Lois leaned against the window panes, carelessly letting the afternoon sun bathe her in autumn leaves and wash her problems away. She did this every morning, you noticed, while she ruffled the black and white newspaper and pretended to read it.
Everyone knew she couldn’t read, but they didn’t say anything because she could barely keep a conversation alive either.
She also hummed. Tunes of darkness like the sticky syrup Al drizzled all over their pancakes on Sundays. Lois couldn’t remember the words but she could remember the instruments and beats that made her lips bounce together and curl. You used to wonder, back when she had just moved into the place, what songs she had listened to in her past life. Now you just listen and tap against your books and try not to stare into her face.
You talked to her once for the first time, yesterday, with your tongue in a knot and clammy hands locked behind your back. “Hello,” you said, “my name is Milo.”
Lois’ eyes darted up from her newspaper. “Milo, Lois,” she whispered.
You loved the way your names sounded together and the way her cheeks puffed out when saying her own name. Lois searched you up and down while waiting for your response. You noticed she had big emerald eyes that the sea had crafted itself. You blurted out, “Do you think I’m good enough?”
Lois didn’t seem taken aback by this question, and she actually considered it while twirling her ringlets.
The sun darted behind a cloud and shadows were soaking her face like a gray paint can tipped over.
“I guess if I could give you any color, I’d give you blue.” She murmured it with her eyes rolling all over the newspaper and her brown lips pursed. Her voice sounded like an orchestra of silhouettes shaped like peace and beauty hidden behind a mask. “What’s my color?”
You froze with your mouth slightly open. You didn’t think anyone had ever gotten past two lines with Lois and now you had. Although you knew she spoke in poetry and you didn’t know where this conversation was going, you stammered, “G-green.”
This was a lie. She was all the colors. She was life. Her hair was the roots of the trees and her eyes were lakes dotted all over the world. She had many eyes but today she was only using two. The sky was her newspaper as she pretended to read it and blend in. You thought she knew that blending in wasn’t an option.
You waltzed back into reality with the scent of tattered blankets from the army and a heart that was so close to love it could practically touch it. She didn’t smell it but that was okay because you were ashamed.
Today she glanced up at the ceiling and scrunched her face up tight and muttered, “Green.”
You wanted to jump out of your seat and sing and dance and throw your book at the unforgiving blanket of clouds. She remembered your conversation and the color you gave her. But the way her mouth pointed the wrong direction on her face forced you to think about other possibilities of her opinion about green.
You regretted every word of your little tête-à-tête and thought absentmindedly to yourself that you should’ve said yellow.
Later that day when Al shoved a bowl of gruel in front of your mouth and asked if you wanted ranch on the side, you were too busy thinking about Lois and the way she pinched her newspaper at the dinner table and didn’t eat until everyone was seated. Al shouted in your ear about how lucky you were to find a nice orphanage like his and dumped ranch on it anyways.
You were feeling brave like daisies holding up against the thunderstorms so you took a seat next to her. She was at the far end of the table and didn’t acknowledge you. When Al slid into his seat at the head, she stuck her spoon into the mush and began eating.
Too disgusted to eat Al’s leftover mixture, you left your bowl alone and took a deep breath. You need to tell her something without anyone else hearing and that wasn’t going to be a problem because they were all yelling and roughhousing across the table.
“Lois,” you breathed, and her head inched towards you.
“Blue, Milo.” She blinked a few times at the newspaper as if she was confused and you saw an eyelash drift from them. It landed on her cheek and she didn’t detect it.
You smiled, gnawed on your lip until you tasted metallic blood, and clasped your hands together. They itched to brush the eyelash off her cheek but you didn’t think she was ready for physical touch yet.
“I have to tell you something,” you confessed, and her eyes flicked to yours. “I’m leaving tomorrow. I’m going to go into hiding underground for a few years. More than a few, actually. I need to get away from this orphanage. It’s driving me crazy. I’m going to bring food and money and I’ll sleep and think about love and life and death.”
Lois’ lips parted and you thought she didn’t understand. Her hair came like a waterfall down her head and shoulders and when she shook it the light glinted off. Her eyes were grayer today and when she closed them you could imagine the gears in her mind clicking into place.
Finally, she spoke. “Blue life, blue death, blue beneath the ground.”
You sighed and tried to hide your happiness because this was a serious subject. “Yes.”
It was then she returned to her newspaper and picked up where she left off and continued to imagine herself literate. You placed your hands under your legs to remind yourself you had too much dignity to eat Al’s slop.
The next morning you found Lois at her usual spot with the same paper from last night. You could barely see the black block-lettered title. It read: TWO MEN ARRESTED FOR MURDER. You didn’t want Lois looking at this paper. You only wanted her to see the beauty, not the pain.
“Lois, green,” you called, and she looked up.
She didn’t smile at the ‘green’ but she pursed her lips and breathed through her nose.
“Blue and green life, blue and green death, blue and green beneath the ground.” You sounded silly and a couple of people around you giggled but you ignored them. Silver hope was going to leak out of your eyes if she didn’t understand.
But she did.
“Green hills, green orphanage, green above the ground,” she murmured with a sorrowful tone stuffed with the rotten stink of last night’s dinner.
You fantasized a world where you couldn’t understand her, but this was reality and she was declining your offer. Something leaked out of your eyes and it wasn’t hope.
She returned to the newspaper, licking the tip of her finger and turning the page. You tried to smooth your hair over your eyes so she didn’t see that they were glazed over like frosting on a cupcake.
Deciding with droplets of confidence left that you’d try one last time, you took a large step towards her. You rested your hand on hers, which was on the window seat.
Her hand was cold and smooth like a million stones, but you only got to feel it for a second because she pulled it away almost immediately. There was a misunderstood expression written all over your face and you wanted to ask if she was okay.
Instead, you whispered, “Blue and green.”
Her eyes faded into black and she frowned to keep herself from portraying too much emotion. Perhaps you’d never be ready for physical touch.
By noon when Al was serving his leftover gruel for lunch, you were halfway out the window of your room with a bag of supplies over your shoulder. You weren’t usually one to escape from a place that gave you a bed and food but you needed to get away. From Lois, from life.
The soulless city greeted you with icy kisses on your cheeks and led you over to the nearest sewer hole. You were about to climb in when you heard something familiar.
“Blue,” the color was riding the wind and slipping off someone’s tongue.
You saw her face in the clouds, “Green.” You knew it wasn’t her color but you said it anyways.
The wind blew her into pieces, the fog scattering, and that’s the last thing you saw before plummeting into darkness and hearing the sewer hole lid slam above your head.