She begins anew. Today, honeydew green. She pours the paint, loads up the foam roller. The walls feel spongy, but with each pale green swathe over azure, the suffocating darkness eases. The azure lost its power after just five days. Before that, a creamy saffron lasted two weeks. Rose held steadfast for twenty days. She has gone through lavender, apricot, flax, celadon, periwinkle, honey–she’s lost track. 

A year ago, she woke to every nerve juddering. Darkness, thick and clammy, above her. A brutal heaviness. How long, she cannot remember. At some point, she was alone. She turned on all the lights, vomited. She had just moved cross-country, had no one nearby to call. She drove herself to the E.R. where a young nurse swabbed her for DNA, dropped the swabs on the floor, had to begin again. The nurse apologized. It was her first time. My first time, too, she thought.

Dread prickled. Was it? She vomited again. She took the emergency contraceptive and antibiotics offered. “Police?the nurse asked. Her cheek suddenly burned and a voice (her mother’s? grandmother’s?) hissed, Shush! and she shook her head. 

She changed the locks, took two sick days off from work, but couldn’t find a therapist taking additional patients. She ate less, drank more, avoided her new coworkers, who stopped mentioning Happy Hours. She turned off her phone, binge-watched Friends and Big Bang Theory, put every light on a timer so there was no darkness, ever.  

Still, terror seized her nightly, even on the couch with the TV blaring, every light blazing, every window lock checked, the double-bolted door, checked. Shaking, she emptied the bedroom closet, piled it with blankets, placed a lamp by her pillow. She slept. Then didn’t. Darkness loomed again, huge, ancient, malicious.  And she was so, so small.

Catnapping one day at work, she awoke, head on desk, cheek wet with drool. But blissfully rested. She had dreamt color cradled her tenderly, like bath water, like summer air, like light. Later, she stood in the paint aisle at Lowes. A chalky pink made her think of her Uncle Ronny, the mints he chewed. Her stomach clenched. She turned towards the blues, greens, then golds. There. Peach Sorbet

She cleared the closet and painted. Afterwards, she arranged sleeping bag, comforter, pillows. She lay down. But the white ceiling knifed through her. She turned on her side, felt it slashing. Again, she pulled everything out, set up the ladder, painted. At last, hammocked wholly in luminous peach, she slept.

Two months. Then, dread returned. Again, she lay under an immense weight, her lungs scraped thin. The next day at Lowe’s she bought a pale lilac. 

It’s been a while. She’s lost her job, lives on herbal tea, canned fruit, crackers. She is hopeful. Each new color holds her a bit more snugly. Soon, she will be enfolded fully in layers of color strong yet soft as spider silk. Someday, she will emerge fresh and new. Or sleep on, held forever in color.

Mary Rohrer-Dann

Mary Rohrer-Dann writes and paints in central PA. and is an educator and two-time Pushcart nominee. She is the author of "Taking the Long Way Home" (Kelsay Books), and "La Scaffetta: Poems from the Foundling Drawer" (Tempest Productions, Inc.) Other work appears/is forthcoming in Vestal Review, Third Wednesday, Clackamas Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Boston Literary Magazine, and other venues. She is a long-standing volunteer.