Pure Colour | Sheila Heti | Granta

Pure Colour

Sheila Heti

She doesn’t know how to think about her father’s death, or even if she should, or how to explain the great joy and calm that settled in her the moment the life left his body, and she felt his spirit enter her, and fill her up with joy and light. There was a moment when there was nothing, no life in him left, then the spirit that had been in her father entered her. It came in through her chest and she felt it there in her entire body – near the top of her skull, down in her toes, swirling wonderfully inside her, and the peace she knew after it settled inside her was the cleanest feeling of love; a brightness that finally compelled her to sit up, having felt it swirling long enough that now it seemed time to share it, to go downstairs and hug her uncle, and tell him, Dad is dead, and to try and hug him close enough that maybe he could feel it, too; her father’s love that was streaming through her. So complete was the feeling of peace and joy, and relief for her father that it was all done, the difficult endeavour that had been his life, and the carrying of all that was heavy – it was over, and out of the deflation of his body came the purest joy. Then, maybe twenty minutes later, such a deep chill came over her, and her teeth started chattering, and they would not stop clacking together, and her arms were freezing up, and her entire body was freezing and chattering, so that she returned back upstairs to her father’s body and sat beside him in his bed, and pulled the covers up, not even looking at him, but trying to warm her body there. Had his spirit left her? Or was the chattering because of what had happened, and his spirit remained inside her, but such an event would naturally be followed by the deepest chills? But there was no asking anyone on earth, for we haven’t been created to know it.

She lay beside him, holding him, her arm over his chest, her body pressed up against the side of his now still and lifeless body, which had been breathing mere moments before, and she knew that her brain was a small and useless, earthbound thing that would never understand, and that she would never be able to properly reconstruct what she had just experienced.

Later, walking in the garden out behind his house, another hour deep into the middle of the night, she knew that the universe had ejaculated his spirit into her – and was it still in her? What if, when she was shivering and chilled and her teeth were chattering, half an hour after it happened, it was because his spirit had suddenly left her? She will never know, and there is no authority on earth who can say what happened that night. It was happening on the spiritual plane – it was not a physical, psychological, or emotional phenomenon, so she will never understand.

When the doctor came later that night to proclaim him dead, and took her hand and said, Sorry for your loss, standing there with this new, joyful and loving spirit inside of her, she almost laughed at this strange word he was using, loss.

When Mira thinks about her father’s death, or the few days of his dying, certain elements are returned to her: his bedroom, the smell of his body from under the sheets as he moved his legs and the air escaped, and she smelled a sort of shit she had never before smelled, intensely pungent, a shit that was also tar. She remembers the darkness of his room, a room which she had known: the bookshelves, the desk beside the bed, and the chair beside the bed that she sometimes sat in that week. How her uncle had put up cardboard-backed prints of paintings, leaning them against the windows to block out the light, and a green towel which he had taped up. From where did he get the tape? She remembers the pink towel on the floor by her father’s bed, where he placed his feet, and the bathroom rug she had brought and eventually put in place of the towel; it was fluffier, warmer, and it didn’t slip. Her uncle thought he would not appreciate the change, but he did. No, the towel on the floor wasn’t pink. It was green. Colours matter. Colours can be hard to remember.

There was the smell of the beeswax candle that she ordered online, which burned the entire time on the little white-and-black-flecked plate. There was the deep yellow of the candle. There was the pink glass of the scented lamp which she had brought from home with its scent of fresh linen, which became too strong to keep burning. Those scents were the scent of the room, mixed with the smell of her father dying, and the difficult sound of his breathing, which she missed each time she left the room. It was like the sound of the sea, or a boat on the sea; aching, creaking, rhythmic, hard. It was difficult for him to breathe, but she loved the sound, and the sound also pained her and put her in a trance. Whenever she went downstairs, if she was gone for too long, she longed for it. It was the sound of him alive, and the very last sounds he made. Though the last sound he made was no sound at all – the sound of the breath that did not come.

The more she thinks about the sort of maroonish light in his room those nights, and the light of the candle flickering, she knows that the colour of that room is how they all felt, and that colour is not just a representation of the world, but of the feelings in a room, and the meaningfulness of a room in time, because in that colour, her father died. She had never seen that colour before. It was the colour of a father dying.

Sheila Heti

Sheila Heti is the author of eleven books, including the novels How Should a Person Be?Motherhood and Pure Colour. Fitzcarraldo published her new book, Alphabetical Diaries, in February 2024.

Photograph © Steph Martyniuk

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