Sojourn with the Watercolor People

The Watercolor People, a collage by Melanie Lamaga, The Metaphysical CircusFiction by Melanie Lamaga

The Watercolor people are angry with me. You may not think that sounds ominous, but believe me, they have a list of people they’d like to kill. They’ll go through with it, too, given the chance. Even the children can be vicious.

Now you’re laughing.

Perhaps you, like many others, have been fooled by the appearance of two-dimensionality, their pale colors and wispy bodies, their soft, translucent skin. Once I made the same mistake, but then I fell in love with a Watercolor girl.

Yes, I am familiar with the debate regarding the Watercolor people’s ability to love. Despite the success of Jonas Barberinski’s book, and other scholarly articles that attempt to describe their culture, if you got to know them yourself you’d see—everything is controversial.

At the time I became involved with the Watercolor people, my life, while full and satisfying in many respects, had become predictable. One day, in a mercurial mood, I found myself at the museum of cultural history. That’s where I saw her — Dusty Rose. She saw me, too. It’s very rare, you know, to be noticed by a Watercolor girl. We began spending afternoons together, floating through the museum exhibitions, holding hands.

I quickly became seduced by her ways, so delicate and full of subtle shades of meaning. When we were together, I felt submerged in a strange ecstasy, a fluid dream state from which I was loath to awaken.

Two weeks later, I proposed.

When I told my family, they panicked. No one they knew had even visited the Watercolor people, never mind fallen in love with one of them. My mother disintegrated and had to be given treatments.

Although the anthropologists will tell you that for the Watercolors, marrying an outsider is taboo, Dusty Rose’s family accepted me. That’s the thing about them: they may love you for spiriting away their beloved sister, or swear a blood-oath to kill you in return for an ill-considered favor.

I tried to absorb the Watercolor code of conduct. I asked so many questions that I earned the nickname Why. But the fact is, many of our most basic truths and assumptions, the source from which our culture draws, seem offensive, even toxic, to the Watercolors.

Yet, in other ways they live as we do. They eat, drink, laugh and work. They play sports well, though losing is considered polite. Sex is more like a dissolving than a collision. Cooler, yet no less pleasurable, I promise.

Even before Dusty Rose and I had completed the lengthy marriage rituals, we had our first baby: a bubbly girl with translucent skin. We named her Violet. The next year we had our son, a wisp of a child called Cerulean, after his grandfather. It was the happiest time of my life, except for one thing. My wife was the one earning our keep, in accordance with Watercolor tradition.

By the last year of our honeymoon, which in their culture lasts a decade, I’d become horribly restless. In my old life I’d never even kept an apartment that long.

I needed to feel useful. I explained that in my culture men work. I wanted to honor the honeymoon period, but would it hurt to get out of the house for a few hours a day, mixing colors, perhaps, or washing walls?

It seemed a reasonable request, politely made, but the next thing I knew, the whole town wanted to boil me in oil—including my own wife and children. Frantically I searched my reference books. How to make it up to them? How to explain? I could find no answer. Even the great Barbarinski shrugged and shook his head, though not without sympathy.

The Watercolor people’s anger crested toward me like a tsunami. A marriage-dissolution decree flowed down the chain of command. Knowing a death sentence would follow, I fled.

Until I returned home, I hadn’t realized how much I’d come to love that place: the permanent twilight, the muted tones, the soft edges. Now I find the city stark, garish, painfully sharp. Traffic sounds and clanking pipes, footsteps and voices grate my nerves like metal spoons beating a cast iron pan.

I want to go back.

I dream of Dusty Rose, her delicate, blushing face, the fall of her hair against my skin, a curving knife in the folds of dress. I remember Violet, age nine, dancing on the beach, watery light glinting off her long, filed nails; and Cerulean, a volatile boy with his test tubes and potions, already a master of herbs that can kill or heal.

I close my eyes and let the whispering echoes of their voices wash over me. I’ve consulted every expert, read all the books, trying to divine a solution. Useless. It’s the hardest thing for someone of our culture to accept: there is simply nothing to do.

The Watercolor people are angry with me, and that is that. But, if they don’t kill me first — as surely as the tide that rises must fall — one day they’ll love me again.

4 Responses to “Sojourn with the Watercolor People”

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  1. Debbie Russell says:

    lolol That was great!

  2. catmint says:

    Love this short story, Melanie. I want to visit the Watercolor people, but I’m not sure I want to live there permanently.

  3. Irene says:

    Loved it !! He’s staying busy staying away, and yet he doesn’t want to stay away…

  4. Cora Nowell says:

    That was a fun story! Now I’m thinking of the Watercolor people…I’ll look closer, the next time I’m in an art gallery!

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