Brighter than Alex thought necessary, the late-afternoon sun bounced off the Pacific, forcing him to squint at the magazine in his lap. He was enthralled, reading an article in Beige Life about the soothing qualities of the color Beige. How it dulled the senses. How it brought whoever gazed into its mesmerizing a sense of predictable, unchanging security. The argument was that the world did not, in fact, need hot sauce, neon yellow clothing, rainbows, modern art, or other flamboyant displays of self-expression, and that wearing tan khakis every day was perfectly acceptable—encouraged even. Alex read how scientists discovered that Beige acted to nullify the nervous system, and for those with a latent psychosis, it was the best kind of medicine. He didn’t like his medicine, the doctor always prescribed these huge horse pills that were green, blue, and red. They were repulsive in every manner. He stopped taking them after he nearly choked on the red one; it tasted terrible.
Alex reflected how he ought to get his kitchen cabinets painted Beige too, to cover up the evil intricate patterns in the wood grain. It was too much stimulation. Alex decided he would go to the hardware store so he could buy a big bucket of Beige. As he stood, he straightened the wrinkles from his khakis, and just as he was about to go inside to grab his Beige wallet, his cat Smith scrambled up the porch with a live snake in his mouth.
“Smith, that’s disgusting! Take it away!” He ordered.
The cat paused. He weighed his options with the snake wriggling between his teeth.
“Smith!” Alex cried. “Listen, either you drop that thing, far, far away from this house, or you’ll get no love tonight. What’ll it be?”
Smith had made up his mind. He leapt past Alex and inside the bungalow, where he promptly released the snake.
Inside his Beige safehouse, the black oily thing swerved on his new freshly-vacuumed Beige carpet. Smith toyed with the snake while Alex’s sensitive nose picked up a rage-inducing scent: snake urine. Alex clenched his fists, but he didn’t dare touch the thing, for snakes were far from Beige. Far from secure and predictable. And especially far from his routine.
Alex predicated his life on a simple routine: wake up, brandish suit, swallow bagel, crunch numbers, drink coffee, crunch numbers, think about Mary, visualize Mary, go to bathroom stall, build emotional dam against forthcoming shame waves, eat sandwich, crunch numbers till day’s end, fight through traffic, pet Smith, make dinner, read, television, and finally, sleep.
Nowhere in his routine was there time or tolerance for a snake.
The despicable scent returned to his nose, and, grimacing, Alex snapped into action. He was a blur when he snatched the broom, then, sweating heavily, approached the taxing ordeal. Smith batted the snake toward Alex, and the snake, losing the battle with the feline, decided to make a run at the human. The grown man produced a yelp—jumping onto the safety of his Beige kitchen tiles. Wearing a beige polo and tan khakis, Alex was indistinguishable from his complete Beige surroundings. The snake slid right by him. As he gripped the broom, he swiped at the snake—but instead hit Smith in the mouth on the backswing. Alex did not know this. His cat growled and he was oblivious to having done anything at all.
“Damnit Smith,” he cursed at his pet. “You let it get away!”
Smith’s fur was high on end. Alex retreated, lowering his voice. “What’s gotten into my pretty little kitty?”
The cat jumped and bit Alex’s thumb.
“Ouch!” Alex cried. “Banana?!”
The cat held on. It wasn’t as painful as it was shocking. Smith had never bit him before, and he didn’t understand why the sudden disobedience. For eight years Smith had been there for him. For eight years the fur-turd had been a welcome distraction from loneliness.
And for eight years, Alex had been without his love.
“Mary…” He moaned while Smith sunk his teeth even deeper. Then, angrily, “Mary,” with his teeth grinding.
Alex’s face flashed hot. A rage enveloped him. He flung Smith—still latched to his thumb, and smashed the cat against the wall. The cat flailed and fell, bones thumping tile. It tried scrambling away but Alex grabbed his tail—he yanked him back and came down with a fist on the back of his head. The cat went comatose.
“Oh God, what did I do….what did I just do?”
But he knew what he did. Oh how he knew.
And there he was again, alone in the kitchen he’d built himself. The tile he had laid in a perfect square. It was important that all the tiles were exactly the same size. Thirty six inches squared exactly. Walking on the Beige tiles allowed for complete order and safety. Predictable patterns were the only way to move through the kitchen. No diagonal patterns were allowed. Only vertical and horizontal lines brought complete order and safety in the kitchen. The kitchen walls he had rolled with five coats of Beige. Yet even in the kitchen, he didn’t feel at peace with the snake and the entire ordeal. The kitchen wasn’t complete. The cabinets weren’t even Beige. Yet.
And the cat that wasn’t moving.
He turned away from the sickly sight—directed his frustration toward the cabinets, where he slid his finger across the face of a wood-grain demon. He staggered back. There was indeed a face in the wood grain. Menacing and twisted and snarling at him. Alex turned away, but his thumb sent a jolt up his arm.
The bite. Maybe it’s infected, he thought, he did have a—wait, if the snake was poisonous, and Smith bit the snake, and Smith bit me, then…
Alex ran to the sink and tried scrubbing it out. He scathed himself with the metal pan cleaner, jammed soap in the wound. It bled even more. He cursed, louder than the Lord thought necessary, and ran to the bathroom. There he would be safe. Everything Beige was there. It was the only room he’d finished completely, the window that looked into a Beige void. The shower curtains, a Beige ripple of polypropylene. Even the toilet handle was painted Beige. Alex locked himself inside. He was queasy, and as he settled against the wall beside the toilet, his thumb jolted again. Pain shot up his arm. I’ve been poisoned, he thought. No, I can’t think bad thoughts. Alex beat his head against the wall. I’m just having a freak-out, I’ll be fine, just look at the wall. He thought of the article in Beige Life and what scientists had said of the color’s calming effect.
