Every night at midnight, the purple clouds came out to dance with the blushing sky. I hated those goddamn clouds. The klaxons would sound, the whistles trilled, echoing down the cobbled alleyways. Windows clanged shut, doors slammed. And the world, in a matter of seconds, fell silent.
We had lived in the purple age for what seemed like a lifetime. I was born under a purple cloud, my parents unable to make the 5-mile drive to the hospital as I breached and mewled and shivered my way into the world. The thick, aluminum umbrella they held over us in the park still bore the long furrows and pockmarks from the mix of peroxide and hydrochloric acid that fell that day. My father wore scars on his arm like badges of honor; my mother’s face was bandaged for months and healed skewed and misshapen. Like a porcelain doll that had cracked open and been glued back together by a blind man.
“It was all for you, my boy.” He reminded me…many times.
In the kitchen, I would hear her call out, “You are our cloud child.” I rolled my eyes as I sat on the couch, mimicking her voice and flaring hand movements as I waited for a purple supper. They weren’t about to let me forget that I was something special, something more than just an unlucky midnight baby who caused both of his parents to be scarred for life.
It wasn’t that all of the foods we ate were purple. But when everything under the clouds was tinted and tinged, most companies had just given up on trying to dye or blend their mash into something vibrant. Instead, we slurped and gnashed and chomped on purple pea slurry, powdered blushroot blended with a deep, violet drip, and my personal favorite, indigo pears.
We ate in separate rooms. My mother often stood at the counter, her back to the living room where I sat watching a show or tapping away on my mobile. My father ate out in the garage, his plate balanced on one hand as he tinkered. We didn’t know what he was working on, but he was always out there, head down, eyes riveted. I was hoping for a new toy, or maybe a projector screen like the Barrys down the street had just installed. Mom probably wanted a new stove or maybe some kind of artificial upper lip, something to ease the shock when she went out in public. Everyone always stared. Families whispered, “Rain casualty”, “Purple survivor,” “This is why we have curfews,” “Poor, poor woman.”
Little did we know that he was working on something much more important, something spectacular, something that was going to change the world.
The fourth Friday in April was always a celebration. It was St. Bart’s Burgundy Blast, and it was about the booziest ballyhoo anyone would ever behold. I was too young, of course, but that year, alongside my brazen crew of 14-year-olds, we were quick enough to sneak in the back under the long, burlap dropcloth that framed the battens.
Mother never went. Father was the master of ceremonies. He was front and center as Mike Wormsworth lofted his striped ball python high over the head of Mary Maltinese and stroked its underbelly until it spewed lilac liquor into her tall, frosty mug. He was also on the mic when Freddy Tambourine rode the Amethyst Bull into the history books, recording a 12.8 second buck to best his brother Mikey.
And he was center stage, when, across the darkening room, he saw me peeking from behind the purpled curtains, my mauve face suckling on sour pears and slick cider candies. He smiled, waved, and then dashed behind a thick shroud, only to reappear moments later with a curtained cart.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” He started, almost immediately garnering the rapt attention of the masses, “allow me to present my grand invention.”
The skies beyond the tent were nearly black, the clouds heavy with their acid soup. The bright amber lights rimming the eaves cast an eerie glow over the faces of the onlookers, their purpled lips flecked with juice and spittle as they suckled their plum carrion. I edged forward, emboldened by his wave and my own curiosity. My compatriots pushed hard behind me, forming a dagger’s point that knifed through the crowd and soon carried us to the rim of the half-moon stage.
I could see the cart, its dark, shrouded shape was a mass of spires and bubbles. Something spectacular was underneath. I just knew it. He had worked in the garage for months, as though possessed by an inner fire that required stoking and tending to keep from being extinguished.
“Mother should be here,” I thought. She would never come out in public. Too much ogling, too many trolls.
“It has been 23 years since the purpling.” He declared. “And we still find ourselves at odds with this tempestuous weather. We are captives in our own enterprise of humanity. We are prisoners to the midnight purple.” There was a ripple of energy that swept over the crowd as they murmured in approval. I heard a few declarations of “That’s Right” and “Tell it Thomas.” Then there was a gasp, a collective shudder, and alongside my father, a remarkable beauty appeared.
