With special thanks to Suzanne for her encouragement, and her amazing editing and suggestions on this piece through Yeah Write‘s “Gold Lounge Workshop” this summer.
The visions—what Colleen called “the greens”—nearly drove her crazy. Picture those winged monkeys Dorothy saw in the greenish light of the Wicked Witch of the West’s crystal ball. That’s how the visions appeared to Colleen: tinged, murky, blurry around the edges, and a little angry. They overlapped and merged in a dizzying collage when too many people were in a room. She saw the futures of strangers. Worse, she saw the futures of those she loved.
She was 10 when the greens began, and she had coped then by shutting her eyes, covering her ears, and burying her head between her knees. Couldn’t they at least change color? Colleen would think. Maybe blue? Chartreuse?
Colleen had tried to explain the visions to her parents. Her mother had patted her on the head, and told her not to worry so much. Her father had clearly believed she had an overactive imagination. Consequently, she had learned never to tell anyone else. She had kept her head down, avoided the gaze of others, which triggered the greens, and developed a strong bond with a cat named Nightmare.
Now, at 13, Colleen’s teachers considered her behavior antisocial and worrisome. The kids at school mocked her fits. Colleen begged her parents to take her out of school and, though they refused to believe that Colleen actually saw visions, let alone green ones, they saw her pained eyes and furrowed brow. Colleen, who found refuge in the unobstructed worlds of fiction, had an IQ well above average; she promised to keep up with assignments and meet the school district’s expectations. They relented.
Colleen’s mother had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (no surprise to Colleen, who had seen it coming), so the Keanes hired Martha to help with the housework. Tall, a little heavyset, and confident, Martha bustled into their lives, tugging at her wig and whipping a rag as she walked. From the living room, Colleen listened to Martha hum to the radio, tuned to an R&B station, as she washed the kitchen floor. Colleen liked hearing Martha’s throaty laugh whenever the DJ said something funny. She grew to like Martha so much that she couldn’t bear to see her face-to-face, dreading that the greens might have something awful to show.
After three weeks of working at the Keanes, with the hovering but invisible daughter and the mother confined to bed, Martha shouted from the kitchen, “Girl, don’t you think that DJ is a hoot?” Colleen jumped behind the living room couch.
“It’s okay,” Martha called to her. “I won’t bite. I won’t even tell your momma that you’ve been spying on me all these weeks.”
Colleen held her breath. She heard Martha walk into the living room. I can’t keep hiding, Colleen told herself. I have to breathe. She stood up, eyes averted. “I’m Colleen.”
“I know,” Martha said. “I’m Martha. Pleased to know you. Don’t you think that DJ is funny?”
“I guess so,” Colleen said quietly.
“Oh, child. You don’t get to laugh much, do you?”
Colleen shrugged and stole a glance at Martha, spied the greens. Ugh.
Martha smiled and tilted her head to one side, sympathetically.
“Watch out for these,” Colleen said, pointing to an electrical outlet. “You might get shocked.”
“Alrighty then,” she said. “I’ll be careful.”
∗ ∗ ∗
That night, Martha’s husband plugged a ratty extension cord into the wall outlet. In a split-second, Martha recalled Colleen’s odd warning, and then the shock ripped through her husband’s arms and knocked him off his feet. He was lucky to survive. Martha, who was susceptible to credulity and mysticism, knew instantly Colleen had the Gift; Colleen was a seer.
Martha broached the subject the next day. Colleen was sitting on the front porch swing. Martha talked to her through the screen door. “You have visions, don’t you? That’s why you don’t talk much. That’s why you always hiding.”
Colleen was accustomed to hearing whispers at her back among those who didn’t understand her, but a direct question about the greens was something new. She sat up straight. “Yes, they make my eyes hurt. I see too much, hear too much.”
“Do you ever see winning lottery tickets?” Martha asked, smiling.
No, Colleen shook her head; she attempted to smile, one corner of her mouth edged up slightly.
“Damn,” Martha said. She walked back into the kitchen.
Colleen wanted to tell her more. She wanted to say that most of the time the greens were innocuous, like seeing her dad get a haircut. But other times they were horrifying, and Colleen felt herself drowning in that greenish sea, unable to do anything to help. Perhaps worst of all, her visions weren’t entirely reliable—they only hinted at what was to come.
Colleen wanted to tell Martha, Rudy haunts me the most.
∗ ∗ ∗
Colleen had been 11 years old. Back then, the greens were still infrequent intrusions. She had been in the backyard, standing at the burning trash bin with her dad, watching as the embers of newspapers and leaves drifted up into the sky and burned out, sprinkling ash. She had turned to look at her father, who was poking at the bin with a long stick and she’d seen the greens hovering over his head. She’d pictured him in the Pontiac station wagon, taking their young neighbor, Rudy, to baseball practice. Colleen’s dad drove Rudy to practice every day, a favor to his parents who both worked shifts. In her vision, he pulled into the intersection as the light turned green, and a city bus plowed into the Pontiac. She heard the crash. The metal twisting, the scraping of the station wagon as the bus pushed it onto the sidewalk and into Betty Ann’s Flower Shop at the corner of Main and Roosevelt.
Colleen had shaken her head and erased the vision like an etch-a-sketch; embers twisted in the sky, turning into ash, falling. She’d said, “Daddy, don’t take Rudy to baseball tomorrow.”
“Just don’t. I mean it.”
“Well, honey, he needs to get to practice,” he’d said, poking at the trash through the wire cage.
Her dad had driven Rudy to practice the next day, and for the next year, without incident, leaving Colleen to think she had made it all up. When Coach Algerton drove Rudy to the second game of the season last year—well, boom, smash, it happened. The driver of the city bus had had a stroke, lost control, plowed into Algerton’s Pontiac station wagon, and killed both of them instantly.
Colleen had never told anyone about the premonition. She carried the weight of Rudy’s death because she hadn’t warned him. Hell, she felt responsible for everyone’s fate.
∗ ∗ ∗
After her conversation with Martha, Colleen withdrew to her bedroom, re-reading A Wrinkle in Time and doing her math assignments.
Martha called up to her. “Colleen, I need your help!”
Colleen ran downstairs. Martha was struggling to hold up her mother, who had managed to walk from the first floor bedroom to the kitchen before her legs stiffened and jerked, throwing her off balance and onto the floor.
“Mom! What are you doing?” Colleen asked as she steadied herself against the counter and put her mother’s arm around her neck.
“I was feeling better. I smelled coffee cake. I wanted some.”
Colleen wanted to kiss her mother’s forehead but the greens hovered and buzzed.
“Anytime you want coffee cake, Mrs. Keane, you just yell. I’ll bring it to you,” said Martha. Together, they carried Colleen’s mom back to bed.
As she turned to leave the room, Colleen stumbled into Martha who was standing behind her. Colleen froze; she started to shield her eyes from the greens but she saw nothing.
She was just Martha. Martha, by herself, unoccupied, her aura as clear as tap water. No future selves chattering about accidents, letters, or unfaithful husbands. Just Martha.
Colleen wrapped her arms around Martha’s neck. She didn’t know how long it would last, didn’t know when the greens would come back. It didn’t matter. This moment of clarity freed her long enough to hug another human being. This freedom, this human touch, this was the real gift.