With ‘Tints and Tinges’, I wanted to explore the theme of communication without words;
if someone was let down badly by the spoken exchange, was it possible that they might look to another form of perception as an alternative? In the case of the protagonist, she substitute words for colours. However, she eventually trusts these to such an extent that they begin to dominate the way she feels and thinks, eventually leading her to rely purely on them and refusing to speak.
I like to write at my desk in the music room, as it is at the front of the house, enabling me to ‘people watch’. However, this summer I am having a log cabin built in my garden and I am expecting this to become my new writing sanctuary, where I will hopefully be visited by the hedgehogs and foxes which frequent the area.
Vanessa Horn, one of the three runners-up in the Wild Words Winter Solstice Writing Competition 2016, with 'Tints and Tinges'. This is her winning story:
Tints and Tinges
I was about eight years old when I realised that words couldn’t be trusted. It was first thing on a bright June morning when my mother, limited in pleasantries and cavalier in manner, announced, “Your father has moved out.” The language itself was simple – comprehensive - but the sensations I received from her were not. No, these took the form of colour: pulsating, vibrant shades of red which were as blistering as the centre of our hearth fire, flames licking at log-edges, waiting to erupt and scald any innocent passer-by. Communicative. Dramatic. It was then that I recognised it was colour which expressed the truth. Not words.
With colour, there was just enough shade-range to gauge every nuance and sensation that you needed. No more, no less. Example: next doors terrier, Lucy. The russet brown which shone from her told me she was ready to play. And from Smokey-Smudge, my lop-eared rabbit; when I sensed his delicate shade of blue, I knew that he was hungry or lonely. Animals were easy. My peers, too, really, once they’d established I wasn’t going to interrupt or argue with them anymore. Their fickle flashes of sense-colours allowed me to quickly assess their moods, their auras. Inevitably, I became more popular, the girl who complied. Albeit silently.
Of course, the adults made the most fuss about my elective mutism. My teachers correctly – but perhaps not for the reasons they perceived - blamed my silence on the abrupt departure of my father. Immediately, they went all out, hauling in the Ed Psych and every other official they could lay their hands on, to ‘cure’ me. Considering how many times I’d previously been reprimanded for chatting, you’d think they’d have appreciated the sudden silence. Encouraged it, even. But no, they had to investigate. To attempt a resolution. Looking back, I suppose, in a strange sort of way, I appreciated this intense attention, quite enjoying my mysterious status.
Being wordless had other advantages too. At home each day, when Mother had finally exhausted her freshly-found cleaning regime, we got used to sitting together companionably, watching TV (me: pale blue) and staring into the fire (Mother: a simmering brown). Now that I wasn’t talking, she didn’t seem to feel the need – as previously - to talk at me, either. We seemed to have a new understanding. It was undemanding. Peaceful. Did that mean my father had been the instigator of all previous arguments and rows? Well, probably not; looking back, it was probably the combination of the two of them – mismatched personalities, most likely. Maybe I had my part to play as well. Who knew? But, regardless, I valued the new serenity, all the same.
Communicating wasn’t a problem. Not while I used my colour palette. I thought in colours, dreamt in colours. Expressed myself by using colours, not just in my painting (although I did actually do this on a daily basis) but in my head as well. It was a new life. One which worked for me: it didn’t let me down.
Until one day, some months later. Again, it was in the morning, but this time I had already left the house and was ambling my way to school. A little less popular by this stage – after all, I had been mute for over a term now, and the novelty of a silent me had definitely worn off – I was by myself, dawdling, daydreaming. At some point, I noticed the small tabby cat wandering along the pavement. Instantly, I could sense the colours around him, just like when I’d first starting experiencing colours. Shades of red. Danger. Menace. I didn’t recognise exactly why at first; it wasn’t until he neared the edge of the pavement that I realised he was going to cross the road. The heavily traffic-laden road.
I opened my mouth to yell a warning. But my unpractised vocal chords retaliated after so many days of silence, emitting nothing more than squeaking. A pathetic and diluted grey – no use to anyone. Not least a traffic-oblivious cat. My heart pumping even faster now – I had to warn the animal - I tried again. With much more energy. And accompanied by a deep, rich black: anxiety and desperation. This time, although not quite a shout, my voice was louder – “Stop!” This time the cat heard me. Looked around. Then, with a swish of his tail, darted back the way he had come, towards the hedges and away from the traffic. From danger. He was safe. My legs suddenly wobbly, I sank onto the ground by my satchel, watching the animal slink into the distance, oblivious to the hazard he’d so nearly faced.
After that, I got it. Well, more than I had previously, anyway; most importantly, I understood that I couldn’t change the way things were, and certainly not then, when I was only a child. That my self-enforced silence made no real difference to anyone, least of all me. Seems obvious now, I know. But I didn’t realise then that the world didn’t revolve around me. That what is said isn’t always what’s meant. Why would I?
After I’d used my voice again, there didn’t seem to be any point in continuing to be mute. It may have been due to the cat or perhaps it was just that I had come to terms with my loss; even though I didn’t know at that point that my father had actually left us to live with another woman, maybe I’d realised that lies – black or white – can be how people get through life. So I began to speak again. Initially so softly that only the closest in proximity could hear me. Understand me. But it was a start, I suppose. A re-emerging into humanity. However, even after I’d started talking again, I never did entirely trust words. I still don’t. I continue to rely predominantly on colours for my understanding and intuition. After all, they tell the truth. Always.