On the first March morning, a young man with resplendent attire avoided the pavement cracks beside queues of Holden cars that rumbled their owners’ desire to acquire the new coloured television. It was 1975. This fair headed pedestrian with lavender striped shirt, green eyes and brown trousers was Frank Jackson. As Frank stepped through the local park full of marigold and sunshine, he passed a bench where a white figure bent over its edges. Ahead, children played hopscotch; giggling away in spite of the warming sun yet behind Frank, there was the faint sound of a not-so-sunny mood. He moon-walked, then paused himself staring at a woman hunched over, swallowed by a scientists’ coat, whose tears created new shades of grey on the gravel floor. Frank sat beside her with the intention to say something – before the next teardrop fell. Frank met Mary.
The classroom is grey but apples are red.
It didn’t make sense to Mary, whose fingers scratched the desk in perpetual relapse. Her gaze returned in moments to the mumbo jumbo that Mrs. Williams had scratched out on the blackboard: “Oranges are orange”.
A practical joke – yes, she was convinced that they merely nodded to reel in with their chins, the early recess.
“Do you see that treee,” Mrs. Williams had coaxed “with the leeaves? The colour of leaves is greeen. What I’m wearing is bluee. Isn’t it beautiful? And…”
Mary saw a lousy blouse in a frilly mess as if sticky-glued in the wrong places on a woman of no special appearance. And Mary saw that Mrs. Williams’ dress was a different tone to the leaves on the tree, which was a different tint to the hues she had named before which was a different shade to…
The air was motionless. Both had etched frowns on their faces, though Mrs. Williams’ produced more wrinkles. Mary moved her gaze towards the clock.
A smile far too re-assuring to render one comfortable released the words:
“Tell your parents to speak with me.”
The bell startled. Stacey yelled “Really beautiful outside today!”. Mary sneaked a look, but saw it the same as every other day, only a tiny bit brighter. It hurt her eyes a bit to look outside.
Colour blindness and tests.
After Mrs. Williams, Mary was sent to a doctor. A doctor that told: her eyes wouldn’t function normally. They refused. A doctor gave her facts: one in thirty-three-thousand.
Mary didn’t want it. She didn’t want to see Mrs. Williams’ leaf green or lousy dress blue or Stacey’s beautiful outside! As she hid under waves of bed covers away on a school day, Mary merely wished to function. Was her world handicapped? Lacking.
Mary’s father was a Physicalist. There were only tangible things. No mysticism, nor intervention by divinity. Everything could be reduced to concrete fact. Highly convinced, Mary whinged to escape school; she would instead read as much as was humanly possible under the guidance of her owl-father. Discovery suited her better than the policing of Mrs. Williams.
“Colour is…we have learnt that…it has been shown…in past analysis…to approach the matter…
It was a matter of fact to Mary that the mystery of colour had been vanquished; it had surrendered to the transparency of explanation. It was, after all, illusory. As Mary grew, she believed herself more aware – her curly hair was a golden brown mix, her closet was filled with purple and she had “the most beautiful hazelnut eyes”. Mary was proud that her mother’s remark no longer conjured her confusion, yet, she saw no beauty in a high concentration of melanin in the stroma of the iris.
Mary staunchly defended against approaching the outside. Her books and what they had to say made stronger sense. Mary confined herself in a brown study, persistent in reducing the world to her explanations of reality as others saw it. She had to understand every physical fact involved; to know precisely what happened, when the human eye saw colour.
Her mother only realised that Mary had fallen out of obsession when the neighbourly kids had morphed into adults and Mary no longer studied. When Mary had discovered everything; which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulated the retina and how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence “The sky is blue”, she stopped. She couldn’t venture further on.
Frank twiddled his thumbs. On the bench, they were surrounded by the smoothness and suppleness of leaves that emanated a life-giving green. The leaves had not turned crisp yet; they had not gone brown and dead.
“Makes you feel revived, fresh, clean. It’s a healthy environment ‘round here…very green.”
Mary startled. She hadn’t noticed a stranger plant his behind beside her and the mention of colour didn’t fail to jab her heart. She raised her head, turning to face the man.
She was quite, breath-taking. She made Frank feel blue. Not the sad blue but how you feel when you’re swimming in water, where the cool wetness coaxes one into easing. The happy faces of marigold watched as Frank felt his face turning red at the sight of this young woman.
And Mary, saw a smile, a genuine smile with eyes to compliment that spoke an honest concern for her. They sat, until Frank couldn’t figure out if the waterworks that had coloured her face dried up, because the rain had joined them.
A buzzing dot whizzed by the couple.
“Can bees fly in the rain?” Frank thought out loud.
Mary felt the warmth of sunflowers escape her chest. Her eyes crinkled like Mrs. Williams’ wrinkles. She laughed.
“Not without their yellow jackets.”
“Red is holding hands on the bench. Yellow – the crease at the corners of the mouth. Green is looking at others’ gifts. Feeling blue is flirting with then but white is simple…
We find colour not just in the black void of the unknown but in the white noise of everyday life – in the things we barely notice, the things we almost forget.
For Mary, they were the white edges on her black canvas: People.”
Mary closed her book.
She had once been surprised to discover – Frank was a writer. Frank sat in an armchair tickled by TV entertainment despite the racket of boys tumbling around on the floor. Upliftingly decorated, the orange couch fuelled the impulsive youths (including the husband), and was complemented by sapphire walls and ivory furniture. It was 1986.
Written by George Lu