Short Story: Chroma

“In our life, there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.”
— Marc Chagall

Sadie was pleased; the “out” box was finally taller than the “in” box. She stretched her hands over her head, simultaneously feeling both satisfaction and pain. The medication for her arthritis was wearing off.

She pushed away from the desk to rummage through her purse hanging on the cubicle corner, one of the chair’s wheels squeaking in protest. Pulling out four bottles, all similarly-sized, Sadie sighed.

Moving back to the desk with her “drugs”, she thought with a smile, she placed them neatly in a row after nudging the computer monitor aside to make room. Without her glasses to read the ultra-fine print, it was impossible to tell which bottle held what purpose, but Sadie preferred to go by color anyway. Everyone did.

Except…they all seemed to look the same now. She rubbed her eyes; she must be more tired than she thought. Glancing at her watch – 4:45 – Sadie decided her work day was pretty much done anyway. She took all four pills, vaguely wondering if perhaps she had mixed up her bottles with Hugh’s. It wasn’t an alarming thought; she and her husband took practically the same medicines anyway and the worst that could happen is she would get overly sleepy.

A flutter of warning brushed the back of her mind, so soft she didn’t take any notice of it.

She began closing down computer programs, noting that the screen seemed darker than before and that one of the IT guys should probably take a look at it, and organizing the remaining “in” papers. As Sadie sorted through her things, her thoughts wandered to Hugh.

She hoped he was still alright being at home by himself. That nasty cough persisted, and Sadie had refused to let him leave for work, just as fiercely as he had made her go. He had insisted that there was little point for her to hover over him all day, when he’d just be sleeping. They had then exchanged kisses in their familiar way, short but sweet. She had still worried, and called him at lunch to check in. He had sounded fine, even saying he was planning on going out into the garden to pick her some flowers to greet her when she returned home. Only if she brought back hamburgers, that is.

Sadie had promised nothing, but in the last minutes of her lunch hour, she had dutifully snipped coupons for their favorite burger joint. She tucked them into her wallet now, alongside the various mementos that she always kept with her: the door card she’d stolen from their honeymoon hotel, the tiny laminated picture of their first child’s ultrasound, a worn photo of their first cruise ten years ago after she had gotten that Christmas bonus, and the hospital wristband from when he had finally been released as cancer-free.

Her things packed up, Sadie took the “out” papers in a large bundle of plastic folders and after leaving her cubicle (with no small degree of relief), started carefully placing them in the appropriate files on the office wall.

“Need any help?”

Sadie turned to see Jane behind her, waiting to file her own folders. Though Sadie was only a few years older than Jane, both in their early sixties, her friend always seemed to be full of boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm. Even now at the end of a long work day, Jane’s eyes were sparkling and she barely leaned on her parrot-topped cane. Sadie suspected she used it more for verbal emphasis than physical assistance.

“I’m nearly finished,” Sadie said with a smile, one that Jane returned brightly before occupying herself with her paperwork.

Sadie looked at the last two folders, the ones she always saved for the end because they were the brightest. Vivid colors never ceased to amaze her. Not once in the past 40 years. Not since…

Her heart skipped a beat.

She couldn’t see the colors.

The flutter of warning became a full-fledged hurricane, twisting and raging in her head, beating against her temples.

The folders were supposed to be Cerulean Blue and Dashing Red. Her favorite. His favorite. Their favorites.

She couldn’t see the colors.

Her breath started coming in shallow gasps, as she tried to process this. It didn’t make sense. Of course it didn’t.

Everyone could see colors as soon as they met their soulmate. It may take years; Sadie and Hugh had been lucky to find each other so young. She had noticed his cerulean eyes; he had noticed her red hair. Then the entire world had lit up. It was a woeful understatement to say it had been overwhelmingly wonderful. They had literally spent hours just staring at everything, everyone. The world was beautiful. Colors were beautiful. He was beautiful.

And she had seen color ever since.

So why would everything change now? Why had that glorious ability been taken away?

Unless…

Sadie didn’t realize she had fallen until Jane was shouting her name from someplace high above her. The world – the dull, colorless world – was swimming before her eyes. Slowly Jane’s concerned face came into focus as sound returned.

“Sadie! Are you alright?” Jane’s normally round face was pinched with worry as she knelt by Sadie’s slumped form.

“Everyone stand back, give her some room,” said someone’s voice she didn’t recognize, and only then did she notice that practically the entire office was surrounding her. Normally, she’d be embarrassed, but she could feel nothing but hot panic twisting her insides, rising up in her throat, choking her.

“Sadie?” Jane’s tone was gentle, though not patronizing. “You sort of just…fell. I don’t think you hurt anything, you slid against the wall and I managed to catch you before you hit your head. But sweetie, you need to tell me if anything hurts. If something’s broken.”

Her heart, her heart was broken.

Hugh…

“What color is this?” Sadie managed to whisper. She was still clutching what should have been the Cerulean Blue folder.

Jane’s expression of worry deepened. “Sadie, are you sure you’re okay?” She exchanged an anxious glance with a nearby colleague: Sadie saw her mouth, “Delirious. Ambulance.”

“Jane, please,” Sadie said, her voice suddenly harsh. Nothing else mattered, nothing. “WHAT COLOR IS THIS?”

Her friend glanced at the crumpled folder. “It’s Cerulean Blue,” she said finally. “But why-?” Suddenly her eyes flickered with alarm. “Sadie..?”

Sadie gave a shuddering sigh as everything seemed to drain out of her. “It looks grey to me.”


 

Sorry for the late update! Busy week, and I didn’t have time to do anything new, so I decided to put up “Chroma” instead, which has been included in my Portfolio. I wrote this one awhile ago, based on a Tumblr post that speculated a world in which no one could see color until they met their soul mate—then a lovely person chimed in with what would happen if that soul mate died. It sparked my imagination, and this is what resulted. I think there are some tweaks and edits to be made, but overall, I quite like it. There’s a lot of potential for a world like this: think about all the advertising that would focus on colors, how everything would probably be very bright and bold, the emphasis on travel so you can explore the world searching for that special someone. I love thinking about things like this!

“Wave of Colours” by Rafa from Brazil is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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