𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗚𝗶𝗿𝗹 𝘄𝗵𝗼 𝗦𝗽𝗼𝗸𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀
𝘣𝘺 𝘓𝘶𝘬𝘦 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘱𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘳𝘦
Maria found the baby in a twisted up black bag on the roadside, a few miles from the nearest hospital, covered all over in a spectrum of acrylic colours, with more leaking from its mouth every moment. Reds and blues and purples and greens. She took it up in her arms, crooning. Maria was the owner of the local cat sanctuary. What was an extra human amongst the other animals?
The baby was a girl, a girl named Cat, the highest praise of a name that Maria could have offered. Maria tried her best to teach her daughter all the things she’d need to know. Ordinary school was out of the question for a girl who bled colours from her mouth. The cats were her classmates, all slinking round the house, rolls of fluff and fur on the corners of scratched up couches and on the tops of wardrobes.
One day in the park, a sobbing Cat ran towards Maria from the playground, her face dripping purple and bright sky blue. Maria realised: blue, sadness. She wrapped her little daughter in a hug and stroked her hair. “What happened?” But of course, Cat could not say, did not need to say. The accusatory gazes of the kids from across the park, the pointing fingers at a slide, painted the wrong colour - they were enough. With a heavy heart, Maria resolved to keep her away from the others. They could never understand her, they would never treat her right. Her baby should never have to bleed blue again, not if Maria could help it.
When she first reached her teens, Cat would stare out the window on a sunny day, watching the children outside playing in the road, her mouth dripping blue and green onto the window sill. Maria tried dancing around her, held up her favourite toys and turned on the TV to her favourite show, but Cat's gaze never broke from the staring. When Maria tried to pull her away, her daughter's mouth blazed red and orange. Angry. But what else could she do? Her daughter would never fit in, never be understood if she was let out to the wide world.
But the moments Maria remembered best were those when her daughter bled yellow and pink, her face a melting lollipop of joy. Dancing together to the radio, Maria spun Cat round and round, a hand in her hair, a hand on her back, laughing as the yellow droplets splattered all over the house. She’d never cleaned those stains up. What better wallpaper than an impression of childish joy?
They painted together, her daughter's droplets spilling onto the paper, enhancing the paintings, Maria clapping whenever it happened. The smile on her daughter's face, the realisation that her dripping was something to smile about, was always worth the hours of cleaning up in the evenings, once Cat had gone to bed.
Maria made sure always to have tissues at the ready, her pockets overflowing with them. She littered fluttering leaves of tissue paper behind her as she waltzed about the house. The bins filled up with confetti leaves of soaking tissue paper.
When Cat hit sixteen, Maria sat her down at the kitchen table. "It's time," she said, sighing and staring out the window, "I think we should try teaching you how to speak. I know you prefer to talk to me through your colours, but there must be a big girl in there. A girl who can talk back to me as well as listen."
Cat stared, her lip oozing a purple-blue.
Maria frowned. "I know it's hard for you, dear. But we have to try, to start somewhere. Just try for me, Cat." She laid a hand on her daughter's, interlocking fingers across the table.
Cat looked away and nodded.
"Try this sound: ‘a’. That's simple enough," Maria said, and squeezed her daughter's hand.
Cat paused and gazed into Maria's eyes. She opened her mouth, once, twice, like a fish gasping for air.
"Good, honey." Maria tried to smile. "Keep going."
Cat opened her mouth and let out a gurgling noise. A flood of red and orange, purple and blue poured forth, globs spitting out like from a geyser. Cat closed her eyes.
Maria breathed in sharply. "Try one more time dear. That was really good."
Cat licked her lips.
Maria handed her a tissue.
She batted it away and opened her mouth again. Cat exhaled, letting out a strange noise somewhere between a moan and a whisper.
Maria sighed. "Not quite right, dear. But - good effort." It was impossible to keep the disappointment out of her face.
Cat stood up, and her chair clattered backwards into the kitchen drawers. She flew from the room, red and orange tendrils of liquid splashing on the floor behind her.
But her daughter didn't reply.
It was a deep ocean hue that Maria found in Cat's bedroom that evening, a trail of it like paint, dripping from a splatter below her bedroom window, out onto the lawn below.
Maria broke into tears. Call the police? But what would she say? And what would they do, if they found a girl like Cat? She had to find her again, and it would have to be on her own.
So she drove, for miles and miles through the streets, following the trail of blue until it turned into a rainbow of twisted emotion, reds and blacks and purples in a jumble on the ground. Then a flash of purple and the trail disappeared from the road into the forest.
Maria bit down her panicked sobs and slammed the car door shut. She’d have to follow the trail on foot.
The forest gripped at her long flowered dress and she cursed herself that she hadn’t worn something more suitable. Was Cat running? She better run too.
So she broke into a jog. A bat sped past in the orange lit sky above. Maria shivered. She raised her voice upwards. “Cat! Where are you?”
But there was no reply. Of course there was no reply.
The trail became hard to follow in the dark. Her daughter’s bright coloured drips in the dirt blended together. The trees danced around Maria, swirling, their limbs reaching out to grab at her hair. The forest closed in on her, the trees more dense, the darkness more dark.
