Monique Legaspi is a high school junior in New Jersey and enjoys drawing and writing in her spare time. She has been wearing glasses since third grade, since she has a terrible habit of reading in the dark, and the prescription only gets stronger every year. This is her first time being published.
Celine knows the world in shades. She knows that her mother’s hair is light; it curls delicately and spills over her shoulders. She knows that the patch of grass beneath her favorite oak tree is dark; its cool softness reminds her of lazy afternoons.
The hues of the apples and pears that her mother slices for her are indistinguishable, but both have always tasted good, so it never mattered.
When Celine is nine, the other children tease her for this. She runs home with tear-stained cheeks and a fragile heart. Her mother wipes her face, kisses her forehead. “It’s time I showed you something,” she says. “Hold out your hand for me.” Celine does as she says.
Her mother takes a knife from the kitchen counter and presses its blade into Celine’s palm. Celine shuts her eyes and cries. Why is her mother hurting her?
“Open your eyes.”
As soon as she does, the world bursts, pulsing with things she’s never seen before, in shades she didn’t think were real. Celine is dizzy with the vibrancy and boldness of everything. It takes all of her will not to scream or faint. She focuses on her mother instead.
Her hair is still light, but there’s something different about it. Her skin is dark and flushed. Her eyes are dazzling, bright things. There’s another word that she’s looking for. She can’t find it.
Celine’s looks down at her hand. Blood runs sticky and warm over her palm. Her mother smiles sadly and says, “This, darling, this is red.”
“Red,” Celine repeats, like she’s rolling it around in her mouth.
“And this,” her mother continues, pointing at her own eyes, “is blue.”
“Blue.” (This is the word she was looking for.)
Her mother spends a few minutes teaching her colors. “Green,” she says, gesturing to the aloe plant by the windowsill. “Brown,” and she runs her hand smooth across her skin. “Gold,” and she threads her fingers through her hair.
As the pain subsides, Celine’s world fades, and the apples and pears in the fruit bowl look the same again. She feels like crying. She reaches for the knife. Her mother places it back on the counter.
She cleans the blood away and hugs Celine, tightly. “Promise me,” she pleads, “that you will never hurt yourself for this.”
With trembling hands, Celine nods.
Celine is nineteen, and she knows the world in color. Celine is nineteen, and she hasn’t cried in ten years. Celine is nineteen, and she’s hungry.
The townspeople whisper rumors about her when she passes. She laughs like a crow when you punch her. She gets into fights for fun. Each scar on her skin is for a different person. (Whether the person is someone she has kissed or killed, no one can decipher.)
They say that if you give her an apple and a pear, she will only accept them if you can tell her the difference.
Celine thinks this one is funny, so she humors them.
Some nights, when it’s dark and Celine is lonely, she wanders to the kitchen and takes a knife from the counter. She feels the weight of it in her hand, looks at herself in its glinting blade. She knows that she has blue in her eyes and red in her veins. She doesn’t need to prove it.
Celine puts the knife down and goes back to bed, clenching her hand around her oldest scar—one of countless light lines over dark skin. She closes her eyes and forces herself to dream.
Other nights, Celine has a harder time believing.
She pulls on a jacket and runs downtown to the hidden alleyway, where fiery teens gather to throw their fists. (She prefers knives, but none are ever so brash.)
Celine fights, but never to win. When her opponent lands a hit, she taps out and looks up, taking in the deep violet of the sky and the creamy yellow of the moon.
Sometimes, Celine asks, “I’m not hurting myself, am I?” She is nothing if not loyal to her mother, so she answers, “Of course not. I promised.”
She taps back in as soon as the pain is gone.
One early morning, Celine finds herself walking home, nursing a split lip. She looks tired, but her eyes are alive and excited. She hurts all over. The city is more beautiful this way, she thinks.
