Imagine you're totally colorblind. A stranger walks into the room, and suddenly you can see the world in color, so long as they're in your field of vision. Without them, the gray comes back. What would you do? (2000 words)
My world is black and white, shades of television static. I don't even know what I look like. I know my features, of course. Crooked nose, sharp eyebrows, and a hard jaw; I just don't see what others see. My eyes are “green like maple leaves,” someone once told me. It sounds nice. Too bad I don't know what green is.
The washer squeals and rips me from my musings. I glance up from the paperback I'm reading. It’s one of the few activities I can experience to the same degree as everyone else. So many things feel dull and— I shake my head to snap out of my self-pity. My life is good. I have a steady job, friends, my piano… I just feel like I'm missing something. Like there's a joke that everyone in the room gets besides me. I just want to be in on the joke for once.
The bell over the door jingles and a girl my age walks in. I gasp; the book falls from my nerveless fingers. I can see her. Her hair is this… I don't know what, but it’s radiant. Everything about her is different— am I hallucinating? Her face isn’t gray, it has richness and life behind it. Her eyes— they're… Blue? Green? Is this color?
This can’t be real! I shut my eyes and violently shake my head. It’s still there when I reopen them, and even a smack on the side of my head doesn’t wake me. I nearly burst into tears. I’ve never felt like this before— there’s this swelling pressure in my heart, growing greater by the second.
My breath comes in shallow rasps through trembling lips. I try to understand what’s happening logically, but I can’t get past the dizzying sensation of experiencing the way things truly look. I want to stand up and do something, but I only stare, open mouthed, and hope she hasn't noticed me.
The color bleeds off her clothing and jewelry, peeling back the charcoal curtain of the surrounding world. I blink rapidly and scan my surroundings with manic intensity. The floor turns from gray to something else drab, but at least it's different. The other people in the laundromat are suddenly moving tapestries. There are so many shades of each color, my head churns like the inside of the machine before me. I want to run outside and jump and scream and— outside!
I whip my head around and witness… gray. Past the door, the world returns to its normal emptiness. I turn back to the vibrant room and attempt a calm facade, but my shaking hands and jackhammered breathing betray me. Who is this girl? Our gazes meet, and she gives me a funny look, like she's wondering how someone could be this excited inside a laundromat. My eyes flick to the floor.
She sets her bag down at a nearby washer and exits. The color streaks behind her like the tail of a comet, and while the room grows lifeless, she saturates the world around her. The grass—ok, so that's green—the buildings and signs, the cars, every person walking by, the sun in the sky. The sky! It’s just a hint lighter than her eyes.
Almost as soon as the color is there, it's gone with the girl. I hold my breath, trapped back in the gray, and await her return. I don't think I can live knowing what I'm missing, now. This is what the world is really like? It feels so… full.
The coming hues signal her approach; my heart races. She reenters with a second bag slung over her shoulder, and I can breathe again. I know what I have to do. I watch her prepare her laundry and wait, so as not to interrupt her. I don't want to be rude and— she catches me staring. Say something charming!
“I wasn't staring!” I blurt. My ears burn hot; I wish I could melt into the floor. Great start, idiot. Take a breath.
“I don’t think you know what that word means, then.” She rolls her eyes and stuffs more clothing into the washer, each article a beacon to my eyes.
The colors remind me of what I have to lose. I take a few steps towards her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
She puts up a hand that gleams with nail polish and metal. “Is this something you normally do? Hit on girls doing their laundry?”
“I can’t help it.”
She eyes me for a second. “And why’s that?” She slams the lid of the washer shut.
“Maybe I can tell you about it over a cup of coffee.”
“Maybe you can just tell me now.” There’s a hint of amusement in her melodic voice.
“It’s going to sound pretty crazy.”
“I’m having a boring afternoon.” Her lip curls at the corner; it’d be a smirk but it’s too pretty.
“I was totally color blind for my whole life until you walked into the room.” My lungs hold me hostage, as does her lack of immediate response.
“Hah! That’s a good one. You get that off a pickup artist website or something?”
“I wish it was only a line.”
“So, you want me to believe that you were totally colorblind, and all of a sudden, when you saw me, you were cured?”
“I’d settle for the cup of coffee, and you don’t have to believe me.”
She cocks her head and an eyebrow shoots up. “You’re seeing color for the first time ever and you want to spend your time inside a coffee shop?”
“I…” My words catch in my throat; I throw my hands up and sigh. I thought I was doing well for a moment.
“Sounds pretty boring to me.”
“Sorry to bother you.” I slink back to my washer. At least I can appreciate the color while it’s here. I'm already thinking about what I'll never experience again.
“Wouldn't you rather do something interesting?” she asks.
