Horse Firetruck Apple Sky

Author: M. M. Kaufman

“What is the color of seashell?”
I made a loud hmm noise and scanned the paint swatches spread across the rug. If Tea Olive kept this up, she would have the entire apartment covered in no time. That’s if I could find more colors. I picked up a few squares and held them out.
She studied the squares of white, beige, and pink before taking them. She set them on the seat of the nearest chair and sighed. She leaned back and nearly knocked out the chair’s duct-taped leg.
I had imagined a bigger space for our hideout, but more square footage meant more windows, doors, and other security risks. Smaller was manageable, if too cozy for a four-year-old and her mother.
“It’s a start. Seashell is a tough one!” I said. “That has to be hundreds of colors.”
Tea Olive was always grumpy when she didn’t have all of the colors for a certain object. She stomped one boot and whined, “I want more colors.”
“We can’t go through this every time, Tea. Do you know how many things I want?”
She kicked a cabinet door and said “I don’t care.”
“Do you know who cares even less about what either of us wants?”
Tea Olive let her whole head loll back on her shoulders and moaned.
I walked her to the balcony. I turned off the lantern and pulled the thick, dark curtains back so we could see down into the courtyard. Blanketed in snow, half a dozen zombies shuffled around the frosty, moss-covered fountain. They left tracks in the snow that exposed the red brick underneath. We had chosen the colors for the courtyard yesterday. We didn’t include the zombies. We did not want to imagine their colors.
Tea Olive gave the zombies a wave before I closed the curtains and turned the light on.
I pointed to the colors and said, “Pick something easier.”
She kneeled down and swirled the swatches up.
“Pick something I can really imagine. I can’t even remember the ocean,” I said as I stepped into the kitchen to finish dinner.
I had found the giant paint swatch display crushed under an industrial refrigerator last week. I snatched up every color I could before darting behind a dumpster. A pair of zombies sniffed my way, then moved away. Never thought trash would smell like safety.
Tea Olive played with the swatches nonstop after that. We spent hours shouting out objects and finding their colors in the giant pile: Horse. Firetruck. Apple. Sky. It was endless fun assigning colors to the universe. I didn’t think I’d be good at normal homeschooling and there wasn’t any point to that anyway with no real schools, jobs, and well—human society.
I cut open a packet of cheese sauce and placed it between the pan and its lid to squeeze every drop onto the wet noodles. I dished out two bowls and carried them into the living room where Tea Olive sat pooled over her colors in deep concentration.
“What are you trying to find now?”
Tea Olive reached for the bowl without taking her eyes from the colors. “I’m looking for the color of escape,” she said. “Do you know what it looks like?”
I looked around our tiny home that held my tiny daughter and our tiny life. I’ve never known anything about escape, I thought.
“Maybe it looks like life,” she said.
I looked down into her dark eyes that no swatches could ever capture. “Tea, if life has a color, it is not here.”

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