by Carola Brus

Your favourite sweater is amber.

It is a crew neck with ribbed cuffs. Oversized, hiding your large frame. We think the colour suits you. You have one just like it in navy, which you never wear.

But this one, you wear often. Three days in a row, at times, until it smells like your aftershave. I find it at the bottom of our hamper every week. We like to have it folded at the top of the pile, on the shelf, an inch below your eye level.

When I interlock my fingers at the nape of your neck—before I look up at you, before I rise onto my toes and try for a kiss—all I see is amber.

It reminds me of the evenings on our balcony watching the sun crack on the horizon, its yolk running over the treetops. When the wind picks up, you wrap me in a duvet, peck me on the forehead, and I tie my hair back—we hate when it tousles.

It reminds me of the honey drizzled over our morning oats, the way the corners of your mouth quirk up and the skin on your temples crinkles when I get it right.

Of our walks in the forest on a chilly fall day, copper and golden leaves crunching under our feet. You put your arm around my shoulder and pull me close, your fingers dangling before my chest like the tassels of a scarf. We prefer a swift pace—at the end of our walks, I am panting. We think I need to work on my fitness. I haven’t gone to my usual classes since we swapped them for our date night. It is the only night that works for you, and we know marriage requires sacrifice.

The nights on the rug before the fireplace, your hand on the small of my back. I feel your heat trickle down my spine, snake around my thighs. You turn to me and plant a soft kiss on my lips. Our legs entangle. You smile at me, eyes closed, and ask me about my day. I feel so warm, so swathed that I forget to choose my words with care. An unfiltered truth spills from my mouth, and you twist it, pick at it, dissect it, until I apologize. We feel I should have more self-respect. And more respect for you. I apologize again.

The stains of turmeric on the wooden spoon, the hand blender, the kitchen counter—we know how careless I can be. You warned me not to use it, but I thought I could get the stains out, thought I could fix it. I scrubbed and scrubbed. It was no use. We thought I needed to learn a lesson, to make sure I did not use turmeric again. Still, the marks remain.

In the evening, the white of your laptop screen warms to amber. You work long hours so that I don’t have to. I am grateful for your sacrifice; it allows me to stay home and focus on myself, on our house, on you. We think it’s improper for a girl to slave away for a boss for eighty cents on the dollar when she could be supporting her own man. We think it’s improper for a woman to raise her voice in the boardroom, or in public, or at all.

We think it’s improper.

We think it’s improper.

My dress, the exact hue of your sweater. Skin-tight but long-sleeved. I bought it for our third anniversary. We got married young, quickly, just how we wanted. We moved away, far away, to your hometown. I lost touch with my friends and my family. But I do not need them. I have your friends now. I have you.
You, in your amber sweater. Me, in my amber dress.

I wear heels and heavy makeup and my hair down, the way we like it when we are out by ourselves. I click-clack down the stairs and strike a pose, spin around, watch you take the colour in.

“What is this?” you say, your voice tense.

I stop twirling. “It’s a new dress. The same colour as your sweater.” I approach you, slowly, as if you were a wild animal, startled and hungry, ready to scratch me.

“See?” I run my hand over your arm, my sleeve grazing yours.

You scoff. “You can’t be serious.” I try to read your face, to solve the puzzle of your expression, but I cannot deduce what you mean. We think I lack social skills, emotional intelligence, empathy. You shouldn’t have to spell it out.

“The colour.” Your brows rise as if you are telling off a child.

“I’m sorry, matching is a bit much, I guess. But I thought—”

“It’s not the same,” you spit. “My sweater’s red.” Your fingers point at me, your open palm up. “What you’re wearing is hideous, the colour of dehydrated piss.” Your cheeks burn, your lips retreat in a snarl. You look disgusted. “Not to mention the way you’re flaunting your tits. It’s improper.”

Too low cut. I should have known. I cast my eyes down, apologize, hug you. I bury my face in your sweater as I feel my throat tighten. You rub my back, tell me you forgive me, as long as I stop making these silly mistakes. I pull back and nod. My vision is blurry. I look at the fabric of your sweater, darkened by my tears. Red.

Your favourite sweater is red.

We think the colour suits you. You have one just like it in another colour—I am not sure which; I have a hard time telling colours apart.

When I interlock my fingers at the nape of your neck, all I see is red.

It reminds me of that time I made pasta Bolognese, made it wrong—the spaghetti too sticky, the sauce too cold—and you threw your plate at me. It left a tomato stain on the wall. Shards of ceramic on the ground. As I picked them up, I cut myself.

A single drop of blood on my fingertip.

I wonder what colour it was.

Carola Brus

Carola Brus is drawn to stories about complex relationships—whether told through film or prose. She developed her craft at RMIT, Oxford, and Cambridge, and recently gave up her job marketing blockbusters to pursue a writing career. Any given afternoon, you can find her working on stories in coffee shops around Eindhoven, The Netherlands.