A Piercing Red Odor

Again, I found myself slowly drift out of a peaceful night of sleep— that is to say, I woke up and struggled to silence the deafening screech coming from my phone. I had stopped taking care of myself like brushing my teeth or washing my face, at least just in the morning. My breath smelled worse than a sweaty tuna, but it didn’t really matter to me, because I knew taking care of Bryan was my top priority. I just put my clothes on lazily, and stumbled down the hall to his room.

When I flung open the door, I was greeted to the familiar sight of Bryan, laying in a position I would have thought to be excruciatingly painful, and snoring like something out of a horror film. I checked my pockets and pulled out a SnifR™ capsule, shaking it to make sure it was ready when he woke up. Holding it near his face, I quickly turned on the light next to his bed, and before he started panicking, I allowed him to inhale the fumes from the capsule. His look of sudden rage turned quickly to calm as he stretched out his arms and looked around. His eyes slowly focused on me and he smiled.

“Hello, Tace! Lovely to see you again, dearest.” He always called me Tace — I assume his mind hadn’t come to terms with the death of his wife, Tacey, and I just went along with it, because I think it made him more comfortable around me.

“So, what’s on the agenda, pumpkin?” His eyes gleamed with a certain innocence. “Shall we take a stroll to Theresa and Aaron’s house this morning? I heard from Robin and Ophelia that Ursula just got a brand new stereo!” These were, of course, all names that I had never heard him so much as mention. I quickly helped him into his wheelchair, and, taking the handles, started rolling him out the door. He whistled a choppy tune that sounded like something out of an old Donald Duck cartoon as we entered the kitchen. The smell of coffee got him excited, and, turning to me, he exclaimed with a start, “Oh my, this is just what I need to get some inspiration,” downing the whole cup in about ten seconds. As I took the cup from the table, he reached underneath and grabbed a medium-sized plaster canvas.

“Remember, Tace,” he began to say, “The kitchen is the emotional center of the house. It’s where all the most important stuff happens.” He had said this to me almost every day of the week, and I still wasn’t sure what it meant.

As Bryan sifted through his belongings, I re-read the paper hung up across the room, just under the clock. It was a newspaper clipping from about 40 years ago, with a black and white picture of a large fishing boat, and a headline that read “Something fishy in the water”. The article, or at least what was left of it, was about some kind of spy operations that had been happening on this ship. I couldn’t entirely understand the story, because the page was torn, but there had been sabotage happening and…

Suddenly, I heard a whimpering noise coming from the table. I looked over, and saw tears welling up in Bryan’s eyes. He was still semi-smiling, but his lips were quivering, and it looked as if he was trying his hardest to keep it together.

“Bryan? Are you alright?” I asked. He started crying, but still doing that weird, sort-of-smiling thing.

“This will never work. Not without my palette,” he said, sighing through a small stream of tears. I quickly reached over to the kitchen counter and grabbed it from under some magazines. It was a circular marble palette, probably the most stereotypical design you could find. I squeezed as many colors as I could onto it and handed it to him. He wiped his tears from his eyes and said shakily, “Yes. Yes, thank you, Tacey. How silly of me to have forgotten.” He quickly grabbed a handful of brushes and got to work. I popped my earbuds in and listened to crappy free music to pass the time.

Glancing over at his work was like watching something out of a movie. Never have I seen someone so unable to do most things work so diligently, so quickly, and especially so intensely. He became a different person when he painted, throwing colors onto the canvas as his hands darted back and forth with alarming speed. However, it didn’t look like he was… really making anything.

Each stroke he added was just a random line of color, and together, they didn’t actually form a shape or seem to mean anything. In the two hours he spent making the piece, all I saw were lines being piled on top of each other, layer by layer. The end result was a greenish blob amidst a multitude of other colors. There was some yellow and purple on the edges of the page, and streaks of blue lined the bottom. The color red, however, was strewn unboundedly across the page, with a certain intensity to the brush strokes. The more I looked at the abstract piece, the more I tried to discern some kind of meaning from it. With all the blue at the bottom, and the green in the middle, it almost looked like that boat from the photograph, but I was probably just looking too far into it.

I realized I was getting wrapped up in the painting, and didn’t hear the notification go off on my phone that it was time for Bryan to take his SnifR™. I checked my pockets, but found none. Bryan was starting to look a bit upset. “Tacey?” he asked me, “When did you dye your hair? I… Oh gosh, Tace, I really wish you would have asked me first. It means so much to me how much we communicate. This is where Emilia gets all those strange ideas, you know?” He had begun to tear up again, and his face had grown bright red. I couldn’t leave him on his own, so I had to grab his chair and quickly run to my room with him. He began hyperventilating, and started getting agitated that I had removed him from his painting. “No, stop now Tacey! I wasn’t done yet! They’ll never know if you don’t let me finish!” I opened my door and ran inside, searching my cabinets for more of Bryan’s SnifR™ medication. “Oh fuck! Oh god, did I not get more from the store?” I thought out loud. Bryan became angrier, and started yelling at me. I rummaged through my bag once more, and was relieved to find one unopened capsule at the bottom. I quickly shook it, and was holding it towards his face when he slapped it out of my hand. The capsule flew across the room and cracked against my window, leaving a sticky pink residue. “Oh nononononononono!” I began panicking. I didn’t have Bryan’s meds, and he had just destroyed my last resort. Not knowing what else to do, I quickly ran with the wheelchair to Bryan’s room, and forced him into his bed. He was thrashing under the covers, but something sudden made him stop. With a face of awe and uncertainty, he looked right at me, and began talking.


I audibly gasped. I had been taking care of Bryan for seven years, and about two years ago, his dementia took a really bad turn. He hadn’t called me by my name since then.

“Elan,” he said, maintaining eye contact with me, “I don’t have much time left. But… they have to know what I meant. They have to know what it all means. I want to tell you, Elan, so you can tell them.” I was very confused, but continued listening very carefully to everything that followed.

“The colors are alive. Except Green, which is death, and… something I can’t quite say. But aside from that, colors have personality. Red is sneaky. No, Red is Purple. Purple is sneaky. Red is loud. Boom! Rah! Red is pure anger, hatred, blood. How cliche. Red isn’t cliche, Red is different. Red is nonconformity, the opposite of Blue, conformity. But I thought the opposite of Red was Green! Hah! Nonsense! Poppycock! Red is whatever it wants to be! Blue is only one thing. Blue is one thing, and maybe all the other things. But Red can fly! Red soars. It is a phoenix, flying above the lowly Blue and its sheepish ways. But what of Purple or Yellow? Well, we already know that Purple is sneaky, but so is Yellow. They are the twins… twin rats, sneaking. Do they steal cheese? No! Because cheese isn’t purple.” He had begun trailing off, but as he was laying his head down, he turned to me one final time, and spoke.

“Red flies, Elan. I want them to know that I flew as well. I flew. I flew. I flew…”

He repeated the phrase as he slowly closed his eyes, and drifted to sleep. Later that night, he stopped breathing.

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