Colors. Imogene heard colors, or rather, she saw them—little bursts of bright yellows, pea greens, and aquamarines. With every sound that filtered through her eardrum, Imogene saw a color to match. She first noticed her power as a little girl: With the back and forth, sway and repeat of the wooden swing in the backyard, a flash of neon white played across her vision with each creak. She leapt off the swing and looked around, only the line of trees and green grass playing across her vision, nothing out of the ordinary. When a blue bird landed on the birdbath and chirped loudly, Imogene saw its sound. Not what you’d expect—light pink. Imogene didn’t tell anyone because, well, she rather liked seeing sounds. As she grew, she realized other people did not share her ability. When her friends would tell a joke, the tone of their jokes danced in the air between them and Imogene. “That’s so funny,” one would say. “That’s so purple,” Imogene would agree.
When her younger brother was born, Imogene stood outside the room where her mother and father were, listening to the screams of her mother giving birth and the cries of a newborn. She would forever connect her brother to various shades of green.
Somewhere, Imogene could no longer remember, she had seen the most beautiful sound—caught a glimpse of it, anyway. She distinctly remembered it being smooth, creamy, and glowing all at the same time. Was butter a color? She wanted to taste it, slip some of it onto her heels and glide across the room until she became the color altogether. She just could not remember the sound. It was lost in her memory somewhere, but clearly its color had been more beautiful than what had created it.
These days, as an adult, Imogene’s preferred sounds were the laugh tracks on old sitcoms. She’d sit facing away from the television with a bowl of popcorn, watching the cacophony of reds, blues, oranges, and greens tumble and cascade a few feet in front of her, while the actors paused their lines behind her, waiting for the mirth and guffaws to end. It reminded her of when she went to the orchestra, each instrument with its own color: the violins bright green, the cellos blue, the basses deep violet, the flutes red, and the piccolo the lightest of pinks. She had to quit attending them because of the headaches they gave her; even if she shut her eyes, the lights flashed, her eyelids serving as a canvas for the painting of sounds.
Rarely did the flashes of light affect Imogene’s life on a day to day basis. She walked from her apartment to work. Just over a hill, where she taught kindergarteners the alphabet, addresses, and colors. The children that left Imogene’s class knew more colors than any other class across the state. They could say them in English, Spanish, French, Italian. Imogene liked to watch as the children spoke and red became blue, rojo changed to iris and navy, rouge exuded turquoise, and rosso filtered both cyan and indigo. Only once had she tried to explain it to her kindergarteners, but it only confused them and exposed Tyler’s colorblindness. He thought red was blue. Imogene went home and cried for Tyler, hiccupping tears of olive, her least favorite of all sounds. Her favorite days to walk to work were when it rained. The pellets of water fell continuously against her nylon umbrella with a gentle tap, tap, tap that emitted a flow of periwinkle lines across her vision. Although the colors only flashed across her vision for a moment, the same reverberations linked her sight and memory to create constant coursing hues.
This day it rained. She slipped on her yellow trench coat—the ruffling of the fabric was white—opened her umbrella—flash of crimson—and walked onto the gray clouded street. Her one-inch heels clicked persimmon against the sidewalk. She had only walked a block when she heard it. A screech, loud, and frightening, took her breath away—for its color was the one she remembered. The golden buttery intensity blazed across her vision, and she stopped in the middle of the crosswalk to watch it spew in front of her as if it were the aurora borealis itself, all her own, and then suddenly it was gone. The squealing tires caught dry ground and the car skidded to a stop, inches away from Imogene’s upper thigh. She glanced at the driver, wide-eyed and pale. Imogene just waved, wishing she could thank him for the glorious sight she had just experienced. He turned the car off and hopped out to ask if she was okay. She was fine, and began to walk up the sidewalk when the man started his car again. The start of the engine, a sound very familiar to Imogene, had no color. She stood under the umbrella and listened to the drops of rain hitting inches above her head. Nothing. Imogene wanted to scream out, to plead with any onlooker, but no one was around. She paused only a moment more, and continued on her way with the rain beating down and the cars racing past, and for the first time that she could remember, saw only the world that was in front of her.