Color Me In
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While Noel chatters on about video games and this foreign thing called "school", Echo nods along and draws him, trying desperately to capture his realness, his vibrancy, this vital ingredient that she seems to be missing.
Blank. Everything about her is blank, like canvas before the paint. Like paper before before the poem. Skin cold and snowy like winter, hair bleached white, she is a pale wash of nothingness amidst her four blank walls. She's not sure how she found this place, or even how she got here, but it is hers now. She is a part of this great expanse of white. This white room is her sanctuary, her prison. Should she sit very still, her white exterior even blends into the walls. You might not notice her at all in her little room except for her two floating eyes, which are a dull silver with just the tiniest hint of blue. This girl considers her eyes her best feature.
She is the girl who is not a girl, a hollow husk without a soul. Neither happiness nor sadness will touch her because a blank girl without a soul is wanted by no one, not even her own breath. A mystery to even herself, she's not sure how she lost her soul, or if she even had one to begin with. Perhaps she gambled it away in a card game. Somehow she's sure that her lack of color is linked to her lack of a soul. If she gained one, would the other would follow? Without either, could she even rightly claim to exist? She lacks that which is eternal and so she must be nothing. And when her body rots in the throes of death, there will be nothing left, nothing, because she is blank and all the paint in the world cannot change that.
She tried to leave this place once, but the sun scalded her eyes and the ground fell out beneath her. The crisp autumn air felt good, too good, on her skin. She could feel herself slipping away, like she was about to burst into a million tiny particles and float into the sky. With a firm grip on the door frame, she pulled herself back inside her little room.
This is the only place where a blank girl without a soul can exist.
So mostly she just sits and draws, measuring the days with crayons and tubes of paint. Sometimes she'll take a break and stare at her walls, imagining patterns in the cracked plaster. But mostly she draws. Each page in her never ending sketchbook is like a brief glimpse from a life long past. Footprints in the sand. Sunlight, in long angles through a window in the late afternoon. Two lovers at opposite ends of the world checking their mailboxes. The sun melting into the sea. She's not sure if she's seen any of these things before, but the images are too real, the colors are too vivid to be imagined.
One day, the door to her white room swings open abruptly. A loud thwack as the door is flung backwards cuts through the silence of her sanctuary. The girl drops her sketchbook to the floor in fright. She's never had a visitor before. There, framed by brilliant light, stands a boy. His hair is bright yellow. His headphones, a mandarin orange. His clothes are an even brighter mishmash of reds and blues and greens. She can't take her eyes off this boy and all his colors.
"Sorry, I didn't know anyone was in here," he says sheepishly.
She opens her mouth to speak, to welcome this unexpected visitor, to compliment him on his shirt-- anything. But before she has a chance to, the boy waltzes inside and picks up her sketchbook.
"Whoa, these are really good!" The boy exclaims. He carelessly flips through her life's work, all of her dreams and secrets. "Wow, you did all of these?" His eyes linger on an illustration of a woman floating in a lily pond, leg bent in an unnaturally obtuse angle.
"Is this you?"
"Stop that!" The girl rises to her feet and snatches the sketchbook away, retreating to the corner. Her glare is hostile. She decides that she doesn't like this nosy boy, coming in uninvited, going through her drawings. Her art is a private thing. It is the closest thing to a soul that she has.
"I'm sorry. I'll just leave then." The stranger leaves as abruptly as he came, closing the door softly behind him. The room darkens, and a heavy feeling of loneliness settles into the girl's chest, so heavy that she cannot find the strength to move or even call out, "Come back!" So she gingerly picks up her pencil once again and continues drawing. This is what she is resigned to. This is her life.
A week later he returns. But this time he knocks.
"Sorry about the other day. My name is Noel." He says with a lop-sided grin, running his hand through his hair self-consciously. She sneezes as a bouquet of carnations and forget-me-nots is thrust into her face.
"What are these for?" she asks, tentatively accepting the bouquet.
"Well, girls are supposed to like flowers, and you're almost a girl, so..."
The blank girl purses her lips, not sure if she's supposed to be offended or grateful. She deeply inhales the flowers' fuchsia-streaked scent of life, the bouquet's plastic sheath crinkling under her fingers.
"Echo," she says simply.
"Echo," Noel echoes. "Cool name." Echo frowns. She'd always thought her name to be a cruel joke, a reflection of her own emptiness. She was just like her name: a remnant, an afterthought.
Noel shifts uncomfortably.
"So... Can I come in?"
