5: Red, rude, a bully.
She was bored, propping her face up on her palms. Her teacher, high-voiced and chirping in fuzzy green flurries, was writing rows of sevens on the board. White chalk. The sevens were glimmering in turquoise, and she smiled.
Sevens were nice, friendly. Seven would never eat nine. Nine was just a baby, like her brother at home.
She was only five. Fives were bullies, nasty. Bright garish red, like B. B was red, but he was not as rude. He forgot things though. Like his keys. Impatient.
She sighed, her head slipping and resting on her wrist. She could feel her pulse on her cheek.
"Seven!" said her teacher, continuing to fill the board. "Say it with me. Seven!"
Later, they got to practice identifying numbers. She had learned before, at home. Kindergarten was not meeting her new knowledge expectations.
Sitting at the table, she strived to make conversation to ease the ache inside her brain. "I like sevens. Aren't they the prettiest color you've ever seen?"
They boy next to her glared at her the way his mother must have glared whenever he lied. "Teacher wrote in black, stupid!" His voice was tannish and hot.
The girl shifted up, sitting up on her heels. "I know that! When you look straight at it, it is black. But when you see it to the sides, not directly," she waved her hands out in her peripheral vision to demonstrate "it is pretty and turquoise. I like that."
"No it isn't," he insisted stubbornly. "You're being stupid."
"You're coo-coo," another girl at the table said. She twirled her hand like the big kids did, like Teacher said never to do. "Coo-coo."
The girl went home that day, her face flushed with the indignation of being called coo-coo and lied to. "Mom, some kids at school said seven isn't turquoise!"
Her mother looked at her. Her voice, green-gray and amused, clouded the air. "Silly girl."
"But they are!" The girl insisted. "Like J. Except seven is a girl, and I can't be sure what J is. J is a stranger."
"No it isn't," her mother said, perplexed.
"It is so! And your voice is kind of like 9, and 9 is a baby. We tried to draw nines today." Her mind wandered as a child's is bound to.
"Don't be silly," her mother said.
The girl started at her, beginning to panic. "Am I coo-coo?"
"No, you are imagining. Like when you thought sharks lived in the toilet."
Imaginary things were not real. This was.
Real real real.
Orange dark-green yellow black. Real.
8: Dark-blue, weepy, depressed. Self-pitying.
She kept her mouth shut for over two years.
Everyone could draw sevens now, could write out all twenty-six colorful alphabet letters. Now they did words.
She got a perfect score on the spelling test. Her teacher was proud, taking her aside to tell her how well she did. "Did you study at home?"
The safe, familiar periwinkle cloud, the pride, encouraged her. "It looked right," she said shyly. "It looks right when it is right."
The teacher nodded. "I know what you mean. The letters do not make sense if the word is spelled wrong."
"And the colors."
Her teacher looked her in the eyes, confused. "What?"
She shrunk, small and afraid, ducking her head. "Never mind," she said, a small purple whisper.
Eleven: two ones.
1: Yellow, obnoxious, friends with 2, male, about fourteen.
11: Double trouble.
She went to middle school, signing up for Band. They went to the instrument trial day, and she tried the flute. It was hard to get a sound, but she succeeded after much spitting.
The silvery-blue sound, mystic and far away, grabbed her heart, her eyes, and shook her. The sound coated her eyes, her throat, both bony hands where they rested on the September-cool metal.
"This one," she said to her mother. "The flute. It's beautiful.
She went to Band days later, skinny and nervous. Everyone was fooling around with their instruments, forcing loud gusty sounds into the cramped air. Her head was full of green-brick clarinet squeals, golden-syrup trumpets, a pair of rusty squabbling trombones.
She closed her eyes, watching the show against her eyelids.
Fireworks. Musical fireworks.
Thirteen: a one and a three.
3: light blue, small, sweet, a young girl.
13: A difficult pairing, hard to get along. First number dominates, yellow with blue lumps.
She hit puberty late, but hit it she did.
The shift in hormones in her young body caused the colors she lived with to grow, to get bolder, stronger. They coated her skin, scaring her, exploding in her mind.
She was alone, sad, curled in a corner in her room sobbing purple sobs.
Fourteen: a one and a four.
4: Silver, an adult male, in charge of the younger numbers but in reality too busy to watch them.
14: A come-uppance, mostly yellow with silver spangles.
Her brother left a book on the living room floor, carelessly left on the carpet until he could be bothered to return. She picked it up, feeling sorry for it, and turned it over in her hands. The title was spelled out, each letter getting its own color.
The colors did not match hers, and her head ached, but something told her to keep looking. Was it the yellow A, that so matched her own?
She did not sleep that night, instead staying up, reading the book over and over again while crouching on her bed. When morning broke, she leaned back on her heels and shivered. She had found something that agreed with her, that understood her.
She refused to be silent then, instead going to the psychology teacher at school and staring at him from the entrance to his room.
"Can I help you with something," he teased, his voice as olive green as the Z's in his last name.
"Is the letter A yellow?" she asked him. "Or am I crazy like everyone says I am?"
He looked at her. "I think you had better come in." She did, and they spoke, and she left emboldened.
After that, she began to insert her colors back into her family, insisting that they listen.
"Saturdays are brown," she told her father one day on the way to Orchestra practice.
"What are you talking about?"
"They just are."
Her mother eventually grew fed-up with it, and swore. The word began with a midnight-blue F, ended with a sharp magenta K, and shook the girl to her core. "Why are you doing this? Why are you making this up all of a sudden?"
She tossed the book on their bed and stormed to her room, sitting against the door and staring at the pink wall across from her.
Fifteen: A one and a five. Mostly yellow with red streaks, pure aggression.
It took her parents some months to come around.
Her classmates didn't come around at all. Even a year later, they still made a mockery out of her explanations, her tired attempts to convince them that she was real.
She returned to school for tenth grade just as tired as she had left it. She had left Band, still playing her beautiful silver-blue flute in Orchestra, and moved on to Choir.
There she met a friend, a girl who had a greenish-yellow name and a greenish-yellow voice. Her hair was so red that the girl was afraid she would cancel herself out and disappear forever.
"Can I tell you something?" she asked her friend. She was nervous, five years old again and terrified.
"Of course. Always."
"Your name is just as green as your voice."
The older girl looked at her and smiled. "I have heard about that. Synesthesia?"
The girl nodded, and hugged her, shaking with relief and years of suppressed tears. "Thank you. Thank you."
That night she went to bed, lulled into an easy and content sleep by the green beats of her heart.