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The Purples

Corey woke up Friday with a purple face.

It wasn't a big deal. When he was 11, he'd had a face as purple as an eggplant for a whole week and that had been a real problem. But this was just a slight twinge of lavender, not nearly enough to call in sick from work. So he wrapped a big scarf around his face - even though it was 80 degrees outside - and fished his bus card out of the kitchen drawer.

"Case of the purples?" Lucy asked when Corey walked into the office. "Or is it the blues? I can't really tell."

"It's the purples," Corey said. "It's not that bad, though."

Lucy chewed the top of her pen while she watched Corey unpack his laptop. "Yeah, I still don't think Greg's going to let you give the quarterly report that way."

Corey glanced at himself in the glass window of the conference room. "Really? But Randall made that presentation to our client with the greens."

Lucy shrugged. "That was the greens, Corey. I mean, no offense, but this is the purples."

Corey sighed. "Yeah, I know."

She was right, of course. Greg had someone else give the quarterly report at the board meeting that afternoon. And they did send him home a little early so he could get to the herbalist shop before it closed. Can't have our lead sales manager coming in with purples like that, they said. Anything but the purples.

The little bell at the shop door tinkled when Corey opened it and the woman at the back counter looked up from her computer.

"What can I help..." she started. "Oof. Never mind. I can tell." She beckoned Corey to come closer.

Corey stepped past the rows of dried plants and tins of funky smelling teas to the front desk.

The shopkeeper had pulled a pen out of the incredibly thick, gray bun at the back of her head. "Is this your first time with the purples?"

"No," Corey said, while the lady scribbled notes on her pad. "I get them every so often. It was really bad when I was a kid, but now it's just mild, like this."

The lady stared at him past her ovular glasses, which were held on a chain around her neck. "It's not that common for people to get recurring cases of purples. Have you ever had an MRI?"

Corey nodded. "And sage smoke therapy." It had always been a mystery why he came down with purples, and the doctors had never figured it out. You'll grow out of it, they said for a while; then they tried giving him daily antihistamines. It wasn't like it hurt, but it was sure embarrassing. Why couldn't he get the aquas or the emeralds like other normal people.

The shopkeeper scratched her pointy chin. "You know, some people are just more prone to one color than another. There might not be much you can do about it."

Corey sighed. "I know."

"I once had a lady who came to me almost every week flush magenta." The shopkeeper shrugged. "Eventually, people just get used to it."

Corey shuddered. Magentas were even worse than the purples. If he came down with that, he probably just wouldn't go outside. "But I bet this lady didn't work in a corporate office," he said.

"Well, no." The woman clacked at her keyboard for a moment. "I'll tell you what." She got up and bustled around the shop for a moment, gathering boxes and bottles off the shelf. "Drink this tea." She plunked the tin on the counter. "And burn this lavender oil when you go to bed tonight."

Corey raised his eyebrows. "Lavender?"

"It's not just because of the color," the shopkeeper said. "I can't guarantee it'll make you heal up any faster this time, but if I'm right, you shouldn't be getting purples again. If I'm wrong, come back and I'll give you store credit."

Corey went home and did as she said. His purples weren't gone the next day. In fact, they had deepened to a bright royal hue. But by Monday, the color had faded enough to show his face without anyone noticing. The purples were entirely gone by Wednesday, though he did have this dull ringing sound at the back of his head. The sound wasn't really enough to go in or complain about and after a week, it was only something he noticed if he thought about it, like the hum of traffic or churn of the air conditioning. Years later, if you'd asked Corey about it, he'd have to think for a second before he realized what you were talking about. But it was always there - a constant noise, like a signal he couldn't understand. He never did get the purples again, and he soared through the company ranks in the years following his last episode. But he could never forget entirely about that shopkeeper, or get rid of the feeling that curing himself of the purples had driven off something else inside him.


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