RED - Erin Cooksley

I see it in colours. Dribbles of colour on a red backdrop. The scene changes with each strobe but the fluorescent red lights always show through. No matter how I paint the canvas, the red will always remain. I could cover the red. Bleach it out of the painting. Cover it with layers of sterilising white. But the colours are all attached. Red bleeds into pink. Greens grow over browns. They need the red. Bleaching the red would mean bleaching the others. The greens, browns, pinks, whites. And I’d be left with only grey.

There is already too much grey. the split moments between the flashes of light and colour. My hands grasp through the air, eyes wide trying to make sense of the shapes, but the silhouettes always bound out of my reach. I can try connect the dots. I can paint the borders, the picture before and the picture after. I can try draw lines through the dark space, connecting what I think happened. But I will never be able to fully see, and then the light flashes again and I wait for the next scene of grey. 

Red. I always thought of red as the colour of love. Of valentine's day cards and lipstick marks on cheeks. Hearts are red, rose petals are red. Honeymoon suites drip red passion. Mothers tie red ribbons in their daughters' hair. When someone mentioned the word red my mind would race to the red scribbles at the bottom of my teenage love letters. But now, I see red as something else.

White. He entwined his grip into the roots of my scalp and held my mouth deep around him like a mother holds a baby to her breast. Eyes closed. Suckling. It was then that I changed my mind. The words ‘stop’ and ‘no’ gathered momentum up my body, in the fists of my hands pushing against his thighs and in the muscles of my neck resisting his hold. They formed in the roof of my mouth, between my teeth, only to be silenced and pushed back down my throat by his pink flesh.

Pink. Skin is pink. There was a lot of pink. There was too much pink.

White. White has always been portrayed as the colour of innocence and purity. White was the colour of never-before-seen nightgowns. Of angels never touched. But now, white to me is cold. Hospitals and pill packets. White is the easiest colour to stain. I remember taking a pill the next morning. The lady at the pharmacy took me into a small cold room and invaded the painting. Analysing every speck of colour. She started to scrape off the grey and check what red was underneath. I told her it was love red.

Green. His duvet cover was green. A light green, mixed in with some white. A soothing, peaceful pattern. Found in rest homes, family motels and antique stores. Flowing, light lines arced freely across the spread, transferring gently from white to green and then back again. But the soft cotton did nothing to stop the friction against my cheek as he bent me over. Telling me to shush because his parents were in the next room. I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at the green anymore.

Black. I could taste the black. He had snuffed out his cigarette and thrown it in the drain before he led me inside but I could taste it on his tongue and in the air. The charcoal scraping my throat, barricading my nose. Constricting and suffocating out any air I managed to find. 

Red. Red is also the colour of anger. A contradiction I struggled to understand. Red is the colour of blood drawn in furious slashes. Of wrong answers on test papers. Children are warned to be aware of monsters with red eyes. Fires burn red as they ravage through the subordinates in their path. Danger and stop signs bellow red in warning. I never was very good at listening to warnings.

Grey. He didn’t hear me. He must not have. I should speak up. Surely he didn’t hear me telling him to stop.

White. He asked me if I was on birth control. After he had finished. I remember deciding that telling the truth would not help, he could not take it back. He could not reverse the liquid dripping out of me, it was too late to prevent the inevitable sequence of events he had started. It was up to me to ratify. So I lied, he nodded, satisfied there would no further consequences.

Brown. Short brown hairs covered my dresser as I plucked them out of my teeth when I got home.

Pink. He lit a cigarette after he had finished and I put my clothes back on. He sat on the bed, leaning back against the wall, one arm resting along the headboard. One leg stretched out before him, the other bent. He was posing, a powerful stance, for his sculpture or painting. A victory lap after he had conquered the resistant. The lines were perfect. They all led directly to the main focus, the shrinking pink feature in the middle of the foreground.

White. I remember him walking out and directing me where to park. I wasn’t allowed in the driveway. Had to hide me around the corner, on the grass, slowly slipping sideways into the drain. He waved his arms around, pale in the reflection of my headlights.

Black. He had a neck tattoo. I imagine it was a snake or a skull. I remember it being partly hidden by his curly ginger mullet. I only saw a glimpse of it as we entered his bedroom. After that I never looked directly at it. Or at him.

