“I do not see in color. I see only in blacks, and in whites, and in shades of useless, shadowed gray,” he says to me, placing his fingers on my arm, rubbing the tips of his nails against my blonde hairs, almost scraping against-
“I think I saw green once. That is, I saw a weird light shine on the grass, and my brother told me that grass is green. But maybe I didn’t really see green at all. Maybe it was blue or cream or chestnut. Maybe it was periwinkle. Violet, rose, magenta…” He trails off, blinking his eyelids, heavy with sleep. The train wears heavy on its’ tracks, and he begins to snore against my shoulder. I try to see the world like he does, sometimes. I try to see the world in Casablanca monochrome, a dizzying frenzy of shadow and light, never quite sliding into the Technicolor haze to which I have become accustom. I stare at the grass and try to see it as hazy grey sheaths of life. The dew is silver and the dead grass is white and the stalk is the most beautiful shade of charcoal I have ever seen.
* * *
We met on the train to Normandy. It was winter and I had forgotten to pack my heavy coat. I was miserable in the most gorgeous country in the world.
I was focused on my manuscript then, back when I thought it was any good, and he watched me try to scratch heavy letters with the blunt tip of an antique fountain pen into the rough curves of a parchment paper notebook, which made from the recycled soles of abandoned shoes.
“How pretentious,” he noted. “A fountain pen. Parchment paper.”
I hadn’t noticed him there. Truthfully, he was plain- a stick with copper wire-rims and the complexion of a stubbled, greasy teenager. He wore his auburn hair long, so it sat on his shoulders, the split ends colliding with his rough wool sweater.
I tell him that I don’t believe in writing if it’s easy. That if Shakespeare could write with a quill, I could certainly write with my grandfather’s fountain pen.
“The difference is that Shakespeare was an artist,” He says. I stare into his eyes, a sparkling shade of blue that he himself will never see.
“And I’m not?”
He sighs and leans against the train’s window. “Why are you in France?”
His voice is lightly accented, like a Parisian who attended an American school, reading British literature and watching Russian films.
I tell him I’m here for inspiration. It’s partially true, anyways.
“See, that’s the thing. A real artist need not leave their own bedroom to write their magnum opus.”
* * *
I’m in my bedroom now, and I haven’t written my magnum opus, or even its’ rough draft. Cat hair clings to all the sofas and all of the woolen sweaters he gave me. I haven’t paid my electric bill in three months. I sleep in my winter coat. A postcard taped to my bathroom mirror reads “Allons-y au Paris!” and on it there’s a kitten rubbing its’ whiskers on the Eiffel Tower. A few weeks ago I couldn’t stop vomiting. I wretched and I wretched and out came everything I had ever eaten. The carpets are now stained brown, but not a drop got on the postcard, so at least there’s that.
* * *
The train stops at Mont St. Michel, and we all got off for breakfast. He followed me, not saying a word, and we silently picked a café together. The waitress doesn’t know the word bacon, and when it comes it is different than the greasy, fatty strips of broiled flesh that I’m used to making for myself over the stove. They taste like strips of food, pink and savory, covered in butter and laced with a sort of chutney, a wonderful sort of chutney. He tells me about St. Michel.
“It’s an island, but not really.”
I don’t understand until he takes me to an overlook, carved into a rocky outcropping. We are surrounded by water on all sides.
“Then how did the bus drive up here?” I ask.
The water flows and recedes, he says. It was dry land then.
In the distance, sheep graze on grass and run along the hillsides. I wonder later if the sheep could see the greenness of the grass, the way the foggy sunrise cast a pink shadow on each stalk. I spend ten minutes just admiring the grass swaying in the breeze, the tide crashing against the base of the mount. He sends it staring at the pen I’ve tucked behind my floppy ear.
* * *
Later that night he nibbles on the ear, sucking it and tasting it, leaving ruby red bite marks that trail down towards my neck. I am an island, but not really. Sometimes I’m alone, but other times I’m surrounded by cool water that fills me and sustains me. The holy water of life and lust and love and listless hours that John the Baptist poured on Jesus’ head and said “And it is good.”
