Seeing Yellow

Mary Rose McCarthy

At forty, Alison had come to detest the colour yellow.  And she saw it everywhere. She wasn’t the navel gazing type, but if she thought at all about her problem with yellow, she figured it could have something to do with an unremembered childhood experience.

On Thursday, she woke with a phrase going round in her head – a line repeating itself over and over.  It went: “It’s all downhill from here” and, like a jingle, it continued as she made her way to the shower. “It’s all downhill from here.” The internal murmur kept up its insistence even under the purring jets of cleansing warm water, it persisted over the clatter of the taps as she filled the kettle, over the drone of the radio, and it maintained a rhythmic regularity along with the hum of the engine as she drove to work.

As usual it was impossible to get a space in the car park.  Feeling more bad tempered than usual for a Thursday, she abandoned her car on double yellow lines. Something she didn’t normally do.   Because of the colour; also because she wasn’t one to disobey signs or break the rules. She didn’t exceed the speed limit, was never late for work, never pinched even one jelly baby from the pick and mix.

Getting damp dashing in the drizzle from the car to the company door served to further enrage her. She didn’t show any of this; not to the receptionist at the door, not to any of the staff she met along the corridor. Alison knew how to keep a lid on her emotions.

At her desk, order prevailed: a place for everything, everything in its place.  She slid open the drawer where the less attractive bits of stationery – stapler, Post-Its, Tipex – were kept, out of sight.  Even the drawer seemed to quietly groan: “It’s all downhill from here.” She checked her emails, filed her letters, and dictated some others, methodically worked through the day.

Many of Alison’s colleagues were at that stage in their lives where they were reinventing themselves.  Some from boredom, others from necessity of failed relationships. They were learning new ways of interacting with the world around them.

At coffee break they swapped advice and compared notes on living as a single or part of a new blended family. Alison was unique among them. She remained unchanged  and had yet to engage with the world. Apart from her dislike of yellow, no major life event had touched her, moulded or shaped her. Life to date had silenced her. Her neatly ordered existence had little in common with the soul searching, journaling, meditation and angst that her colleagues talked about five mornings out of seven. They had come to realise they wanted more than this out of life, Alison would have happily settled for this. Just this. The mundane, boring, round of cleaning, shopping, cooking, working.

As she sat there listening without contributing anything to the conversation, she feared the deafening “It’s all downhill from here” could be heard by all.  Alison was time keeper and never allowed a minute over the allotted fifteen, no matter how heart rending the personal story being shared. They laughed at her for being such a stickler; each secretly glad that a morning of exposed raw emotion was over for another day.

Shuffling and reshuffling the files in front of her, Alison became unusually energised. Normally she could take or leave work. It was something to be done, the best way one could without thinking about anything much for too long. She glimpsed the security man stride across the car park and knew he was on his way to put one of those dreaded ‘You’ve parked in a forbidden zone’ stickers on her car window. Those took an age to remove as they were stuck on with industrial strength glue.  Alison began to wonder what was the point of it all. Of anything, work, life, relationships, her dislike of yellow.

That persistent voice in her head warned the best was over.  Her colleagues were changing their lives; leaving spouses and family, taking on other partners, other kids, blending and remixing in efforts to find themselves.  They said life is too short to be unhappy, to stay with someone out of duty or obligation, it’s not good for the children, they sense tension and unhappiness. They quoted their therapists, their counsellors, with awe and reverence.  If they could make life changes…

She Googled phobias – in particular, fear of yellow. Xanthophobia. It had a word all to itself. There were many different ways she could get help. Alison was amazed to learn she was not alone in her hatred of yellow; support group Mello Yello attracted her attention.  She furtively read page after page, site after site, quelling the uneasy feeling that she should be concentrating on her paid work not her own inner needs.  By lunchtime she’d decided to sign on for yoga and ‘creative self-expression to discover the child within’.

Perhaps her inner child was wounded by xanthophobia and needed to be rescued and saved. Then Alison could get on with the rest of her life. No more thinking it was downhill all the way from here. Who knows, she might meet another yellow-phobia sufferer, maybe even that special other.  Alison thought it might be nice to have someone; to complain about at coffee time, or there in the evenings when she came home from work.

Abandoning her in-tray in a disarray of dog eared documents she slammed the desk drawer shut, silencing the inner voices in the process. Alison decided to take an unauthorised half day.  It was her birthday, though no one else knew; she didn’t want the attention of cake crumbs and candles. She was forty today. The so-called big four-oh when life begins. She’d bring home a cake for mother and herself to share at tea time.  While watching Corrie. In the sitting room. As a special treat.

MARY ROSE MCCARTHY has been awarded The Golden Pen, The Kenny/Naughton prize, and the Amergin prize. She’s twice been longlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin short prize. Her work has been published in Crannóg and Boyne Berries. She’s a regular contributor to the Cork Evening Echo, Ireland’s Own. She is also feature writer for The Opinion, West Cork’s biggest selling monthly publication.