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Being Yellow

Jacqueline Bridges works as a school guidance counselor to junior high students, where she puts her master's degree to work, and then some. She is new to flash fiction and reads it daily (even in the counseling office). Her students join her weekly for a writing club, where they impress her with stories about fairies, dragons, and golden retrievers. She has four publications to-date, with 365 Tomorrows, Short Fiction Break, The Writing Disorder, and The Fable Online. Jacqueline lives in Puyallup, Washington with her husband, two German Shepherds, and one lazy Bulldog. She is currently working on a young adult, science fiction novel, mostly void of fairies, dragons, and golden retrievers.

As a child, you can change your color as often as you'd like. If you fancy pink, you take the pink pill. The pretty girls always choose pink. For Independence Day, most of us take the green pill. It's the only time we have green skin. It doesn't wear well, uneven around the knees and ankles, but it's how we celebrate. Chromos is a free country, but it's not without its rules and regulations. For starters, upon turning twelve we're directed to pick a color for life. If you select pink skin, you will have pink skin, forever. There's no changing our minds after that--something to do with melatonin levels and increased cancer risks.
On the eve of my twelfth birthday, mother took me to see my favorite pop star. Lady Lemon packed the Metro, with rows and rows of knotty, yellow knees and sugar sticky fingers. It was decided then, I would be yellow for life. Mother had a long talk with me after that.
Mother's skin was a soft shade of violet. Father's was different. He had a hazy brown hue, but the people called it gold, or golden, depending on their age. Mother pointed out that yellows were often plagued with mental illness and had the highest suicide rate among colors. Blues on the other hand, were overrepresented in the medical field. My mother quoted every statistic she knew, even if they weren't true, and of course I believed them all.
The first few years were the hardest, growing accustomed to one color, matching all my outfits to one color, applying my makeup to one color, and most specially, being a boring shade of brown, even if it was called gold. I always felt I'd made the wrong choice, choosing my head over my heart, but it turned out mother was right. After high school, I got into a very good college, made up of other golds, a handful of reds and blues, and a smaller group of grays.
After college I landed a great job in the financial district, followed by a cute apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood (more and more golds were moving in), and I married an anesthesiologist with the most gorgeous shade of blue.
Even as a gold, I sympathized with the yellows. I danced to their music, deposited money in their hats, and displayed their artwork in my living room. The yellows always pulled me in, siding me with their passion and politics, but I was happy with my choice overall.
It wasn't until my own child approached her twelfth birthday that I realized the terrible trick of our system.
Why are all my teachers blue, like father? She would ask.
I would explain that not all her teachers were blue, and I'd point out that Mrs. Thompson was decidedly red.
She followed that up with, But Mrs. Thompson is weird.
The next day she asked, Why are all the businessmen gold?
They aren't all gold, I would reply, some are blue, and Mr. Nelson is brown. He's a very successful businessman, you know.
For the next week, she didn't let up. Why are there more reds living in the Heights? Why are the clerks at the store orange? Why are my purple friends always in trouble at school? And on and on.
I didn't have an answer to most of her questions, but I tried as best I could. When she asked me if she needed to be blue in order to be a doctor, I said no. I told her she could be any color she wanted. I told her she could be anything she wanted.
I think I want to be yellow, mom, she told me.
I thought about my own mom, and the things she told me to persuade me otherwise. I bit my tongue. She was green that day, her birthday being so close to our Independence Day. I brushed the dark hairs from her face, examining her blotchy green skin, and I told her she could be yellow if she wanted.
Can I still be a doctor? she asked.
I wanted to say yes, to tell her she could be anything she wanted, but I was scared. Instead, I told her the truth: Probably not.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Author Comments

"Being Yellow" was constructed in my mind months before I wrote it, when I slipped into my first pair of shorts at the start of summer. My legs were pale and blotchy. I remember thinking, someone should make a pill for this. My mind traveled to a number of places from there, wondering how the world would work if we could change the color of our skin with a simple pill. In the end, I came to the conclusion I often do when constructing a world--it's never simple when people are involved.

- Jacqueline Lee Bridges
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