I try to remember this when I get home to my apartment in Wichita. I pick up the phone to call my mother, to tell her I’ve met someone. I hang up on the third ring. I always forget she’s a bigoted fuck when I reach for the phone.
* * *
I keep getting trapped in dreams. My alarm goes off and I try to reach for it but I’m still stuck elsewhere. On a train from Paris to the beaches up north. In a bedroom, nibbling on his chest. On top of the mount while the tides pour their briny spittle against the rocks.
I begin to be glad that I’m unemployed. I don’t really have anything to wake up for, and I let the alarm chirp while I dangle my feet into the icy waters of Normandy.
Can you imagine how many people died here?
I always ask him this just as the alarm goes off. He sits in silence until my mind breaks free, and I never hear his answer.
* * *
Did you know that there’s a tribe in Africa that sees colors totally different than everyone else? It’s because they have different words for the colors, and they bunch all sorts of colors together in groups. They have their own words, like the Japanese call savory foods unami and we can only kind of picture what that means. Can you imagine? Their eyes are the same, but they see different things.
There are so many things that I can’t see that you can. I can see the pink light on the grass but I can’t see why that should make me any happier than a withered patch of desert shrubs, tumbling, alone. A life without color; a life without resilience.
* * *
“I do not see in color. I see only in blacks, and in whites, and in shades of useless, shadowed gray,” he says to me, placing his fingers on my arm, rubbing the tips of his nails against my blonde hairs, this time scraping against them.
“How did you get these?” he asks. “When did you get these?”
“I was alone.”
“Aren’t you alone every day?”
“Not every day, not always.”
* * *
I don’t see him for a few days. I sit on the beach alone and suck at the end of my pen, licking at ink. The tide washes against rocks, against abandoned bunkers and loose hunks of scrap metal.
I dig the tip of the pen into my arm and write a story.
Nobody reads it because it isn’t very good.
* * *
Jack Yearly, Wichita, Kansas, 67203, USA.
In reviewing your piece, Polychrome, we found many factual errors. We enjoyed the vivid descriptions of color and the beautiful images you evoked. Your piece had an iridescence that almost lifted off the page. However, a third person account of a man’s romance with another man is hardly hard-hitting travel writing. In fact, it’s not even travel writing at all. Your descriptions of Mont St. Michel and the northern regions of France bear little factual integrity. It is as if you had never been there, save through books and online articles. Perhaps your work would be better suited for a literary magazine.
The World Informer
P.O. Box 22330
New York, New York 10292
* * *
“’I think I saw green once. That is, I saw a weird light shine on the grass, and my brother told me that grass is green. But maybe I didn’t really see green at all. Maybe it was blue or cream or chestnut. Maybe it was periwinkle. Violet, rose, magenta…’”
“Monochromacy is very rare in humans,” she says. “Are you sure that’s what he had?”
I tell her I’m positive. I repeat what he said. I show her the postcard he wrote me last weekend. She stares at the kitten and the Eiffel tower briefly, then flips it over, fingers the glossy edges.
“20 mg, Prozac, once a day. Take this to the pharmacy, get it filled. Don’t forget. “
Her prescription pad is sea foam green, and the ink is a subdued shade of aquamarine.
She asks if she can keep the postcard.
* * *
MAILER DEAMON: DO NOT REPLY:
THE FOLLOWING (16) MESSAGES COULD NOT BE DELIVERED.
ERROR TYPE: UNKOWN ADDRESS
RETURN TO USER: JJYEARLEY
* * *
I sit on the beach alone, writing stories into my skin, but this time he joins me. He spreads a tattered blanket on the sand and motions for me to sit next to him. He pulls off his sweater and hands it to me.
“How could you forget?”
“My sweater? It’s not important, really. I’m not cold.”
“Not the sweater, Jack.”
I didn’t forget, not really. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s orange and opaque, with blue trim around the lid. 20 mg, once a day.
I’m afraid to be lonely, really. I’m afraid that if I take the chalky egg-shell colored pills that I’ll lose the beach, the blanket, the winter air, the tides. I’ll lose the pink on the stalks and I’ll lose him.
“I’ll lose you.”
He rubs my arm, feels the scars. I ask him what color the water is.