There are a series of colourful prompts to choose from this week over at Search Engine Stories.
They are – yellow as joy, forest green glass, wild purple, cold white ice, cobalt blue sky and sex red female.
The option is to use as many of them as you want in your story.
I decided to use them all.
Here is my story…
When I found him, my little Charlie, lying all still like that I felt the way I felt when I was a kid fishing with my Granddad and we got entangled in the rushes and had to wade to shore. My clothes filled with water so quickly I was sure I was going to slip under the water, every step took an enormous effort.
I knew Charlie was dead straight away. A three month old baby doesn’t just not move. There’s always something – a little whimper, that way they suck on their little fists, legs kicking out in dreams. I couldn’t get to him fast enough but I was wading, wading, wading because I also didn’t want to get there, because I knew.
He was cold. All that warm chubbiness was cold. It was the only time I saw him without drool on his chin and oh, how I wanted to see that drool. His chest was unmoving – there was no blissful exhalation, no fluttering of the eyelids. He was gone. My beautiful baby boy.
‘Claire,’ I called out, croaking like someone who has seen all the horrors of the world at once. Then when she didn’t come fast enough, shouting, mad, disbelieving : CLAIRE!
When she rushed into the room I couldn’t talk. I pointed at Charlie lying in his cot. My wife, my greatest love, picked up her dead baby and screamed. I thought the end of the world had come. In some ways it had.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They used to call it cot death. Charlie hadn’t been ill. He had been jolly and fat with little red cherub cheeks. He was starting to smile. He liked the rubber duckie I put in his bath and his Bob the Builder nightlight.
‘We don’t know why it happens,’ the doctor said. He rambled on for ages about not having a lot of toys in the cot, no loose blankets, babies sleeping on their backs. We had done all the right things and still, our little Charlie was gone.
People came for weeks afterwards, bringing food, making cups of tea. Talking endlessly in an attempt to fill up the incoherent silence, looking away from the ragged, gaping, stare that was my wife’s face.
For six weeks Claire didn’t speak. She got so thin I felt a gust of wind would smash her bones to kindling. And then she spoke. One day. Carefully as if her mouth was full of blood.
‘It’s your fault, Ade,’ she said. ‘You and your stupid stories. If you didn’t spend so much time writing all your crap you could have watched over Charlie a bit more. Like a proper father.’
I had been waiting for the blame. It’s just the way of things, isn’t it? When the world comes tumbling down we have to find someone whose fault it is, so we can hate them more than we hate ourselves.
Claire was partly right. I had been up all night finishing off a chapter in my book my editor needed by morning. I was so spent after it I slept through the 4AM feed. Claire had to get up and do it. She was so spent after that she didn’t get up for the 8AM feed and I slept straight through. That was one of my stupid stories that will never now be written.
It has been two years and still Claire walks through the house like a wraith. If I cleared my throat or stamped my feet, she would not acknowledge me. It is like we have never met.
‘What can I do?’ I ask every night. ‘What can I do to bring you back?’
‘There is nothing,’ she replies. ‘The world is grey, colourless as dreaming.’
I have joined a writer’s group, trying to catch the words clawing at my throat. The writers are bursting with enthusiasm, full of inspirational thoughts.
One day in a panic that I would never see a single moment of hope again I told them about Claire. They offered a solution I could not resist, a way through that immediately found the words fighting for prominence. They gave me the colours I needed to set Claire free.
Forest green glass, they cried.
I could think of nothing, sitting at my desk, gouging the empty page with a pen sharp as a scalpel. And then I saw it.
The glass tumbler I keep my pencils in, green as the conifers at the gate. Do you remember when we bought that set of tumblers? I wrote. Forest green, you called them. We put them on the windowsill to admire the way they thrust green light across the floor. We danced amid that light like strange woodland creatures. But one by one the glasses cracked and split, crumbling into powder fine as iron filings and in desperation I plundered the last one, keeping it on my desk for good. For green light is better than clear light, like sitting beneath a tree and sighing.
Keep going, said the writers. Don’t stop there.
‘Yellow as joy, wild purple,’ they cried.
This one was easy. ‘Do you remember on our wedding day when your Aunt Madga turned up in the purple silk dress with the yellow sash? I wrote. Wild purple, she called it. Wild as the purple flowers growing in the hedgerows. And the sash was as yellow as joy.’ Yellow as joy, my arse,’ said your mother. ‘You look like a fucking drag queen.’
The writers weren’t done with me yet.
Cold white ice, they shouted.
Do you remember when you had a fever? I wrote. And you lay helpless in bed with a plastic bucket at your side. You saw angels and devils standing at the edge of your bed. There was nothing you could eat or drink except cold white ice. You rolled it around your tongue like a slice of exotic fruit, testing it out. It agreed with you. You ate a cupful of that ice and the fear went out of your eyes.
More, more, said the writers. Cobalt blue sky.
Once we went on holiday down the south coast, I wrote. And there was that fishing village where all the houses had front doors the same colour as the cobalt blue sky. The sky was so blue and wide and clear it was no wonder people were inspired to try and claim it as their own, to reproduce its brilliance on something they could touch. The effect was surreal yet surprisingly cohesive. It was as if Magritte himself had walked through the village with his paintbrushes, saying :’ These doors and the sky are one.’
One more, the writers egged me on. You can do it.
Sex red female, they said. It was the hardest one of all.
Claire and I have not touched each other since we lost Charlie. It is like constantly picking the scab off a wound and watching it bleed anew all over your hand. I bought her a night dress, French lace, soft red. She crumpled it into a ball and thrust it under the bed.
When I bought you the red night dress, I wrote, I was not pressuring you for sex, I was hoping we could hold each other and say maybe once that things might be alright.
I cannot write anymore. There is nothing left. I print out each vignette and leave it on the couch in the study that serves as Claire’s bed. I call it Memories Of Colour.
I sit in the living room. The television is off. I gaze at the blank screen. I can see my hand, my shoulder reflected. I am a negative of myself. It must be the way Claire sees the world. I hear her come home, go into the study. I hear nothing from her for over an hour.
The kettle boils, the whistle pierces the gloom. Claire walks into the room with cups on a tray. She has made sandwiches, thick slabs of cheese and tomato. The tea is hot and sweet. I have never tasted tea this good in my life. It is the first time I have drunk tea with my wife in two years. Claire eats a sandwich. She looks like she is enjoying it.
When she finishes she stands up and I can see even in the dim light that she is wearing the red night dress. All at once I can feel the possibility of loneliness slipping away. She stands before me, places her arms around my waist and we hold each other, swaying in a kind of spellbound dance, long into the night.
DEDICATED TO MY FRIEND, BRON, WHO LOST A BABY TO SIDS 14 YEARS AGO.