Echo nods and moves aside. She watches him quizzically as he sits cross-legged in the middle of the floor and begins chattering on about the questionable meatloaf he had for lunch or the gaping wound he got last Monday from falling off his skateboard. But mostly he talks about music, about lyrics and melodies and how carpal tunnel syndrome is death to an artist, all the while a guitar solo screams from his headphones. He speaks to her as if they are friends already, laughing when she draws her interpretation of his evil wall-eyed history teacher or asks what "school" is.
He visits every day after that, sometimes with tidings of new paints or paper. He brought her chocolates once, but they were so chokingly sweet they stuck in her throat.
The conversation is mostly one-sided. While Noel prattles on about video games and this foreign thing called "school", Echo nods along and draws him, trying desperately to capture his realness, his vibrancy, this vital ingredient that she seems to be missing. It is an odd friendship to say the least. It is not that she feels a fondness for him; after all, it is impossible for one to feel without a soul. She only wants his presence, and the one thing that a blank girl without a soul can do is want.
Once, exhausted from a particularly animated rant about macaroni and cheese, he fell asleep and she spent the entire afternoon drawing him from every angle, memorializing everything from his mandarin orange headphones to the thick fan of his eyelashes to his long, graceful fingers from cover to cover of her sketchbook. His colors soften the sterile, white edges of her world. She wants to drink him in, to let his colors seep into her veins, to be whole and beautiful and real.
He leaves when the shadows fade into dusk, leaving her with nothing but lingering echoes. And the blank girl draws.
"What is this?" She asks one day while drawing him, tracing her finger over long discolored mark on his arm.
"Someone hurt me."
Her hand recoils as if touching the scar might bring back the pain. Noel glances at the old wound passively, furrowing his brows as he struggles to find the right words.
"Sometimes I see things. Strange lights. Shadows. People that should be dead. Even monsters, sometimes. Not all of them as friendly as you."
Noel fascinates her.
She can feel him tangling within her hollow chest, messy gnarled knots tightening with each day, and she thinks maybe, just maybe, she can catch a soul in this web. In between visits, time is no longer measured with crayons, but with yearning. She stops drawing. Because when she watches him from her white corner, singing and wildly gesturing and glowing, it almost feels like being alive.
"What are you listening to?" she asks, hugging her knees to her chest.
"Hm?" He traces the contours of his headphones as if he forgot they were there. "Oh, it's number six."
"One, three, six, seven. There's eleven songs on this album, but I really only like those four. Sometimes I program number six to play every other song, it's so good." He grins. "Oh, listen! Here's my favorite part."
He lets his headphones dangle from his neck, volume on full blast. She inches closer, venturing out of her corner, straining to hear the opening chords of Noel's song. It's a love song, like so many others. But this one is so much more crazed and desperate and bittersweet, one voice on the verge of breaking. His was a heavy love, one that can crush you if you're not careful.
"Dance with me," he whispers.
She doesn't bother to mention the fact that this isn't exactly the type of song that people dance to, no, because he's wrapping his skinny arms around her and his breath is on her neck and she can feel something fluttering about in her empty chest, a hummingbird beating against its rib cage. She clings to him, their steps clumsy and lumbering, because this is what a normal girl is supposed to do. Soon the dull roar of music becomes secondary to the rustling of clothes, the pounding in her chest, her intermittent giggles of apologies for stepping on his foot --sometimes on purpose. She looks up at his gleaming smile and wonders if this is what flying feels like.
"Hey." Noel stares at her for a moment. "Your eyes are blue," he finally says, somewhat astonished.
He smells like the color orange, like poppies and citrus and sunsets. She smells like nothing. But she hopes that, maybe by holding him this close, some of the orange will rub off on her.
Lying in abandon, her crayons watch them dance, sharp and unbroken.
He kisses her for the first time in the spring. She knows this because there's a streak of green in his scent, and a bit of pollen trailing behind him that makes her sneeze. There's a certain lilt to his walk, and instead of saying hello he crashes his lips into hers, deep and warm and urgent.
"Damn hormones," he dismisses it later.
But he doesn't pull away when she kisses him back, touching noses, grazing lips. He tastes like the color red, like blood and earth and the flickering edges of flame.
When they finally pull away, the slightest tinge of pink colors the blank girl's cheeks.
"Come with me," he says one day, blinding radiance gushing in from the doorway. She cringes, fleeing from the bright stripe of sunshine illuminating her room, clutching her crayons to her empty chest.
