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  • Marjorie Robertson

Orange and Yellow

My short story, "Orange and Yellow," was just published on The Ekphrastic Review. It was inspired by Rothko's painting below.

Untitled (Orange and Yellow), by Mark Rothko (USA, b. Latvia) 1956

Orange and Yellow Drinking a therapeutic concoction of herbs wasn’t the worst part of the healing tea treatment. Gerald’s mother-in-law, Sonia Bonnefoi, had warned him about the taste. “It’s bitter,” she said. “That’s how you know it’s medicine.” It was the night-long purge that broke his spirit and left him burning as though shedding his skin from the inside out. After the sweating and shivering had stopped, he entered dream sleep. He was a young man, again, walking the empty downtown streets of his hometown alone. Colours came vividly, each with a meaning and a voice like shouting or whispering. White was the inside of his church, countless Sundays spent looking at the ceiling of white plaster and thousands of cracks intertwined like spider webs. Where one ended, the next picked up the thread, never broken, and he was as small as a seed at the source of the sprayed lines overhead. Black was a heavy canvas overhang of the drugstore where his girlfriend first touched his hand and shared his ice cream soda, the memory of cold sweetness on his lips like an antidote to the bitter therapy. Yellow was aggressive and blinding, the childhood home he painted one summer with his father, oddly bright like Van Gogh’s house in Arles where the artist’s earlobe was cut off. Blue was the ice pond in Maine where he skated as a boy, powdered snow misting his face, his heart pounding because while dreaming he knew those times were over. He would never again feel as he did then. The realization was enough to bring him back to the dark, still room. He turned over and vomited into a bucket beside the bed. He wanted to walk through the colours some more when his wife, Helen, came in to rub his back and press a cool cloth to his forehead. She whispered all the things they could return to doing when he recovered—shopping for antiques, having champagne brunches with other couples.The expectation of his crawling back to the artistic circle he’d once ruled over made him turn over on his side and push her hand away. He understood her attempt at encouragement but in his suffering, he wondered why couldn’t she let him be? In the dark, he blamed her. If she hadn’t pushed him to be better, he could carry on in his new sham life as the elite neighbourhood vagabond with the signature white hat who sips wine in cafés. Couldn’t she see this was all he was—a tired, confused, old man no one cared about? He woke, again, when the cat jumped on his bed and stretched across his legs. Sonia entered the room and threw open the curtains. The glare of morning filled the window frame with orange and yellow. She went over to the bucket and looked at its contents. “Looks like you have a heart problem, too. You’ll need to get that checked,” she said. Those first words after a long night normally would’ve angered him if he’d had the energy. In the only protest he could muster, he sat up too quickly and saw the room spin. Her gentle touch on his shoulder calmed him. “I can see you don’t care for me right now. Just remember, now your body can heal. Did you see what you were looking for?” He hesitated. “Maybe I did. I don’t know.” “When you know, you will be cured of this ailment,” she said and limped away while massaging her bad hip. At night, as he went through the cleansing, a thunderstorm had rumbled and crackled outside, but now the sunshine was bright, and birds sang as they perched among new blossoms. After dressing, he went downstairs to the kitchen. Fresh air entered softly through the open window. The coffee had already been made. The black cat slept curled on a chair. Sonia read the newspaper, her face hidden. The headlines were about bad news in other places but add one small misstep and a headline could’ve been about him. Instead, another man was having the bad day that could’ve been his, perhaps should’ve been his. Gerald fixed a plate of eggs and toast. “I can overcome this on my own. I don’t need any more help,” he muttered fiercely to himself. Sonia spoke from behind a leaf of newspaper. “Who knows the right thing? Thinkin’ about it and tryin’ to change, that’s a misperception there. You don’t change with your head. You do it with doing. It’s a mistake to try to put a righteous action over a tainted one. You must take the old covering off first. The good one won’t go on over. It just fits, and you can’t get it on over anything. Take the old off, I say.” “I’m not a religious man.” “Religion?” she said, looking over a leaf of paper. “It’s called having fortitude and common sense!” Helen came in and touched his back as she went by. “You should drink a lot of water today and no caffeine. Do you want me to run you a bath?” Sonia scowled at her daughter. “He’s not a child.” To Gerald she said, “You’re not a child. You’re a 60-year-old man. Listen to me. I’ve heard all about your eye trouble, your hallucinations or what have you. Your eyes are speaking to you, and now that they have your attention, you need to spend some time understanding what they say instead of spending all day on the street like a hobo. My Helen should not be wandering the streets at night looking for you. Your eyes cannot speak English or French, so don’t use your head.” She scanned the kitchen. “I got something to see to. Bébé, go get my purse in the hallway, would you?” When Helen returned with the purse, Sonia rummaged through it for pen and paper and scribbled a name and address. “Murphy’s Drugstore in New Orleans. They have remedies for every manner of ailment, I guarantee it. Don’t stare at me with bug eyes. I know you know it’s a hoodoo shop. Every problem you can imagine goes in their door. You tell Miss Geneviève you’ve taken my medicine already. You can go while you’re there for your art thing today. Get it done! No point in being idle now.”

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