by Graham B.
A synesthete can taste what the world looks like.
Green tasted sour, Hannah remembered as she bit into the apple. Her mouth wanted squeeze shut, but she forced herself to take another bite, savoring the taste.
Green was sour, red was sweet, and yellow somewhere in between.
Hannah heard her phone chirp the tone for Ben. If Ben was a single color, it would be red. Hannah smiled in anticipation of dinner with Ben. Pink salmon, white wine, dark bitter green spinach, yellow and orange cheeses and beige pears. Every color was coming over for dinner.
Hannah felt around for the phone and spoke into it.
"Okay Google, reply: See you soon."
She couldn't read what was on the phone, but she didn't need to. She went to the sink and washed the apple juice off her hands. The water was clear, and so had no taste. But it was alive in a different way, she knew. She shut off the valve, and the sound of clear shooting from the spout faded to a bubbling swirling down the silver drain.
Hannah considered how Ben would excite her talents tonight. It was always his abilities as a chef which could tickle her palate and bring the riot of colors to her world. How fortunate for a girl born blind, but with synesthesia to have met Ben? Who else could taste color the way Hannah did, as it bled into the space where her vision should have been?
A familiar footfall caused the loose board outside her door to squeak, just seconds before the doorbell rang and brought a smile to Hannah's lips.
Hannah was wearing a dress that her friend Maisie told her was evening black. But to Hannah, all silk dresses smelled like pink, and all wool smelled like gray. She brushed her hair back, adjusted her dress and hoped she looked the picture that the sighted were always after - that mysterious silhouette that entices and enflames.
Ben entered the apartment.
"Hi, Hannah," he said. "Wow, you look beautiful."
Ben carried the groceries to the kitchen, followed by Hannah. Then he turned and kissed her, sharing the frosty white taste of a breath mint.
"This will be my own recipe, and with something you've never tasted before."
"Oh my," said Hannah. "Something new? I can't wait!"
Aromas drifted from the bags. She could smell the salmon, cheese, and other familiar scents of countless meals she had enjoyed with Ben since they began dating.
And something else. It had a very odd odor, something that hid in the recesses between a rainbow's colors. Hannah could not identify it, but it was there, teasing her nostrils.
That must be the mystery item, she thought.
"You can open the wine," said Ben, and Hannah heard the sound of a bottle landing on the counter. She pulled open a drawer and felt around for the corkscrew until she found it.
"How was your day?" she asked as she skewered the cork.
"Well, uh... the usual. An executive chef's work is never done, but business was slow today. I let Carly run it so I could be here."
"I like Carly. She's great in the kitchen. Not as great as you, but great."
"Yeah," said Ben distantly. "She is."
The cork came free, along with a deep maroon color that saturated the air.
"Oh, this is embarrassing," said Ben.
He grabbed the bottle.
"I thought I brought the chardonnay. This is Pinot. Sorry."
"That's okay. I like red better, anyway. Even if it's with salmon."
She could almost hear Ben smile as he began tearing open packages. Hannah poured two glasses, and Ben got to work, turning her apartment into a canvas for his art, the colors exploding into the air, bleeding into her lungs, coloring the world. And through it all, there was still that odd scent just below the surface, something rare.
Ben served dinner and the two made small talk across the table, discussing work, acquaintances, and of course, food. At the end of the entrée, Ben stood.
Hannah clapped her hands.
"I've been waiting. Is this the mystery food?"
"It could be," said Ben.
He went to the kitchen, then brought back something which still danced at the edge of the rainbow. Hannah finally decided what color it was.
It was purple.
Or the closest thing to purple. It smelled alive in a different way, the scent of premonition. The smell of change in the air.
"What is this?"
"It's a tart. I made it with figs."
"I've never had figs," said Hannah.
And she wasn't sure she liked them. The scent invaded the room and chased Ben's masterpiece away. Hannah knew something was coming.
"Hannah, we need to talk."
Ben's words fell like footfalls, and the colors fled before them, all except for the terrible purple.
"Is it Carly?" she asked.
Ben said nothing, and the purple began fading as the tart cooled. Seconds ticked by, until Hannah spoke again.
"Do you love her?"
"It just happened," said Ben. "I'm sorry. I didn't know how else to tell you."
Ben stood, and Hannah felt the warmth of his hand just before it squeezed hers.
"I'm sorry, Hannah. I wish you only happiness."
Footfalls to the door, door closing, the squeak of the loose floorboard outside, then silence.
Hannah sat a few moments with the colors of the meal still in her mouth. She picked up her fork and ventured a taste of Ben's parting gift.
The taste of purple invaded every sense. It was the color of the world opening up to her.
Hannah took another bite, then another.