The large black and white TV screen in the motor hotel room wobbles and chops off Nat King Cole’s head. There’s a big infinite looking frame bar running across the middle of the screen with Nat King Cole from collar up and the upper half of him down below. If I were alone, I’d leave it because I’m so lost in the warm sound of his voice I can hardly move. Next to me on the motor hotel bed, my new bride Gil, stirs and jabs me with an elbow.
“Fix it , Bert.”
“In a minute, honey.” He croons on about Mona Lisa and what of his face that shows shimmers in a haze of mango orange. “I just love colored music.” His voice fills my mouth with the taste of vanilla ice cream and pancake syrup. “I love colored people.”
“What color is he now?”
“It’s this fruit they eat in other countries. It’s sort of orange.” I smack my lips. “And very loud tasting.”
“You too, Gil.”
Sometimes the sound of her name triggers it.
She’s pointing at the uncooperative TV, which is holding us back on our wedding night, we two virgins. She begins waving her finger frantically, silently. She wants to speak but the words are stuttering out in her throat.
I get off the bed in my underwear, boxer shorts, which I still haven’t found the courage to remove. She’s seen me shirtless in the beach, and I’ve seen her in a one piece, but tonight is when we go all the way. Over by the TV, I kneel down and reach behind the big blocky wooden console to look for the picture tuning pegs. The vertical peg is the right side one, and the horizontal is on the left. I give the right peg a little twist and for a moment the two halves of Nat King Cole’s head match up and then fly apart again. He reminds me of the colored man Martin King who was with President Kennedy before the President was shot a couple of months ago. Now the frame bar is shooting up and up the screen in fast waves that make me a little nauseated. I try not to look at them. I glance at Gil, and she’s biting her lip, looking very wound up. She’ll be very hard to seduce this way, even though we’re married and its supposed to be okay to seduce somebody you’re married to. I don’t know how to seduce anybody. So I turn to what I do know, gadgets, and begin turning the vertical adjustment peg the other way. I feel anxious; worried I might not get my private part hard for her. Worried she might not like my body, or think Mr. Peanut is ugly. I take a deep breath and imagine a huge blue number 9 standing next to me. The number nine calms me. The number 9 is my friend as are all blue numbers. Days are colored too. I was born on a Tuesday which is a blue day. When I get bored I count the colors until Friday, which is a deep velvet purple. The number 5 squared to the fourth place is also blue, but not the same kind of blue. Gil and I are freaks, but special. She gets very fixated on small things when she gets nervous. Very fixated. Me, I’m a synesthete.
Synesthesia is a brain thing. It’s the part of the brain that separates the senses from each other. I taste shapes. I smell colors. I see music. Numbers have personalities. I can square pi to seven places just by reading the colors it makes. I used to think everybody was this way. When you’re a kid, you think you’re normal until you find out you’re not. Well, no, there’s different kinds of freaks. If you're born without arms and you see everyone else has two, you know you’re different. But just like if you’re eating oatmeal for dinner, you don’t know you’re poor, you think everyone eats oatmeal for dinner. If you taste the color blue, you think everyone can taste the color blue. When I found out I was a freak I felt ashamed. But over time that changed. I like my way better. Its other people, the normal ones I feel sorry for. They miss a lot.
I get Mr. Cole’s head lined up and again the sound of his voice makes my mouth water at the mawky sweetness like wedding cake filling me up. “Got it?”
“Okay.” She calls. I’m glad to hear her speaking again, but she’s very tense.
I’m standing up and the number nine next to me stands up too. I really love colored music. “Don’t colored people sing well?”
“Bert!” Her voice has that frightened quiver. Maybe if I rub her shoulders. She’s leaning down counting something tiny on the coverlet, picking off loose threads. Her lips move softly. Then she looks up. “Which is better, colored music or classical?”
“It’s all colored to me, Gil.”
“I need to know which is better!”
“I like both. Mr. Cole is sort of in-between.”
“Okay.” She relaxes. She looks at me seriously and her hands go up, crossing at the wrists as she takes hold of the spaghetti straps of her lacey negligee. “Ohh Bert. Bert? Which is better . . .” she says so softly I can hardly hear. She tugs the straps down, over her shoulders, past her elbows, down to her waist, lets the top fall away. I gasp as the expanse of perfect pink skin. And those. I get to sleep with those for the rest of my life. “Which is better, big breasts or big nipples?”
“I think both.”
“Which! I need to know right now.”
“Both! You’ve got both honey.” I crawl onto the end of the bed. I can’t take my eyes off her and she covers up with her arms. “You’re beautiful. Let me see.”
She gets mentally grabby when she's scared. I want to ask her what she's nervous about, big, hard Mr. Peanut about to come after her for the first time, or being a married person. Which is scarier, Gil? Are you a good witch or a bad bitch, which?
I think for maybe one out of a hundred couples, marriage might be Heaven, for one out of a hundred guys, it might be pussy Disneyland which is supposed to be part of the deal. Maybe one out of a hundred. For another few couples, its plenty awful, its the ass of the ass, it's about having someone to tie your leg to so you can sink faster when you jump off the bridge. Then the rest of us, I guess we'll just work at it until after the shine is gone and then some.
Which is scarier Gil, Heaven or the Bridge? No, I won’t ask that. Things have been going so well. We freaks have to stick together.
"On our show. Tonight.” Says Ed Sullivan, hugging his elbows “As promised, for the young folks. Let’s have a really big hand for them, all the way across the sea from Liverpool Great Britain - The Beatles! The Beatles!" Big Ed waves his hand like a freak show barker and then there they are, four skinny guys in collarless suits and ties. I've heard the name. Never heard the music.
The first chord hits me like a rainbow colored brick. It knocks the air out of me. The air shimmering with purple shot through with lemon. The two guys singing go from black and white to some color I've never even seen before. I shift my eyes around trying to see beyond the shimmering lava clouds of color. I see Gil's eyes fixed on me with wonder. I'm not seeing, I’m drowning. I’m being swept under a roiling tomato sauce red cloudburst of joy as the twanging and loudness wash over me. It’s beyond colored music. The assault knocks the breath out of me and for a moment I seem to stand outside myself.
Gil's hand reaches behind my neck and pulls me down, putting my head in her lap. I lay with my face on her bare inner thigh and breathe the honey yellow scent of her skin, knowing her bare breasts are in my reach right over my ear and powerless to touch them until the song passes. I wrap my arm around her knees and hug her tight to me to keep from flying away and she caresses my hair like a mother with a troubled child. We freaks. The future will be strange but as long as we're like this, maybe it'll be all right.