by Danielle Vrublevskis
Halfway through July, Jasmine started seeing a new colour. She didn’t notice for a while. If she had, she would have shared the news of this expanded sense immediately. Jasmine was a giver, a Pisces, an empath (or so she had put on the dating app profiles, back when that had been her life).
But there were plastic bottles to avoid, baby clothes to buy, a press of must-haves and must-buys and absolutely-must-avoid-or-baby-hate-yous that were taking up her attention and so the first she heard about the new colour was on the news. It came at the end, a fluff piece after the reports of wars and droughts.
Tom was beside her on the sofa, scrolling through another parenting article on his phone. He had a spreadsheet somewhere, and he wanted to synthesise all the accumulated knowledge. She’d seen his template: the schematics and the throwaway note – First-Time Mother’s Mental State (?).
‘Look,’ Jasmine said. ‘On the news. What colour is that?’
She squinted. The baby moved to press up against her bladder and she was close to wetting herself, again. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s not.’
‘Pink then, maybe,’ said Tom. He was back on his phone, dark hair falling into his eyes. Jasmine still found something attractive about how quickly he bowed to whatever work he set himself, a tool quickly put to use.
‘Here,’ he said, and pointed at something that he was reading. ‘How much peppermint tea did you have today? More or less than four cups?’
‘Less,’ said Jasmine, though it had been five. She’d re-used the teabags, though, so nobody would know.
‘Good,’ said Tom. ‘Good. Any more is dangerous.’
The news report finished and a comedy re-run came on. Tom continued reading and Jasmine went to the kitchen to throw the final teabag away. When she held it up to the light, she thought she saw the flash of something new.
RedGreen, was the official name, but soon enough everybody was calling it sheen. The term Sheen-sensitive-people morphed, too, into sheeners. Five percent of the population were sheeners, and it was more prevalent in females, though only marginally and some scientists said that this could be due to over-reporting from women, so really who knew?
Celebrities dyed their hair sheen, billionaires painted their cars sheen, and soon Jasmine couldn’t leave the flat without seeing it everywhere. They were trying to get it into clothes, but the dye had turned out to be carcinogenic. There were stories of security services testing for sheen-sensitive agents, finding weapons in this wonder.
And now it had reached the cakes. Jasmine stood in the café, a dozen different pastries in front of her, wanting them all and it was suddenly very hard, this decision, and there was a time when she’d been decisive and this baby fog wouldn’t last forever, would it? The bustle behind her would have been welcoming, once, but now was distracting.
Tom reached a hand around her waist. ‘What’s up?’
He could be entrancing. They were on a rare week off, a staycation where they’d watched awful movies and Tom had let his stubble grow to a beard, unflatteringly. Two months to the due date, and a celebration of her last day at work. She’d put away the paints and easels and said goodbye to the patients, staring longer at their faces than usual, trying to memorise their every feature. When she came back, it would be a whole new set of people to teach, to guide towards something like healing. If she went back.
Jasmine chose the sheen cake, and Tom didn’t even notice, couldn’t see it. You could tell, who had access to this brand new colour. A little boy, entranced, watched her every bite and when she was done she smiled at him, knowing he was a sheener as well.
‘So,’ said Tom, getting to the end of his coffee (black) and carrot cake (gluten-free), ‘Names.’
‘Jom. Tasmine,’ she said. ‘I like a portmanteau.’
‘I am. We can’t name a baby until we’ve met them. And no gender yet, either.’ They had decided against finding out, though Jasmine wondered if Tom had peeked. He’d certainly been suggesting more male names than female since the scan.
‘How about we draw up a shortlist?’
‘No,’ she said. She tasted the sheen icing still on her tongue, a fizzing in the spectrum. ‘We don’t even know what sign they’ll be born under. The due date is right at the intersection of two.’
Astrology brought out the curmudgeon in Tom, his disdain catapulting him from curated cool into middle age complaint. But she held his gaze, as she had the very first time they’d met when he’d bought her a drink that cost her entire week’s food budget. He lowered his eyes first.
When he smiled and kissed her and said, ‘Let’s wait then,’ she knew the whole café was watching, envious.
“The other sheeners sent her little pieces of solidarity: information on all the other creatures that were also exceptional. (…) Mantis shrimp had sixteen colour receptors to humanity’s three, might even be used one day to detect cancer.”
The final trimester brought insomnia, bleeding gums, indigestion, as if the whole of Jasmine’s body had finally organised itself into protest after two trimesters of relative peace. Whenever she was awake and alone, which was often, she scrolled her socials, sending friend requests to anybody that claimed to see sheen. Most didn’t respond, but now and again somebody would accept.
Then, she’d send the sheeners pictures. To a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong, she sent a picture of the colour on a brick wall. A Russian teenager got an image of a bar of soap. To a Columbian artist, Jasmine sent a selfie with a sheeny leaf. In the picture, her eyes crinkled against the sun so it looked like she was laughing. When the artist responded telling her she was beautiful, she didn’t block him or tell Tom. She started to post the photos, too, on an alt account.
The other sheeners sent her little pieces of solidarity: information on all the other creatures that were also exceptional. Butterflies saw in ultraviolet. Mantis shrimp had sixteen colour receptors to humanity’s three, might even be used one day to detect cancer. They could punch their claws forward with the force of a bullet, heating the water around them. Jasmine spent the next morning perfecting her right hook and by lunch the discomfort in her stomach had subsided a little.
They packed the birth bag, together. Tom’s parenting research had stalled around this point. He could manage the before, and the after, but Jasmine was less sure about his fortitude for the main event. At least his nerves had made him attentive: he turned off his phone, spent his evenings giving her massages, playing gentle music, lighting pregnancy-safe soy candles. He’d even knitted a little baby hat, ordering the kit online and clicking the needles together every night like the mandibles on some stressed-out insect. The final product was uneven, but the wool itself was soft enough. It was the last thing they placed in the bag before zipping it up.
‘So, they’ll be a Libra, if all goes to plan,’ he said.
Jasmine nodded, though with all the kicking that the baby had been doing this last week, they didn’t seem like the chilled-out, equitable type. Her phone pinged and she checked the notification. Somebody had found sheen in a strand of seaweed.
‘Look,’ said Tom, ‘I know I’ve been stressed out the last few months. Not easy to be around. Sorry.’
His apologies always felt precious, hefty, like he was the spokesperson of some multinational.
‘That’s okay,’ said Jasmine. ‘I haven’t been the easiest either.’
Phone pinged again. They were doing studies of sheeners, trying to find their secret. Pregnant woman wouldn’t be included, of course.
Tom began to tidy away a blanket. ‘What if it’s genetic?’ he asked, casually.
‘The sheen. What if it’s genetic?’
‘I don’t know. They’ll see sheen as well, I guess.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Yeah, seems that way. They don’t understand all the effects, yet, do they? Risk factors and such.’
‘I try not to think about it,’ said Jasmine.
It was a quiet evening after that. The calming music playlist ran on and began to repeat, and the candles burnt down. When Jasmine went to sleep that night, Tom stayed up flicking through his phone in bed. She saw mantis shrimp on his screen, diagrams of eyes, articles asking whether it was all a big hoax, articles asking whether this was the next stage in human evolution. Then, he moved onto the academic studies, with dour phrases like ‘health outcomes’ and ‘morbidity rate’. When she closed her eyes, the light from his screen traced cobwebs of red veins across her eyelids, the colour shallow and quick to fade.