In school, Vince had never been particularly understanding of the formalities of letters or numbers. Letters were prettier, numbers usually a solid mass of varying shades of grey, but neither was interesting enough to hold his attention. Words were explosions of colour, violent pinks and mad, wheeling oranges; cacophonies and pandemoniums of shades. Texts left his head reeling with the crescendo of painted emotion; it delighted and infuriated him. It infuriated his teachers more, especially when he couldn't get through Little Red Riding Hood without complaining that she wasn't red, she was greens and yellows and oranges and blues. His parents didn't realise that there was something wrong until their son was given a painting-by-numbers book for Christmas and painted everything in wrong.
The doctor told them a word that Vince's five-year-old brain didn't understand, but when his Dad wrote it down for him it was prettier than jewels and brighter than the plumage on a peacock's tail. Magenta-crimson-orange-blue-magenta-tangerine-brown-blue-magenta-yellow-red; S-y-n-e-s-t-h-e-s-i-a.
As he got older, he got frustrated by how easily distracted his own mind was. Vince loved colour; his outfits grew more and more outlandish the older he got, but it made reading difficult when his thoughts were paraded off by the pigments. He tried as hard as he could, but his imagination was too sharp, too tuned by the colours to bother with their associations. Numbers were all grey but that didn't matter so much because they didn't hum and throb like letters did.
Secondary School was a nightmare. Whilst the rest of the class were off reading Wuthering Heights Vince was being yelled at for not completing his coursework. Music was an adequate escape because he could close his eyes and block out the letters altogether. After a while, he hated the colours, because the colours made him stupid. He was twelve, and he could barely spell his own name without getting it backwards. Vince Noir: lime-yellow-orange-pink-blue-orange-beige-yellow-red, no trace of his black namesake in there at all. He draped colours over his body and wore them like a trophy, making people see what he saw. His world began to fade.
He met Howard Moon when he was thirteen, and he was surprised at how calm the colours became when they were around the jazzy Northern boy, already sporting a moustache and uncomfortably taller than the others. They were drawn together immediately. Howard was boastful and overbearing, but despite that his colours were warm and kind, and Vince could tell from the off that these colours didn't lie. They were, admittedly, an odd pair, but it worked. With Howard around, life brightened again.
Vince never told him about the colours.
One day in the shop, when Vince was reading Cheekbone (the colours slid off the page, but they were easier to hold on to when fashion was involved), Howard held something up.
"What do you think?" he asked, proudly. It was yet another jazz LP, and Vince inwardly sighed, rolling his eyes with fond mockery. "It's the only solo record he's ever released. This baby's going to put Howard Moon back on the shop keeping map, yes sir."
Vince squinted at the record. Danny Ray: cerulean-crimson-orange-orange-maroon-red-crimson-maroon. There was a lot of red, like a fire.
Vince looked up and frowned. "What?"
Howard was looking oddly at him, his eyes miniscule with confusion. "What'd you say?"
Vince laughed. "Have you gone wrong in your mind tank, Howard?"
Howard shifted, embarrassed. "You said something about red…"
Vince sighed, and ran a hand self-consciously through his hair. It was hard to play it cool when your heart was knocking like a woodpecker at your ribs.
"Well, yeah. It's mostly red."
He held out his hand and took the LP, and walked his fingers over the letters, saying the colours aloud as he did so. He glanced shyly up at his friend, knowing Howard didn't take well to not being told things.
Howard was still looking at him. Then he said something surprising.
"What's my name?"
Vince paused. Then he traced the letters over the cardboard sleeve, watching the colours race behind his fingertips.
Howard nodded slowly.
"That sounds nice."
"Yeah," Vince said softly, turning back to his magazine. "You've got nice colours."
Howard smiled to himself, and went to dust the counter.