Rosie escaped to her backyard, the private place where the fence hid everything but the sky overhead. She liked the pristine lawn, the majesty of the single oak tree in the corner, and her dad’s Adirondack chair, the wood cracked and warped but still comfortable. But more than anything she loved the smell of the grass.
The grass was freshly cut, and Rosie lay down on it. She closed her eyes and ran her fingers through the blades, focusing on the cool, almost wet, sensation on her skin. Touch was nice. Touch was uncomplicated. Like grass. Rosie turned her head, and the shorn edges of the grass caressed her cheek as she took a deep breath. The smell filled her vision. It was green. Grass smelled green. Simple blessed green.
She didn’t mind that it was a pale green, like the Crayola color Magic Mint, product number 58 in the large box of 120 crayons that Rosie memorized in school when she was trying to explain her synesthesia to her teachers in a way they could understand. They did, but her classmates didn’t. No—correction—they understood, but they didn’t understand.
Her favorite smell was the perfume Ms. Lindy wore every Friday: number 11—Blizzard Blue. It led her to imagine that Ms. Lindy would throw snowballs or build snowmen after school on Friday, even at the end of the school year when it was too warm for long sleeves, let alone snowmen.
And while Magic Mint the smell of grass wasn’t the same as Green the look of grass (number 45, or sometimes Forest Green--number 38, or Fern--number 37), it was still green. She tried to explain to her friends how wonderful it was for smells to look like they were supposed to, but they just laughed. When she said that it was rare and comforting, they just laughed harder.
Most colors smelled different than they looked, but there were many where the dissonance was so sharp and unexpected that it was painful. Roses, which looked beautiful in the fullness of their red (Scarlet, number 100) smelled like the sickly orange of Neon Carrot (number 70). And oranges--oranges were just confusing. How could an orange not smell Orange (number 72)? But no, oranges smelled like Cornflower (number 30).
The worst, however, was the floor cleaner they used at school, which made everything smell like Atomic Tangerine (number 6). She had been yelled at countless times for running down the hall as she tried to escape the awful pervasive color. As her friends hung out near their lockers, they would get mad and call her a jerk or loser as Rosie excused herself and left the halls as quickly as possible. Rosie couldn’t stand being in a place where everything and everyone was tinged with the puke orange of Atomic Tangerine.
She squeezed the grass in a fist as she remembered trying to tell all the others how hard it was to see two colors for the same thing. Oranges weren’t Orange, they were Orange and Cornflower; Roses weren’t Red, they were Scarlet and Neon Carrot. Countless other things didn’t look how they smelled. Why could no one understand how painful it was to have your vision betrayed by your smell?
There was only refuge: Black. Rosie would keep her eyes closed in class, at restaurants, even walking. She ran into things. Her classmates constantly tripped her or spit on her or did things she couldn’t feel or see, only hear. Eventually she didn’t know what was worse, the pain of Black (number 10) or the pain of her brain fighting over two colors.
Rosie opened her eyes and looked at the sky. Crayola really got the sky right. The blue wasn’t Denim (number 33), it was Sky Blue (number 108), and the fluffy white clouds were White (number 126). She gave Crayola a pass on the sun because you’re not supposed to look at the sun, and besides it’s so bright could you know what color it really was? Of course it helped that she couldn’t smell the sky.
And what did it smell like up there? Did anyone really know? What did it smell like above the clouds? If she were to float up and away from all the ugliness that filled her life as she tried to reconcile conflicting sights and smells would she find a different world, a world where things actually smelled like how they looked?
She imagined what it would be like if her miserable mixed up life suddenly made sense in the heavens. The moon would smell Gray (number 44) or even the oddly named Manatee (number 61). Mars would smell Red (number 94)--definitely not Scarlet, as roses looked Scarlet, and she didn’t need to remind herself that roses that looked Scarlet smelled Neon Carrot. This was her world, after all. Venus? Not Green or Yellow or any boring variation of those but Mountain Meadow (number 67). Why not? Make the others make sense of her life for once.
Finally, she would look down from the heavens and smell Earth. It would be wondrous, magical, welcoming. All the painful things would be too small to see, too distant to smell. Gone. Nothing would smell of Julie’s Razzmatazz (number 93) shampoo as she shoved Rosie’s face in the toilet asking her what color shit smelled like or Carol’s Unmellow Yellow (number 120) body spray as she tripped Rosie in front of school for the millionth time. An orange wouldn’t smell like Cornflower. Atomic Tangerine wouldn’t exist. From the heavens the Earth would look and smell the way Rosie always wanted: A majestic flawless panorama of Turquoise Blue. Calm Turquoise Blue.
YOU ARE READING
the sky smells blue above the cloudsGeneral Fiction
How do you make sense of the color of smells? How do you escape when the world around you is dissonant and painful? Perhaps all you have to do is look to the heavens.