Everything was so soft, so gentle and fragile, so much so that if she moved too quickly, she could feel the contour of reality catch against her body and break, trailing behind her like silvery spiderwebs. Those were often the moments she felt in the mornings, after awakening from dreams of unbroken gray silence. She would open her eyes, sit up carefully, pull back the blankets, swing her legs to the side of the bed, adjust her nightgown, slide off the bed, straighten her blankets, and whisper-walk to the bathroom to stand in front of the mirror with her hands hanging at both sides.
She took a shower and the mirror fogged over. She brushed her teeth and dark hair. She went to her closet and pulled on a clean, white shirt and pants and stood still for a moment, knowing she was forgetting something but patient enough to wait for it to come to her. Then she picked up a delicate silver necklace from her nightstand, clasped it around her neck, and went to the bathroom again to look at herself in the still-blurred mirror.
And there it was. A memory that hung around her neck. The necklace had arrived in hands, hands connected to arms, arms connected to shoulders, shoulders connected to a neck, neck connected to a face pockmarked ,misshapen, unrecognizable and now slowly-slowly piecing back together. She closed her eyes and the grayness chopped open, the steamy air too thick, and she brushed her hair aside, and calmly took off the necklace. She put it next to the sink and was immediately awash in colorless air that she filled her lungs with several times.
She left the bathroom quietly. She swung, like a pendulum, within a misty haze as she descended the stairs and prepared coffee, each movement part of a carefully orchestrated routine. Once a finished cup had appeared in front of her, she took a small sip. Hot enough to warm her insides, the taste was rich and comfortably bitter, and the steam curled into her face. She promptly left the rest of the coffee on the counter, grabbed her purse, and left the house.
The clouded sky looked like a smooth pane of gray, and the sidewalks were spotless cement because the wind had blown away the leaves and debris. The breeze tickled her face, and she decided to accept that small pleasure, soon finding herself enjoying the crisp air. It was good out here. She tipped her head back and took a deep breath.
She spotted a small flower next to the driveway and, smiling slightly, crouched down. The flower was yellow and shot through with orange near the center. She touched a petal and realized its beauty. She looked up and saw the dew on the green grass blades of her lawn, the red of her house’s painted shutters, the pink blossoms forming on the hanging plants that dangled from her porch overhang. The sun was out now, breaking through the morning mist, its light golden and solidifying. The sky was blue and endless. The world had color, it was beautiful, it was infinite, and she gasped.
In that instant the gray had been pierced and pushed aside, bunched up like fabric now, a shock of light flooding through. This realization was a moment of deep joy and deep terror. There was no insulating fog anymore; her thoughts were in direct contact with her flesh, with her blood, and her body shuddered at the exhilarating vulnerability.
For she did not hurt right now. She inspected her hands and saw no wounds, pressed her fingers against her cheeks and inhaled sharply at the coldness in contact with her face. It was like waking up a second time. She could feel the press of her shoes against her instep, the brush of her hair against her neck. The morning air charged through her body in a race against her heart, her gloriously beating heart. She laughed and was taken aback by the noise, and she laughed again to hear it again.
This color that she saw, the sensations she could feel, meant something. It meant the world could be hers again.
She straightened, brushed off her shirt with gusto despite nothing being on it, and walked briskly down the sidewalk. It was strange at first to walk along without careful precision, but she soon adopted her new movements with eagerness. She could loosen her gait, stumble if she wanted, turn her head to look at the neighbor’s dog, and not focus on the direction she was walking. She could swing her purse from one hand to the other and fling her long hair back. She could catch a falling leaf from the air and toss it aside, she could run her hands through a lush plant on the side of the road, she could count the number of blue cars that had passed by so far (two) and the red ones (three).
Yes, the world could be hers, and she brimmed with possibility and excitement. There was so much to do and experience, and she itched to start again.
Upon reaching the park, she smiled at the shrieks of children playing. She had brought some candy in her purse to offer the neighborhood kids, remembering that they loved lemon drops. She shivered slightly, having worn nothing but a thin shirt, and pulled from her purse her favorite blue scarf to wrap around her neck. Maybe Maya was here today with her little brother, James. She could ask if Maya still wanted to go bowling like they’d planned before she had canceled. Maybe Maya would bring some of her other friends along, friends she now wanted to get to know. And also! She could pick up her flower-arranging hobby again, perhaps go back to that little shop with the old lady and continue working part-time shifts like she had before she quit last week.
She hummed a sweet song under her breath as she walked along, a song she had long forgotten the lyrics to but still remembered the tune.
She squinted at the people at the park playground as she drew within shouting distance.
She was frozen in time.
The shape of that person! That face! THAT FACE! THOSE CLOTHES! THAT VOICE! IT WAS THEM IT WAS THEM AND SHE NEEDED TO LEAVE.
She turned around and walked away. There was heat rising in the back of her throat and rushing into her head, there was a slight pressure behind her eyeballs, there was a binding in her lungs so she could only breathe so much, and each of those shallow breaths were too weak to bring down the fever raging in her chest. The pigments of her surroundings began to converge so that they coalesced into a brownish mass of sludge that dripped, thick and numbing, onto her shoulders and head and oozed down her arms and neck and leaked off her fingers and around her ankles and she stumbled and scrambled to LEAVE.
The little golden promise screamed and was swallowed and crushed and torn and ground into dust that whipped about, polluting the air, and still it screamed in an infinite loop of agony.
She reached the front door of her house and went inside, and put her purse onto the counter and went upstairs, and the air fractured so many times on her way to her bedroom that she had to lean against the wall to avoid the gaps and cracks of void. She was thrumming and crashing and any semblance of stillness was broken beyond repair. There was painful brightness coming in from the window and she drew the curtains shut, there was THEMTHEM coming from the bathroom right next to the sink so she closed the bathroom door tightly so as not to see it. The gritty burning ooze was thick in her throat and eyes and she could see nothing and she fit her body into the corner with all the furniture shoved aside and held her heavy head in her hands in a soundless plea.
And the color, the color, where had it gone? And how could it truly exist when it could so easily disappear? Her eyes burned and burned and her heart flamed and flamed until they choked out gray ash. How could she possibly move forward when she would always return here? How could she live colorfully when she could not keep it from swelling too bright and burning away?
And because what remained of the promise would not permit her to end it all, she allowed a quiet fog to settle that quelled her heart and calmed her breath. Everything was so soft now, so gentle and fragile and gray.
Emily Wang is a high school junior who prides herself on bad jokes and worse musical taste. She aspires to be a medical professional, tackling both biological and societal issues in medicine. When not conducting war against a homework onslaught, she is running her school’s Key Club and volunteering with the Red Cross. In her free time, she loves hanging with her besties, reading in bed with tea, and exploring herself through creative writing.