"What, you have something more important to do in here?" He chuckles, and she glares at him in contempt because it is important, because he doesn't know what it's like to be a blank girl without a soul, because music can be heard no matter how white the walls are. He frowns at her silence.
"What is it that's keeping you here?"
When she doesn't answer, he walks out and doesn't come back for a week. She spends those days scribbling out his face in her sketchbook until her black crayon is reduced to a half-melted nub, glad that she isn't a real girl because a real girl would be crying.
When he does come back, it's all music and sky and laughter threaded with sunshine as if nothing had ever happened. His visits become her reason for living. She gravitates toward him, asking him how his day went, what color the sunset was, what he had for lunch. He lets her sit in his lap and teaches her how to read music and say sweet nothings in Spanish. And then he kisses her so soft and tender.
Sometimes, he holds her like she's a delicate thing while she tries to cry because she knows that she can never love him. She can never love him back, never, because she is a blank girl without a soul and all the kisses in the world cannot change that.
She knows she would have just given her soul to Noel anyway. Merry Christmas.
As time wears on, the visits start to dwindle, and when Noel does come the silence is terrible and cold and empty. There is a new aloofness that has stirred within him, a distant look that Echo is sure she could quell if she were a real girl.
"If you want me to, I can dye my hair blue and start wearing makeup. Would you like it if looked like a normal girl?"
Noel pretends that he can't hear her, music drowning out her words. They sit in silence, together but apart.
"I'll be going to college soon," he says flatly. "College". The word means nothing to Echo, but she listens anyway. "I won't be able to visit you anymore."
The girl waits for the pang of sadness and loss, but it never comes. She feels nothing except the emptiness echoing in her chest.
"You're leaving me," she says in a small voice.
"Come with me." He turns his pleading eyes toward her.
"What do you mean you--"
"I just can't! If I do, I might, I might..." Echo trails off, clenching her fists until the knuckles turn an even lighter shade of white. "I might disappear."
"Even if you do disappear, I'll find you. Maybe not in this life, maybe not in the next." He draws her closer, pulling her into his lap. "But I'll find you." He kisses her bleached white hair, hugging her to his chest.
"How can you be so sure of that?"
"I found you here, didn't I?" He pulls her hair back to press his lips against the tender flesh of her neck, hot breath sending shivers down her spine. She unfolds, letting him ravage her neck and tear at her clothes, letting his hands explore her darkest secret. Her body grows hot with wanting. This is the one thing that a blank girl without a soul can do; she can want.
They make love that night against all four of her white walls. It is a wholeness that is unknown to her, a joy that she could have never dreamt up on the pages of her sketchbook. The next day, early morning light wakes Echo from her slumber. Noel stands by the door as if waiting for her to say something. When she doesn't, he leaves without even a goodbye.
After that, he stops coming entirely. Because a blank girl without a soul is wanted by no one, not even her own breath, not even Noel. She can't even hate him for it, can't feel the bitterness brewing in her throat. She doesn't feel anything, she never did and she never will. And maybe he was just trying to help her, maybe he was just trying to teach her how to cry.
So she fills her days with waiting, slowly wasting away in her white world, because the one thing a blank girl without a soul can do is want, and his soul is so beautiful. She begins to draw again, but the shapes won't come out quite right. Her lines are shaky and broken. So she rips her sketchbook apart, pulling out page by page, painting over them with erratic smears of color. She tries to color herself in, to complete what almost was, but the paint only leaves her skin itchy and inflamed. Paint splatters onto the floor, blemishes on the white, white walls.
She has found her new canvas.
She takes the biggest paintbrush she can find, dips it into a jar of cerulean blue paint, and sloppily drags it against the floor. With renewed vigor, she swipes her paintbrush across the walls, creating thick, bold streaks of color. She paints Noel, slight smile bathed in warm light, music notes swirling around in graceful patterns like fluorescent fireflies. She paints them dancing. She paints him kissing a pale wash of nothingness. She paints the unfathomable, mixes every bright color into something fierce and fragile and beautiful, something that can rip open the sky and make it rain. By the time she is finished, there isn't a single inch of white on her walls.
She revels in her creation, knowing now that there aren't enough colors to capture what she never had. She may not know what school is, but she does know that paint is nothing but pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. It can't give her a soul. It can't give her love. She sees her room of white for what it really is: purgatory. Why had she stayed here for so long? Why had she been so afraid before?
"Are you finally ready?"
Echo turns to find Noel, hand outstretched. The door to the world lays open before them. Something seems welcoming about it, warm.
She nods, smiles, takes his hand, and steps out into the light.
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