Coloured light in a prism

Picture by Daniele Levis Pelusi at Unsplash


Two is green and thrums lower G. It doubles, grows sturdy like trees. Trees scattering seeds, fruits, blossoms, and spores. And it halves, becomes less of itself, sawn, sliced, and felled; skeletal branches having lost all their leaves.


Three is good too, it’s a resonant D, and it’s blue upon blue upon blue. It’s the sea and the sky and my Mama’s kind eyes, and it multiplies, always true to the heart of itself and it’s always, always blue upon blue.


I like seven best. It’s a warm sunny yellow and I hear it as A. It’s the number and sound I tune myself by. It my centre, it anchors all the other numbers and notes.

Mama says I don’t need to count everything. Mama says, things can sometimes just be. Not all things, she says, need to be ordered.


 Eleven is black and B flat. It’s solid block buildings and flat tarmac roads. It’s maps and paths and cracks between paving stones. It’s staves to hang notes on, letters typed on a page. It’s washing and telegraph lines, and the endless hole of the night. Ten adds weight and mass and sounds in multiples of ‘Oh.’ ‘Oh’, like awe.

I help Mama fold the dried washing. I sort it into neat piles.


Thirteen is red and a shrill high E. It pierces and punctures. It marks like the memory of my teacher’s furious crosses scarring my homework. It’s poisonous berries and toadstools glinting amongst autumn leaves. It signals warning and risk and insists—insists—on being heard. “Eeeeee!” it says. “Listen to me!”

Mama says it would be more useful if I ordered the clothes by who they belong to, or by which ones need ironing, though the colour coding is pretty, and fine for the towels.


Seventeen is white and sings like F sharp. It brightens the sounds, gives them brilliance, and lightens the colours, takes them to the pale end of the spectrum. It’s the single cirrus cloud in a sky to make the blue bluer, it’s the frothing lip on a wave to make the surf prouder and it’s clean and crisp like Mama’s fresh laundered sheets.

Mama asks me to hang out the washing while she goes to the shops. 

“It’s a sunny day, they’ll dry in no time. Can you listen for the beeping when the spin cycle is finished? It shouldn’t be long.”

“The beeping?”

“Turn it off quickly so it doesn’t disturb you.” She ruffles my hair and picks up her car keys. She sees my wince at their jangle and clasps them tight in her hand.

Mama finds me when she returns, sitting in front of the machine. I’m on the floor, staring through the glass window door. The washing spins, colours bleeding, numbers jumbled and whirled. The symphony sounds both dissonant and tuneful, harsh, and abrasive and achingly, wonderfully beautiful.

A yellow napkin in the heart of the swirl pins me to the algebraic equations. I stare and stare and keep pressing and pressing my finger on the spin cycle button. Listening to the numbers multiply, divide and collide. Listening to the numbers sing, again and again and again.

Emily Macdonald was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. She has won and been placed in several writing competitions and has work published in print anthologies and on-line journals including Fictive Dream, Reflex Fiction, Lucent Dreaming, Retreat West, Ellipsis Zine, Roi Fainéant, Flash Frontier, and The Phare.