Someone taps her shoulder, and she nearly jumps. She composes herself before turning around. “Yes?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to bother you,” the stranger says sheepishly, drawing a hand back, “but it’s nearly three, and you were limping, and—oh, you look so much worse from the front, I-—”
“Are you here to rob me?” Celine deadpans.
“Goodness, no!” the stranger gasps. “I just thought that you were hurting, and maybe, if you were out so late and in such bad shape, you needed someone to patch you up . . . ?”
Celine is touched by the offer. She can’t say that she’s one to turn down assistance, because no one ever offers. The stranger carries a blue bag full of groceries and wears a red jacket. She smiles. “That would be nice.”
The stranger beams. “Wonderful. My apartment is a few blocks away, if you don’t mind the walk.”
“Not at all,” Celine replies, offering a hand to shake. “Celine, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
The stranger takes it and grins. “Dylan. Nice to meet you, too.”
“Dylan,” she repeats, like the name is another color for her to learn.
It’s been five weeks since Celine last visited the alleyway, and her latest scar—the one on her bottom lip—is just as old.
She finds a friend in Dylan. They stay up late, not because they’re lonely, but because they’re always talking to each other, about nothing and everything, feeling restless and electric.
One night, they’re in deep conversation, but Celine can’t focus. She anchors herself by putting her hand over Dylan’s.
The conversation stops. A beat of silence passes.
It resumes without question.
Celine smiles. She doesn’t have to prove to herself that Dylan’s face is dusted with red. Dark blush over light skin.
Celine’s world is colorless for months, but she doesn’t mind. There’s no need for color when she has Dylan.
Of course, it stings sometimes when Dylan mistakenly says, “The grass is so green today,” or, “Your hair turns gold in the sunlight.” An apology always follows, though, and Celine knows that no harm was meant.
“I’m sorry.” Dylan kisses her. Light lips brush against dark cheeks.
“It’s okay,” she says reassuringly, but her stomach twists. “It’s okay.”
Celine makes a card one day. It reads:
Roses are gray,
Violets are gray.
You look incredibly cute today!
Dylan laughs upon receiving it, envelops Celine in a hug, kisses her nose. “You are so sweet. You are a riot.”
Celine can’t help but grin. When Dylan laughs, it makes her feel lighter.
“Although . . .” Dylan looks at the card again, frowning a little. “Your humor is . . .”
Celine swallows. “Don’t worry about it.”
Celine is twenty, and deep down, she’s still hungry. She hopes that Dylan doesn’t notice.
Celine stares at herself in the mirror. A knife sits in her right hand. Blood runs down her left arm, staining the porcelain sink with its sickening color. Dark against light. Red against white.
“Blue,” she repeats, saying it over and over, louder and louder, until the weight of what she’s done starts to crush her.
She keeps saying it, even when Dylan rushes to the bathroom, holds her tight, pets her hair, says, “It’s okay, you made it this far, you’re so strong, I’m so proud of you.” She says it until her throat is dry and cracking with the effort.
Celine sits quietly as Dylan cleans the blood, strangely unable to cry.
When Celine leaves, it’s for a number of reasons. None of them are true.
“I’m a burden,” she says. “You deserve someone better.”
(Something tiny in her, something more honest, tries to claw its way out. “I love you,” it shouts desperately. “I’m only trying to protect you.”)
She’s gone before Dylan can say goodbye.
Celine is twenty-one, and she is crying twelve years’ worth of tears. She cries on the sidewalk, on the bus, on a bench, before falling asleep in some faraway town.
When she awakes, she notices, belatedly, that her sight is flickering back into color. She searches herself for an injury—maybe she got a paper-cut from the bus schedule—but she finds none.
Her heart is heavy with grief. Perhaps the scar is metaphorical.
Celine sits up on the bench and looks out at the world. Autumn is here, and the trees are shedding their leaves. There are no clouds in sight. Blue in the sky, red on the ground.
She waits patiently for the colors to fade, but they never do.