She stood rack straight, her head held high, light brown curls cascading over her shoulders. I blinked hard, and then realized who I was looking at. It was Mother. She was whole. It was as if nothing had ever happened, as though the rain had never fallen. I wanted to cry out to her, wanted to rush on stage and envelop her in a hug. But I was riveted to the floor, frozen in space and time, shellshocked in my own skin.
“And so, we stand before you, people of purpose, to offer an alternative, a proposition of a future that rejects the hand we have been dealt and takes back control of the purple.”
He must have built something for her, a prosthetic? Maybe surgery? But in secret? Was that why she wore the bandages all the time? Maybe she was healing. Maybe she…was never scarred at all? No, that couldn’t be.
“I have built something that will change our fate, that will regain control over our environment, over our days and nights. Something that will stop this blasted acid rain.” Cheers erupted from the crowd, and we all felt the tension rise, something palpable, something…hopeful?
With a sweeping arm, he lifted the heavy cloth that had interred his invention, and we collectively went weak in the knees. I could hardly believe it. The crowd stood, mouths agape, eyes tearing. There were choked cries and shudders. Someone fainted. One of the kids next to me tried to rush the stage, but we pulled him back.
“I give you,” my father continued, his flair for drama emboldened by the response, “the Yellow Chomper.” Okay, so maybe the name needed some work, but when you’ve spent your life under a purple cloud, to suddenly be thrust into the presence of something like this: A color as bright and remarkable as Yellow, names, titles, whatever, it didn’t matter. It looked like a long, brilliant crayon. It had glass tubes that spilled out of the sides and flushed a bright yellow liquid along deep furrows that seemed to draw the purple straight from the air and siphon it through the bulbous base. Pumps whirred, gears turned, and out the back, a clear, almost white cloud was emitted.
Purple became yellow became white. It was magnificent. The crowd threatened to rush forward and engulf the creator, his suddenly beautiful wife, and his invention. But he raised his hands and warded them off.
“Today, we take the first step towards de-purpling this planet.” He declared. “Today, we take back our livelihood, our freedoms, our outside world.”
“Here, Here.” Cries went up from the crowd.
Father raised his arms triumphantly and then, surprising everyone, strode across the tent to the heavy burlap sidewall and cut the ties that held it rigidly in place. Mother pushed the cart across the stage and down a long ramp. She stood at the gaping hole that had spawned before her, and bravely plunged forward into the purpled mist that hovered beyond. As she walked, the yellow churned. A corridor was carved into the purple haze, weaving long stripes that seemed to cut into darkness and instill light. Mother marched on bravely, her paisley dress swaying side to side as a path of pure white radiated and glowed in her stead.
I couldn’t stand it anymore and raced up behind her, my arms outstretched, my eyes tearing up as I watched my heroes strive out into the night, churning purple to yellow to white. I hit the cloud layer hard, my arms digging into deep, fluffy moisture. I could barely move. It was like striding through a bog or pulling your boots out of quicksand. The children behind me hit the wall in sequence, each clinging to the fluffy slop, wrenching handfuls of white as they struggled to free their legs and hands.
“The first day of yellow…” I could hear my father yelling in the distance.
“The last day of purple…” My mother cooed alongside him.
We were pinned, trapped inside the dense by-product of some strange chemical reaction. We could hear the machine churning as they marched down Main Street, turned right on Chicory Road, and then rounded Cherry Lane in a long, sweeping circle before heading back to the tent where we waited.
There was a burbling sound. Then a sigh of gasses escaping. Then voices chattering. Then screams and footsteps and wails of abject terror.
I remember that day for many reasons. It was my first time trying cider candies. It was my first time at the Burgundy Blast. It was the first time seeing the color yellow. And it was the last time I saw my parents.
Most people called my father a hero. At least, that’s what they said to me in public. But behind their aluminum front doors and locked shutters, there were grumblings of madness, of idiocy, of hubris.
It’s now been four years since I lost my parents to the purple, and I’ve learned so much since that day. I’ve learned how to turn a wrench, how to build a pump, how to solder and weld and tape. I’ve learned how to make yellow.
And tomorrow, I’m going to learn how to turn this invention started by my father into a weapon, a purple eater, a periwinkle pursuer, a violet villifier, a plum pulsifier. I’m going to step out into that midnight mist and once and for all, suck this sickening slick into my machine and free our world from its plum colored, caustic rain.
I’m going to make them proud. I know it’s been too long, but yellow is coming.
It’s bold, it’s beautiful. It’s sunshine, and it’s my destiny.