“Am I facing the right direction?” Liam asked.
“Yes.” Ivy held his hand firmly and guided him Westward—Liam knew it was West because he felt the warm sun glinting off his face and heating his nose. He could feel the crunch of pebbles of sand underfoot, countered by springy moss just threatening to toss him up to the stars, and far away could hear the hum of trains, the honks of cars, and the hiss of a cat harmonizing with a lonely dog’s bark.
“We’re stopping in three…two…one,” Ivy instructed, as their footsteps slowed and halted in unison. Ivy liked to guide Liam, and on these excursions he let her. Liam tipped his head up, providing the soft sea-breeze with an ideal angle to dance across his nose and lips. He gulped the tangy air.
“I love the ocean!” he declared.
“Liam,” Ivy corrected, “it’s a lake. The same lake we go to every month when I’m let off early from the library. Must I repeat it every time?"
Yes, she must. Liam needed things to be repeated to him many times because it was the only way he would remember them. Plus he just liked hearing Ivy’s voice spin coolly through the air like a tossed peppermint candy.
“I get off early, I come and pick up you, and we go to this lake that you confused for an ocean every single time-“
“Because it’s salty!”
“Sure, from pollution! It’s salty freshwater; there’s a difference.” Ivy sighed. “And there aren’t waves.”
“There aren’t?” Liam knew there weren’t, because Ivy had told him about waves many times over—they were large and powerful and could knock you off your feet before pulling you into the abyss of bustling sea life—but he liked hearing it.
“No. No waves whatsoever-”
“It’s starting.” Liam could feel the sun begin to set. The sun was truly the king of the world, for when the sun stepped down everything else hushed to silence and held still, mourning the loss of the beloved ruler, then rejoiced when it rose again. Even humans, Liam figured, even the most logical, scientific humans still felt a flurry of excitement when the sun climbed to its seat in the sky, because not only was it bright, shining, and eager with hope, but nobody could know what to do if the sun were to just quit.
If Ivy were anything like Liam, she would have asked him how he could know when the sun would set and what changes he felt in the landscape and why they even happened, but she wasn’t. Ivy didn’t question, just explained.
She was one of those logical, scientific humans who tried to repress her surprise at Liam’s prediction but, as it was proved accurate, still allowed herself a slight click of her tongue in approval.
“Tell me what it looks like,” Liam requested.
“You know what it looks like-“
“Tell me.” His voice rose to a demand, and Ivy complied.
“Well, right now the sky’s still light blue, which is like your pillow when you sleep.”
Light blue and pillow. Liam barely had to make a mental note of it, he had it committed to heart.
“And the sun’s yellow, which tastes like vanilla ice-cream and sugary sprinkles—not chocolate, the very sugary kind—and sounds like small children chasing each other on a trampoline.”
Sticky, bouncy, gleeful children.
“It’s changing,” Liam observed.
“Yes. Now it’s a mixture of orange and yellow and pink. You know what that’s called?”
How could he not? “Peach.”
“Correct. Peach looks like exactly how it sounds, all fluffy yet stiff like a marshmallow left overnight in a candy-dish, crunchy on the outside but once you bite in, it’s all gooey.”
Candied marshmallow. Liam giggled. “I have yet to understand why you always describe peach to me as a marshmallow and not a peach-fruit.”
Ivy shifted defensively. “Because the fruit looks nothing like the word! The word peach is soft but the fruit is juicy, tart, and stringy…like an orange’s plump cousin.” She cleared her throat. “Speaking of which, we’re on orange now. Orange is…” She paused. Ivy always paused at orange because she wanted to make it special, to compensate for red. “Orange feels like air in autumn and smells like school-busses at the beginning of the year, before they can get all dirty, and sounds like leaves on the ground.”
“But not the crackling leaves,” she continued. “That’s brown. I’m talking about the leaves you step on expecting to hear a crunch but all that you hear is the woosh of air escaping from underneath.”
Fallen, quiet leaves.
“And now we’re at…” Ivy cleared her throat again, and Liam could feel her turning away. His mind filled in the blank. Red.
“I’m not traumatized, you know,” he stated. “I can handle the color red! You can compare it to…well…”
The problem as that Liam didn’t have a basis of comparison and Ivy was too afraid to mention fire.
“Really Ivy,” Liam reassured. “This is a special month!”
Ivy snorted. It was a completely average month with nothing special ever previously mentioned, but Liam wasn’t giving up.