“Cat!” She panted, stopping with her hands on her knees. Why had her daughter run away? Had she failed as a parent? The thought stabbed down into old wounds in her heart. You can only look after animals. No wonder the girl ran away.
Maria shook herself. There was no time for thinking such thoughts. She had to keep on the trail. So she tried to block it out and focus, on putting one foot ahead of the other, on her breathing, on anything but the dread that was pulsing somewhere in her chest.
Then she saw her: a silhouette standing on a rock, in a clearing in the forest, a pool of blue and reds and purples and greens on the ground around her. Maria’s heart thumped. It was just like when she’d first found her, in that bag by the road. She looked so tall now against the sunset. When had she ever gotten so big?
“Cat.” She stepped closer. “It’s me. Do you want to talk?”
Cat turned around. The bottom of her face was awash with colour. Her eyes were half shut, like half moons.
“I don’t know what I did wrong but I’m so sorry.” Maria tried not to cry. She had to stay strong. It was hard not to lunge forwards and embrace Cat, there and then.
Somewhere off in the darkness, a frog croaked. Cat’s head flicked round, at the same time as Maria’s.
Maria laughed, and glanced over at her daughter; tried to catch her eye.
Cat smiled - just for a second. A drip of yellow trickled from her lips. But then she looked away and the blue was back. Drip. Drip.
Maria felt for her pocket, without even thinking, and her hand found the tissues there. With her eyes low, she lifted a tissue up and offered it to Cat.
But Cat shook her head. An orange-red oozed from her mouth.
Maria winced. Wrong move. “Don’t you want to clean yourself up, dear? You’re coated in the stuff.”
Cat shook her head, orange still spilling from her mouth.
Anger. But why? Maria had always prided herself on how well she could read her daughter’s colours, but now she’d never felt more of a gap between them. What was her daughter angry about? Why had she run away?
Maria moved a little closer. Maybe a hug wasn’t a bad idea.
But Cat inched backwards, spitting a violet-pink. Awkward. Embarrassed. At least Maria could still read that much.
“I’m trying dear, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what you want me to do!” Maria’s hands flopped at her sides.
Cat just stared, her eyes wide and glittering.
Maria felt irritation bubble in her. “Sometimes I wish you could just speak properly to me Cat, I really -” She stopped.
Cat was gazing at her, her lip shaking, covered in red, covered in red, covered in red, she was angry, she was angry, she was very angry.
“Oh god.” Maria started forwards. “I didn’t mean it, Cat. You’re perfect as you are. You don’t need to speak - you’ve got a gift -”
Cat spun on her heel. Her legs flashed and she was off.
“Cat! I didn’t mean it! Come back!”
Maria sank to her knees. What had she done? What had she done? It wasn’t a lie. That was the worst part.
She chased coloured tracks until her eyes were playing tricks on her and her legs were dead. What did it mean? Her daughter was angry, her daughter was sad, she could read that much in the trails she followed, but she didn’t know why. And at this rate she’d never catch Cat again. Not unless her daughter stopped. Maria retched, and threw up in the undergrowth, a slurry of yellow and green.
She paused, staring at the yellow liquid on the ground, and it hit her. Why had she never tried? It wasn’t just Cat who could speak in colours.
Heaving with deep breaths, Maria glanced about herself. Cat’s tracks were spinning, circling, forever and ever, circles of green and blue and red and purple. Her daughter would run back this way eventually. She had to.
So Maria rushed back and forth, her tiny phone light held aloft, casting more shadows than light amongst the autumn trees. She scrabbled in the dirt, her fingers coated in grime, and plucked autumn leaves like feathers from the ground. Piles appeared all over the forest floor. A pile of pink, for love. A pile of yellow, for joy. She arranged them together, collating, collaging, until a spectrum of colour, from pink to yellow covered the ground between the trees.
It wasn’t enough.
She continued ferrying the leaves back and forth, searching further and further away, until darkness and fatigue swept around her like a cloak, and Maria dropped like one of the leaves and fell asleep in the dirt.
When she came to, there was a girl standing over her. Drip. Drip. Droplets of blue were falling onto her face. Maria rolled into a sitting position.
“Cat?” Her voice was hoarse.
Her daughter looked down at her.
“I’m covered - I’m covered in your colours - how long have you been here?” Maria stood up, laughing, “I’m wearing a technicolour dreamcoat, my dear!”
Cat smiled, just a little, and the yellow and pink that spilled from her mouth was as pretty and pure as the frosted icing on a freshly baked cupcake.
“I’m sorry for what I said. I guess not being able to talk to me must be hard sometimes. I shouldn’t -” Maria paused. She wanted to check she wasn’t misspeaking again. She looked over at Cat.
But Cat watched her intently, her lips still a pale yellow. Good. Cat pointed at the leaves around them, the pinks and the yellows, and beamed.
Maria felt herself smile too, the comfort of it washing over her. “I’m so sorry, Cat.”
And though Cat said nothing back, could say nothing back, an unstoppable flow of yellows and pinks flowed forth from her mouth, and pooled around the two women’s feet, seeping between the autumn leaves. ✦