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pale yellow

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She curled her fingers around the mug, seeking warmth that had long ebbed away.  The clink of ceramic and hum of conversations slipped through the café door.  Several blocks away, the bright chorus of children’s laughter reminded the girl that today was the first day of the autumnal festival.  Immediately around her, however, sharp silence lay still as a gravestone.  Patrons either huddled in the shop or hurried to the next warm destination with their steaming beverages clutched tightly to their chest.

Why did I sit out here?  The girl gazed at the turning leaves of the trees lining the sidewalk and counted each color.

There were the reds: crimson, burgundy, reddish plum; the oranges: burnt orange, bright orange, a musty brown shade of orange; and the yellows: banana yellow and gold.

Eight... No, nine colors.  The ninth color was on only one tree, the sapling across the road.  How many pale yellow leaves were there?  Her coffee tasted bitterer than she could bear now that it was cold, and she set it down as she counted.

Twelve.  Twelve pale yellow leaves hanging onto brittle branches in their final days.

“It’s pale yellow.  Your voice.”

She couldn’t feel her fingers, but her hands were shaking.  Her chest felt tight.  She had been outside too long.  Hastily, she stood up.  She pressed the mug between her immobile palms and prayed she could make it to the café counter.

The door – how was she going to turn the doorknob?  Her hands were frozen to the cup they held.  She broke into a clammy sweat as she rapped on the door.

“You don’t have to apologize anymore.”

She felt the ceramic slip from her skin.  The door opened, and someone with a face flushed from the warmth of the store greeted her with a moving mouth and silent words.  The noises of the café spilled out, but the air was a vaccuum.  Nothing reached her ears.  Grey.  Grey.  It’s all grey –

“It’s pale yellow.  Your voice.”

It was grey.  His headstone.  Or was it faded brown?  She turned frantically, searching for those leaves.  She needed something to anchor her.  It had been two years since they bulldozed the lot where wooden numbers stood where numbered children lay.

“Remember us.  Remember that we lived.”

The shatter of what she dropped, the quiver of a question, and the rush of a world moving on flooded her ears.  She didn’t need to see the leaves.  She wasn’t staring at his blood on the ground.  She was watching the coffee she spilled stain the frostbitten earth, the color of his eyes.  His smile.  The sun on a summer day –

“ – you okay?”

The warmth returned to her body; sound and colors returned to her world.  Synesthesia.  His voice.  It was the color of his eyes.

She nodded, apologized, then gazed at the grey sky.  “It gets so cold without the sun.”