The Scent of Stifled Colour  

Naida slipped out through the night’s anonymous solace. She wore black to stifle the sensation of colour, loose clothing that deflected attention and hung off her slight frame. By night, boisterous reds and jangling oranges could not rise to overwhelm her. No sunlight could glance off metal to strike her eyes, and the sea could not dazzle like a glaring silver mirror. She feared the feelings the colours triggered, jarring splotches of confusion or a black swell of panic that drove her to retreat. 

Black-clad figures streamed around her. Their anxiety smelt knife-sharp and their hurry carried a rust-orange tang. If she told anyone her impressions, they would treat her with distrust and suspicion. So she drifted, submerged in silence. She let the press of the crowd bear her onwards like driftwood.

With her mind turned to blankness, she followed a path past benches and dark foliage. A cobblestone lane led into a park thick with shadows. Passing through overhanging branches, she emerged onto a boardwalk edged by a high metal railing. 

The sea far below was a flat, soft matte and lights shone on the opposite cliffside.

A man stood beside her in silence, in a black coat with the collar turned up. 

After, she was not sure why she said it. She would not normally let her guard down. But the impression was so vivid and the stranger so unknown to her, what did it matter? 

“The night sounds like a lost cello,” she said. 

“It does,” he replied. “Violet black, soft and mournful. And the stars are a sprinkle of sea foam.”

Naida turned to face him. Soft brown hair swept a high, smooth brow and his complexion was clear and glassy. She smelt mint and felt the crash of distant waves.

“But how does the night smell to you?” His voice was a velvety baritone. 

Naida pursed her lips. “I’m not sure…. like cold and waiting…”

“To me the night smells like cool garden darkness… and pomegranates.”

She smiled. “Do you think so?”

“It’s my impression. Shall we walk?” 

“But I—” 

“You’re uncertain.”

Naida stiffened. “I’m fine.” 

“You’re worried. I can taste the brittle chalk of it.” 

“You can?”

He smiled. “Just be in the moment.”

“I’ll try.” 

He glided through the darkness and she followed.

They walked through a trellis of bougainvillea. Dark leaves twined around metal supports and flowers hung through the gaps. A plum-scented curiosity drew her onward.

As they followed the slim lane winding through the old city, she discovered he was named Adrian for the sea. 

Beside him, the city took on strange, new dimensions. 

Walls and doorways Naida had scarcely noticed before became sources of fascination. They paused to observe a tea set, glued to a stone wall. Peering through a brick archway, they saw a courtyard cast in absinthe green. 

Down a street lined with palms was a juice stand, the wall mounted with coconuts and mandarins. An outdoor stairway led to a cafe where the ceiling was hung with umbrellas, in red, yellow, and blue-. Adrian sat on a cushioned bench and Naida sat down beside him.  

“How do those colours sound to you?” she asked.

“Like a cheerful song. The kind of melody I don’t want to stop singing.” 

“Is it a song of hope?” 

“Yes. A bold and brassy hope. Wide-hipped and yellow.” 

Naida exhaled, tension sliding from her shoulders in a ripple of charcoal fabric. Beneath was a sleeveless black top. 

She closed her eyes. “I hear it as the rustle of a saffron horizon.”

She felt warmth on the back of her hand. His fingertips. Her eyes snapped open and she drew a sharp breath. His touch painted a pastel ripple across her skin. Sparkles glinted and vanished.

“Did you see that?”

Adrian’s lips curled up in a smile. “You share my vision.” 

She noticed his eyes then. Green and clear as a shaft of sun shining through seaweed.

He looked back down at her hand and she followed his gaze. His fingertips trailed from the tip of her finger to the top of her arm. Sparkling amber light shivered in the air and dissolved. 

“But how—” she said.

“Don’t try to explain it. Just feel it.”

When he moved closer, she did not turn away. Like a droplet landing on the surface of a lake, his lips touched hers. Colours intensified like nightflowers blooming. Ripples spread through her as waves of lavender, rose and gold brushed against the shores of her consciousness and she knew, in that moment, there was no going back. His touch could heal her disillusion.

 As a wave of peach wonder swept over her, colours shimmered in her vision and she once again allowed herself to feel. 

Author: Malina Douglas was awarded Editor’s Choice in the Hammond House Literary Prize and longlisted for the Reflex Press Prize and the Bath Short Story Award. Her suite of flash fictions was chosen as one of two winners by Defenestrationism. Publications include Typehouse, Wyldblood, Ellipsis Zine, Opia and Consequence Forum.

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