As the deadline for submitting stories for our 47th Short Fiction Contest closed the other day, I was reminded of the very first winning story, “Coloring Outside the Lines,” by Debora Ewing. First published on Jerry Jazz Musician on October 4, 2002, this tender short story is brilliant and a wonderfully rewarding read.
At the time Ms. Ewing entered this story, she had recently moved with her 18-year old daughter from Palm Springs, California to Washington, D.C. and continues to live in that area — Annandale, Virginia. Today, she describes herself as having a restless mind with her highest priority being to “reconcile reality with what should be,” and likes to write stories about people on the edge. “Coloring” was her first story published.
You can visit her blog by clicking here.
“Colors of Me,” by Emmanuelle Bochaton
Coloring Outside the Lines
By Debora Ewing
I like the jazz because it plays in different colors: deep green and blue, translucent purple, ivory black; city storefronts, magenta sunsets; watercolor splashes here and there like a yellow crocus on snow or an orange goldfish tail — sudden, surprising, but always carefully placed.
Like the way people come in different colors — they just don’t know it. People walk along in darkness daily, ignorant of the color that’s surrounding them or the beat their music plays. That’s what I’m lying here thinking about, in my dark bedroom between the folds of cotton sheets. Africans, Asians, Seminoles they all come in different colors — not their skins, but their insides. Each person glows from deep within, from a well that springs out of the roots of the family tree. It picks up energy from everything a person touches, until it bursts out the top of the skull and envelops that person, wrapping her up in the music of her own color. God gave her that color. A person’s color dances around her when she walks up the street; it wiggles in the wind and it bounces off the colors of passers-by. That’s what I’m thinking while cool, quiet bass and sax notes rattle the dark, static air in my room. I exhale slowly, loudly.
His face crawls over the lumps of comforter and peers down into my thoughts. I like to look into the creases around his eyes, see in the folds all the years survived and the shades of ageless wisdom — crimson and rust, gold and black. His blue eyes — sometimes green, and sometimes flecked with gold — are now an uncertain tint of aqua-turquoise that spreads and spins helically around his uncertainty.
“You awake?” he prods gently with his voice, afraid to touch me with his hand. Piano keys burst through the speakers like sparkling raindrops, rhythmic and bright, hypnotic. Thrumming. He shakes his head slightly, making blue trails through the space where his face has been. “How can you tell if it’s skipping?” he asks, changing the unspoken subject.
The first time we made love he was so pink and amber and tender, like rose-petals — the sex was like that, too: tender, quiet, pulsing, now. The last time we had sex we did it for hours: in the pool, under the stars, over the black leather sofa; he didn’t have any color then, none at all. I remember the silence.
Tonight I told him it bothered me, and now he’s looking at me very turquoise, like one of those key-fobs that need to absorb light first in order to glow in the dark. Aqua spirals down and settles in the folds of the sheets. The piano thrums unnervingly.
Why do you want me to give you more than sex, he wants to ask. How can you expect me to like this music?
“You can’t,” I answer the spoken question, taking up the same space I’d use if I were smoking a cigarette. I visualize smoke-rings, picture them leaving my breath, form them with my thoughts. He rolls to his back; for a moment I think he can see them, too. I let him off the hook. “It is skipping. Go ahead and change it.”
He clambers out of the feather-bedding strewn about, and I can see his inner core turning reddish, confidently, as he feels an opportunity to make his own choice. He looks at the rack of quirky CDs, looks over to me, sees my beige flesh in the yellow light from the bathroom, and his red flicker diminishes — choked out by his melancholy, by his need to please.
“What do you want to hear?”
His hesitation is barely perceptible, but there, and he’s turning turquoise again — needs light badly, needs to recharge. I’m too tired to give up the strength for both of us.
“Just hit the search button — let it go on to the next track.” I go back to my imaginary cigarette-smoking, picture the smoke crawling across the stucco ceiling in slow waves of grey. He surveys the buttons on the stereo, looks long at me prone and the hollow in the bed by my side, and complies; he hits the ‘search’ button, he goes out — extinguished altogether. I can tell I’ve lost this one he’ll thank me for having him over, say it was nice, and he won’t call again. As he gets back into bed, I kiss him — kiss his cheek, then his lips, then his forehead. I thank him for fixing the CD, for making the music play again. I massage his soft blue melancholy, and let him go.