My ears perk up and I half turn, certain I misunderstood her. “What?”
“Deaf too, huh? Rough one. Come with me, I'll show you something that'll blow your mind.” She motions to the door and glances back at me with sparkling eyes.
I follow her without another word, magnetized. The world unfolds in full detail before our steps; my head jerks back and forth of its own accord as I take in every shred of color I possibly can. I spin in a full circle more than once; my nameless companion giggles at my antics, but otherwise remains silent as we walk. We pass a flower bed and I freeze. “My God,” I whisper.
“You're not kidding, huh?” she murmurs as she sidles up to me. “Nobody does this.”
“It’s…” I shrug helplessly.
“You know, when we left the laundromat, I didn't actually think... But now— do you even know what you're seeing?”
“Well, I know those are red, ‘cause they're the same color as that stop sign over there. But those, and those over there—” I point to a cluster of mingled flowers with similar vibrant shades.
“Pink. And those, there, are purple.”
I smile and shake my head. “Do you have any idea how weird it feels to not know this stuff? Any kindergartner would know what color the flowers are and probably not think twice. And I'm sitting here like an idiot going ‘oooh, aaaah!’”
“I don't know if we should go on. Your head just might explode, I don't want that on my conscience.”
I laugh; it’d be worth it. This is already the greatest day of my life. Better than when I hit the game-winning home run in regionals or performed my first original song live to a round of applause. “I won't hold you responsible, uh… I didn't catch your name.”
“Kelly.” She looks like a Kelly.
She looks at me for a second, and then starts off again. I take in every drop of color we pass like I'll never see it again. You might not, a voice in my head reminds. We fall back into silence; I think she understands my senses are overloaded and I'm having enough trouble keeping my feet moving.
Eventually we stand before a church. Massive blocks of stone, artfully chiseled and stacked, topped by a cross that can be seen for several blocks in each direction. I know the building, though I've never been inside. The walls are set with vast panes of glass; they glitter a billion shades in the sunlight. As we approach, the spectacle only becomes more intense. “Stained glass.” The words are hardly audible.
She shrugs. “I thought you'd like it.”
“Yeah, he's on there.”
“So, you're pretty religious, then?”
“No, I just pass by here a lot,” she says. “It was the first thing that came to mind when you told me.”
“You know the crazy thing?” I gently guide her by the shoulder to a particular spot. “So right here, I can see you, the church, all the trees and cars, that playground there, all of that in color. But the next street over and the drugstore on the corner, those apartments there—”
“Black and white,” she finishes.
“Yeah.” I lower my eyes. I never want to go back.
“Aren't you curious as to why?”
“Of course, but unless you know something I don't...”
“I think I know...” She smiles; I'm falling into an ocean.
“Yeah?” My tongue is in knots. I can't take my eyes off her face.
“I have superpowers!” She grins.
We burst out laughing; she plants her hand on my shoulder and bows her head. Her hair flies in front of her face like a golden sheet. My knees shake. Her hand slides off my shoulder and brushes my chest as she straightens from her fit of laughter and fixes her hair. I'm laughing and suffocating at the same time. Suddenly, we stop.
A few sporadic giggles trickle from our lips amongst the silent gaze we hold in the aftermath. It feels like years pass as we stand on the sidewalk.
She tilts her head. “What?”
I close my eyes and lean in. I’ve never felt a rush like this before, I— I feel a hand on my chest, a light push, and my eyes pop open. I blink like an owl.
“Gavin— I just met you.” She shakes her head and laughs. “Come on. Let's go back.”
My ears burn again. “Sorry, I just…”
She touches my arm softly. “I get it, really. This is probably a life-changing moment for you, but you need to slow down. Don't worry, I plan on taking you up on that cup of coffee later.”
“Later?” My tongue is tied once more, but my spirit soars.
“Yeah. I want to be upfront about something, though,” she says.
My gut sours. “Yeah?”
“I'm moving out west for a new job in five months. Just… Don't get too attached, ok?”
The words dash my hopes against the ground like shattered glass. Damnit. I knew it was too good to be true. I force a nonchalant grin onto my face. “I'll do my best.”
“I'm serious. If this is only going to hurt you in the end, we should just leave this as a nice, isolated memory.” She studies me closely, her smile gone.
I weigh the future hurt against returning to the gray. The choice is easy. “I can't go back.”
“You'll have to eventually. You decide when.” We lock eyes in momentary silence.
“Not today.” My voice is firm.
“Ok.” She slips her hand around my elbow. Out footsteps sync up and carry us on in easy silence. The world still amazes me at every turn; I'm already planning everything I want to experience with her. The fact that it’s only temporary makes my desire that much more intense. If I must return to the gray, I'm taking a lifetime of colorful memories with me.