Winter, 2007
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

It always happened when the room was too quiet. Random phrases were once again racing in and out of her mind. Black forest, red velvet, white wine, blue cheese, hash browns... Her hands tightened into fists and she furiously shook her head, trying to dispel the obsessive thoughts that assailed her daily.

She wiped her hands across her apron as she turned to the pot that was now boiling over. When she was putting the hot pan in the sink, she noticed a movement in the reflection of the window. She turned quickly, but her guests were still sitting motionless, right where she'd left them...

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.

The Taste of Color

By Jessica Mayo, Ames, IA

My hands crawled across the cluttered desktop, searching for pen and paper. Fingers finally finding purchase on a mechanical pencil, I began scribbling the list. Colors flashed before my eyes, accompanying the taste of the ingredients as they came to mind: red and yellow grape tomatoes, fresh parsley, three tilapia fillets, two lemons, one baguette. "Do you remember what I need to make the red velvet cake?"

As usual, my husband appeared as if on cue, laughing as he came into the kitchen. The low vibrations filled the room with his presence. "How could I not? It's the only food with a name that matches your synesthesia."

"I can't help it if I taste in color. It's what made me such a good chef." When I was little, my parents just thought I was crazy for thinking an orange tasted violet. But I'm not the only one who crosses her senses. Others with synesthesia see colors when they look at numbers or hear a musical note. Mine is connected to taste.

"Yes, but it's also the reason why the only dessert I get is red velvet." He swept through the kitchen, grabbing his keys from the hook near the door.

"What am I supposed to do, make you black forest cobbler? It would be down right hypocritical!" I shuddered, as I always do, at the thought of the moldy green taste of cherries. "Oh, we should have a good bottle of wine. White, I suppose."

Jason kissed me on the forehead. "What color is the wine actually?"

"I usually see some variation of dark blue, as long as you don't get anything too sweet. You won't take too long, will you?" I asked, tracing a finger over the stubble lining his jaw.

"Thirty minutes," he murmured in my ear, his breath tickling the loose hairs at my temple.

The door swung shut behind him. I ran my hands through my blond hair, cut short to keep it out of my face. It was our anniversary, and after being head chef at a local restaurant for over ten years, eating out was no treat for me. But this meal was more ambitious than I had attempted for some time, and the butterflies in my stomach emitted none of the color that tastes and smells did.

I had almost finished lining up all of my utensils by the time Jason got home. "Where do you want me to put everything?" he asked.

"Line it up on the open shelf in the fridge. I'll need the tomatoes, then the parsley, then the fish. But first I want to get the cake in the oven so it can cool before I frost it."

Jason put his hand on my shoulder, spinning me around to face him. "Are you sure you want to do all of this? I can help, you know."

Flushing, I stepped away. "I can manage, thank you. I'm not an invalid."

"I didn't mean -"

"Of course you didn't. But it's been months since the accident and I need to cook again. You have to understand that."

He sighed as he left the kitchen, but I was finally back in my element. The ingredients in the bowl began to coalesce, wet and dry smoothing out and losing their individual character. By the time I poured the batter into the waiting pan, my mouth was watering at the thought of the fluffy, brick red taste.

On my way upstairs to change, I fingered the fancy china Jason had set out for our meal. Last year at this time, I was still bedridden and depressed. I had come a long way, and the dining sensation we would share that evening would be the evidence. But who needed proof - Jason or me?

Jason had fallen asleep in front of the television, so I changed into a slinky cocktail dress and turned off the TV before going back down. Silence descended upon the house. In the stillness, the popping of olive oil in the skillet sounded like fireworks. I quickly rinsed the tomatoes and added them to the pan. Next came the parsley, salt, and pepper. As they sizzled, the kitchen filled with aromas, a perfect palette of color filling my vision. My hands tightened into fists at the unexpected flurry of intangible hues.

I calmed myself by focusing on each individual scent. Tonight's meal tasted mostly of earth tones topped with a light rose shimmer. But, as usual, my vision didn't match the description: lemon and brown butter tilapia with seared grape tomatoes. The brown butter sauce was actually the most colorful part, a rose topping. The red and yellow tomatoes tasted the color of oak and maple, respectively. The tilapia matched the sand on the Gulf shores - an off white that gleamed in the sun.

The tomatoes were starting to burst, so I transferred them to the waiting plate and started to season and cook the fish. When they were firm to the touch, I added the fillets to the serving platter with the seared tomatoes.

Next came the most difficult part: browning the butter. I added it to the skillet, and saw at once a bright red glow. It faded slightly as the butter heated, until it reached a soft pink hue. That was the cue to add the lemon juice and parsley and remove it from the heat. I drizzled the mixture over the rest of the meal, like faded flower petals on silk sheets.

Taking the pan off the heat, I tasted a few drips of the butter. A flash of light flickered to my right, from the window. I knew even then that it was probably just the butter, stimulating my senses in the odd way taste always has for me. But I felt drained from the brief time I had spent in the kitchen, from enduring the barrage of colors and the thoughts that accompanied them. Hearing nothing from upstairs, I crept out the backdoor to investigate.

It was pitch black outside, the nearest neighbors about a half-mile away. There was no light to allude to what I once had, no tastes to bring up memories of color. Without a moon overhead, I wasn't the only one who was blind. The darkness leveled the playing field. I didn't have to struggle alone to make sense of a world that still had color, but no shape. I didn't have to rely on food to experience what I had lost.

Swallowing hard, I stepped back inside, the light assaulting my sightless eyes. But the smell of dinner waiting on the counter brought the colors flooding back in.

Taking a shaky breath, I felt my way to the staircase to get Jason. It was time to eat.

What Jessica won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.

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