On a family holiday, resentful Jeanne discovers that her brother Lino’s girlfriend is colour-blind. Jeanne orders colour-blindness correction glasses as a surprise for Audrey, hoping to catch her out in a lie. Underneath is the fact that Jeanne resents Lino for choosing to be an artist, a life that she wasn’t aware was a possibility, “[I] couldn’t have taken advantage of the gate if I’d wanted to, but still, I felt like an idiot for not having seen it.’”
The story echoes the common childhood fantasy that your family is not your family. That, faced with disappointing yourself, the easiest way to change is to wish that your family was different so that you yourself would be effortlessly different too. I read the orange of the title as warning light, the breath-holding, not-quite-relaxed, not-quite-angry state that characterises much of a family’s interaction. Jeanne’s father tells Audrey that “maybe orange was the only colour there was, in the end” and that is easily applied to family too.
First published in The New Yorker in December 2019 and available to subscribers to read online here