“It’s super, super special, because this is the month that you’re finally going to explain red to me. We all know you can only think of…the f-word, but in the meantime, how about you think of something else?”
“I won’t think of anything else!” Ivy decided not to move on. “And I won’t even say that darned letter.”
Liam felt his eyebrows scrunching. “Your middle name begins with an F. How do you handle that?”
Ivy’s hair whipped Liam’s forearm as she tossed it over her shoulder. “I simply don’t provide my middle name. They can’t require it.”
“Ivy,” Liam stated slowly, “you’re being ridiculous, and it is ridiculous that I was the only one of us in that fire and I am the one consoling you!”
“I know!” Ivy shrieked. “I had to go to preschool for no apparent reason, I already knew how to read and write and count to 20, but I was kicked out for eight awful hours a day while you were left in that stupid crib while our stupid parents went and did stupid stuff with live wires and forks!”
“Candles!” Liam shouted right back. “They were matches and candles, not wires and forks!”
“Same difference!” Ivy retorted, which Liam noted was an oxymoron. Same difference. One can’t have that. Just like red: ignored but so obviously shining in their faces.
“The point is that I wasn’t there and you were. I could have saved you!”
“You were four,” Liam pointed out. “What could you have done, climbed into the crib yourself?”
“I’ve broken an entire glass bowl: don’t underestimate me.”
That seemed dubious. Liam rubbed his forehead, squinting against the last, fullest rays of red. “I didn’t need saving. I’m just fine.”
With that proclamation the final burst of red fizzled out and the night cooled.
“I know I’m blind,” Liam said flatly. He held up one hand towards the lake’s breeze. “I know it and it’s happened, so don’t go telling me how you could have stopped it.”
“You were so good at drawing.” Ivy ignored him wistfully.
“I know that, too.”
“And solving puzzles—you were really good at those.”
“Ivy,” Liam asked nicely, shakily breathing in and out a few times to forget about the fire he was too young to remember anyway. “Can we go back to when you were the one answering the questions?”
“Sure.” Ivy spoke softly as the two embraced the new stillness introduced by the lack of red. “Shoot, we missed purple.”
Liam figured as much. Purple was always the quickest, fleeing from the clutches of vibrant red and navy like a fledgling star avoiding nosy cameras.
“Now it’s dark blue,” Ivy translated.
“What does it look like?”
Liam barely had to ask before Ivy jumped into a description. “Like when you’re suffocated by your pillow.”
Death by feathers and fluff. “Did it have to get so dark?”
“It’s a dark color.” Liam figured that Ivy would be smirking, pleased with her pun. “But if you don’t like that, then I guess I’ll say it’s like when you’re all wrapped up in a nest of blankets, like sour cream in a tortilla wrapper, and with each wrap you feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper and darker and deeper and…look, there’s the moon!”
Liam had no idea where Ivy was pointing or if she was even pointing at all, but he tipped his head all the way up. He liked to think he could see the moon, but the moon was the hardest.
If the moon so wished, it could have a government coup. Unlike the sun that entered and exited with fanfares and rainbows, the moon slid in and watched the world, observing its trends and observing its fear. The moon could take over if it so wished, and the moon was probably plotting to do so, just waiting for the right moment. The moon was terrifying and beautiful. Fires burned brighter under the light of the moon, but the sea breeze also flew stronger.
“I’m going back,” Ivy declared. Back to where was a question, and also how Liam would get back to her without potentially wandering knee-deep into water. Technically Liam could just use the apparently-white, foldable cane he kept grasped in his hands all of the time, but Ivy at least thinking she was the sole force guiding him. Liam liked it when Ivy was happy.
“Don’t leave me!” he whined, needier than strictly necessary. “Stay here! With me!”
Ivy sighed and, if Liam could trust his hearing, which he always could, giggled softly. “Fine. But I’m not looking at the moon anymore. It hurts my eyes…wait…that was insensitive.” Liam could feel Ivy’s eyes grazing the bottom of his neck.
“Don’t worry,” he murmured, his own eyes not breaking contact with the moon. “I’m not offended.”
He was not remotely offended; he wasn’t remote at all. Though his own feet grounded him and Ivy held him steadily, Liam felt as if his faulty, broken eyes had connected with the subdued and hidden light of the moon, both thriving in perpetual darkness and stumbling about in the quiet shadows, waiting for the proper time to open up again.