Green. I remember him placing a rolled up green towel along the bottom of his door. He said it was so that no sound could get out. This green was darker than the duvet cover. Less soothing. Barricading me into the darker scene I play over and over. The scenes I now associate with killer clowns and giant spiders. The towel didn’t only stop sound. It barred every ounce of the outside reality from entering. I was no longer in the yellow and blue world I knew. I was in his red one. 

Grey. I still include him in my list. In my number. He is written small, at the bottom, but he is still there. Doesn’t that form some kind of consent? That I haven’t fully separated him from the others?

Red. Red is also a name. His name. It might be his real name, or it might be an alias that he uses. Now everything made sense. Red made sense. He was angry, he was rough, he was primal. The alpha male, taking what he wanted, following the hierarchy assigned to both of us by nature. And yet, he felt no remorse. Felt no need to justify what he had done. It was natural. I remember him asking me if I was leaving as I was getting dressed. I remember his quiet purse of the lips and the tilt of his eyebrows. Surprised at my sudden rush to leave, he had followed nature’s way, he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

White. He was wearing white socks the whole time. The ones with the ribs in them. Found in brown shoes on old men at golf courses. 

Grey. I remember sitting in my room with my friend, trying to explain why I had my hoodie pulled all the way up around my head. She didn’t understand. Surely it was an easy fix. Just take emergency contraception. She didn’t understand. It wasn’t the physical aftermath I was crying over. That was easily resolved. It was the erasure of myself. The tossing aside of any personal feeling and the blatant disregard for my identity as an equal human being. Less than the sum of my parts. He never wanted me as a whole. Only my parts. He wanted my mouth. He wanted my vagina. He got them. And then he was finished. But I hid that behind the loving red paint. She didn’t understand. 

Green. Grass. Trees. Mud. It took me 20 minutes to get to his house. Through the country, down side streets and gravel roads. No-one knew where I was, I hadn’t thought to tell anyone. Some people might call me lucky. It could have been a lot worse. Stupid girl. 

Grey. I spent months justifying what he did. Sex is what tinder is for. Justifying the colour of the red. I doubted the grey, surely I could paint over them. When I told him to stop, surely I just meant holding my head down, not the whole thing. When he told me to shush, surely it was because I was moaning in pleasure and not discomfort. For months I hid those justifications under the veil of grey. I was connecting the lines, creating my own picture, but the scenes did not connect.

White. A slab of meat under inspection. Analysed, sliced, poked under the fake fluorescent lights for any imperfection. Shine a torch and you’ll still find his DNA. His skin still sits engrained under my fingernails, his smoke still burrows in my nostrils. Spread my legs and you’ll find him. Open my mouth and you’ll find him. Slice open my heart and it will bleed his name, his colour.

Black. Televisions are black. His parents were in the next room watching their television. I tried to focus on the sounds and play that scene behind my eyelids instead. A comedy show. I remember the laughing. The taunting, like they knew, like they were enjoying the free show. Encore, they would shout, unaware that I didn’t have any more jokes scripted. I would stand on the stage. I would be the joke.

Grey. I don’t remember him taking his clothes off. He was licking the back of my throat with his black tongue and then the lights and colour flash off. They flash back on and I am on my knees on the hard carpet. The confusion reigns. Did I take his clothes off. Did he take his clothes off. Why is he still wearing his socks. I cannot see or feel or grasp any inclination of what happened between those moments.

Black. I was wearing black. And then I wasn’t. I remember he sat on the bed, inhaling the inches of skin I slowly uncovered. He told me to take my clothes off. And I did. Under his watchful gaze, I threw my hoodie off and sunk my pants to the ground. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. The black bra floated softly to the ground. Slowly he said when I reached my undies. Afterwards I put them back on. Black seemed like the only fitting colour. Tainted. Stained. Dragged through the ashes head first.

Red. I used to fill the grey with other colours. Bright yellows and ocean blues. But red would always start to seep through, uncontained by the lighter colours I tried to paint over it. First it looked like the loving red. The red desire shared between two consenting adults during their intimate moments. But then it would start to grow darker, ooze blood over the canvas. That was when I began to realise. This canvas is not the red of valentine's day cards or rose petals. This is the red of anger. The red of primal, animal lust. But then I would paint over the red with the grey and leave it there. Grey is better than facing the truth of what colour the red really was.

Grey. But now the grey is gone. And all that remains is the dark red scattered amongst the browns, greens, whites. I know what colour the red is.

Contributor's Note

Erin is a graduating English and History major who is trying to stall growing up by writing about the past.

 

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