select a brand, and she lets out a wail that makes my blue proud. I pretend I don’t hear as I hand over four dollars and 57 cents. Four dollars and 57 cents is the sum total of my life’s worth.

        I cry when the rope breaks. The tears gash the side of my blue face, branding my already pained skin with sorrow and regret and failure. On any other day, I might be brave enough to pick myself up off the ground and try again. Today, I am restricted from this. I am gently commanded to feel sorry for myself.

        I lay back against the hardwood floor, blue against brown. I drown in my own tears as I stare at the broken and frayed four dollars and 57 cents.


        Today, I am yellow.

        Yellow would be my favorite color if it didn’t make me feel so fake. Yellow makes me the sun. I am light. I am happy. I am everything. But it is too much.

        I purchased a pee-yellow Mustang just this morning for a reason I don’t bother to remember. It jerks back and forth in time to the heartbeat of a pounding song across the yellow line that mimics my skin tone. I am pulled over within two minutes. The cop’s displeased grimace quickly turns to a grin under the influence of my skin. I notice that he is young.

“Miss, you’re swerving. Have you been drinking?” He squints his eyes a little as he looks at me. He probably didn’t think he would be looking directly into the light of the sun this afternoon.

        I grab the front of his uniform and kindle a yellow fire on his lips. The energy surging beneath my yellow skin is tangible, and when I shove the officer back a little harder than I intended, his whole face is red, like he has been kissed by the summer sun. I give him a radiant smile and rev the engine of my Mustang. He grins back at me sheepishly, a little in awe — the way I grin at famous people.

        “No, officer, I have not been drinking,” I toss at him, the words bouncing off my golden lips the way light bounces off water. I drive away before he can say anything else, though I’m not sure he would have.

        Yellow is overpowering. Like the sun is infinitely bigger than the Earth, yellow is infinitely bigger than me. I pass a homeless man crying on the street and I smile at him, though I know by watching others gaze at him with pity that this is not the right response to his condition. But yellow commands me to be happy for him. He smiles back at me, but it is fake. Forced. Yellow is his general, just as it is mine.


        Today, I am green.

        Green is calm, peaceful. Fresh. Green makes me board a subway headed to the U.N. with the purpose of negotiating peace in the Middle East. The delegates treat me like Jesus.

        I am able to negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war by lunchtime. I can feel my potential packed inside of my green head, clawing its way out of my ears. My intelligence is unrivaled. I commandeer a pair of horn-rimmed glasses from a delegate and perch them on my olive nose. They are all that I am.

        “You’re a savior, an absolute savior,” drawls the delegate from the United Kingdom. I inspire a revolution of olive branches, and when I leave at five o’clock, I can feel the fresh peace reverberating in the evening air. I clench at the air with my green hand, grasping at what my mind birthed.

        On my way home, I pass a schoolyard where two boys are fighting. I gently approach them like a doe and softly, verbally separate them. My words calm their anger, and red is quickly turned to green. “Thank you,” they whisper humbly, respectful of their verdant peace-bearer.

        Today, I wake up. I’m not sure of my color yet. I haven’t bothered looking in the mirror or bringing a hand to my face to check.

        I am empty inside. Based on this hollowness, I guess that I am pure, snow white. When I climb out of bed and inspect myself in the mirror, my assumptions are correct. I am the absence of any color at all.

Contact Bailey Dunn at [email protected].

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