Just look at the wall, he told himself. Just nullify the nervous system.
The wall he was referring to was undoubtedly Beige, but as Alex stared harder than he’d ever stared, the wall seemed to become a darker shade of Beige. It became brown.
“No,” said Alex. “It can’t.”
He was sweating profusely. Squeezing his temples, clenching his teeth, he willed the wall back to Beige. With his mind he made it happen. Superman could move objects with his mind, well, Alex could turn objects Beige. Hah. He let out a sigh. He closed his eyes and breathed for a moment. Everything’s going to be ok, he told himself, and there, leaning against the toilet, he had a glorious vision. A vision of Beige-colored oceans, Beige-painted grass and a Beige race of superhumans. Alex smiled as he imagined a Beige colored cat that would never bite or bring snakes into the house. He smiled as he imagined complete order; Beige order. A Beige colored Mary that would never stop loving him. His thumb sent another pang.
“Haaaaaaaaauuhhhh,” he groaned.
Alex’s brain hurt bad. He stood up, woozily, and splashed water on his face. The mirror—the mirror shone Alex’s head floating amongst a sea of Beige. The skin around his cranium seemed to bubble, seemed to melt as he stared in disbelief—it drooped crazily toward the floor, and, horrified, Alex juggled to keep it all from dripping off. His eyes melted into a pair of black almonds that narrowed and slithered away. His ears shimmied down his skull, dropped to his chin, and fell to the ground. Alex ripped his vision from the mirror. It was all lies. He palmed at his cheeks, and yes, it was all still there. Quickly, before another appendage might appear to fall off, he ripped the Beige hand towel off its hanger, then jumped in the bathtub where he laid fetal position with the towel draped over his face.
“Mary…” he whimpered. “Mary.”
His love was long gone and the hurt came shooting through his body like a comet made of garbage—stuff he’d thrown away a long time ago. But she wasn’t garbage, only the hurt was. Her, with her gaudy bright colors. Her with every finger dazzling in rings, every wrist clinking with metal circles. Her eyes sparkling like icy gems. She was this temptress screaming, ‘look at me, look at me!’
But she was lovely. He’d never felt such unconditional love poured so…unconditionally on his person. She even loved how he loved Beige. But when he’d proposed the traditional vows two take in marriage, she refused.
“But honey,” he said, “I want this to be forever.”
“Alex, I’ve known you for five days. We don’t even know each other.”
“But we do,” that’s when he pulled her closer, but not close enough to touch her bright blue dress. He couldn’t touch…that.
“You’re insane,” she joked. Then she pinched him. Hard.
He giggled. “But I’m in love,” he said.
And there, embracing on the beach in front of the bungalow, she wrestled from his grip, and said, “No, Alex, listen: you’re literally insane. You should get some help.”
Then she left.
Alex stayed curled in the bathtub for quite some time. Maybe it was better that she had left, he thought, for her own happiness. It was hard to admit. Maybe she’d poured so much love into him those five blissful days, she didn’t have any left for herself. Alex sniffled. The poison had worn off and by now he wasn’t feeling so strange any more.
“Alex,” he thought he heard. “Alex?”
He began to squirm in the bathtub. It sounded like her voice. It might have been her. It was her. He could feel her presence, yes, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, yet he was scared to remove the towel from over his eyes. His heart swelled with emotion, and he felt her pinch him, as she used to do. He laughed.
“Alex, come on, get up,” she said.
The pinches were beginning to increase. There were a number of them on his feet and his legs. He swatted at her and his hand landed on the hem of a slick-feeling dress. She was so stylish, he thought. The way people dress these days, maybe people wear shower curtains.
“Ok Mary,” he giggled, “you can stop pinching me now.”
But she said, “Shhhhhhhhhhhh.”
The pinches continued and actually, they were beginning to sting. He had a vision of skin-pancakes searing in a stainless steel pan, and Mary, smiling at the camera, cooking him up.
Alex threw the towel off his face.
It was the snake.
He flew from the tub and felt immediately nauseous. The black thing hissed at him and poked its head from the tub. A wave of stupidity fell upon Alex. He knew right then that not Beige, not Mary, not a poisonous snake who had slithered under the door crack could redeem him. Not God either. This was too much change to overcome.
Time slowed to a comfortable cruise. The venom had entered his system. The wave of stupidity was replaced by a wave of euphoria. He’d been ejected from life’s driver’s seat, deemed by some Higher Power to be too dumb for his own good, and without Alex doing anything at all, he felt his own body lurch out of the bathroom. The flesh bag turned toward the front door; it was open. Out that door he could see waves of the rhythmic Pacific pushing sand up the beach. Dreamily, he reflected how he loved living on the beach, surrounded by sand. Then, his thoughts slowed further, and his motor skills ceased to be of his own volition. A tunnel formed around him. The hallway, the living room, the porch, the beach, the ocean: all congealed into a single throbbing highway of his eternal consciousness. The Beige carpet in his living room was no longer Beige. He realized, in his altered state, that this was his nemesis—the rainbow. For it was not stable, it was not predictable, it was not logical. In that rainbowed moment of hallway, living room, porch, beach, ocean, he realized that Alex was all of it, and none of it. That Mary was just a figment, but a lovely figment. That she was Smith. That Smith was the snake. That the snake was Mary. He had gotten it all wrong. He had predicated his life on securing sameness, on unrelenting predictability, but the only thing that did not change was change itself.
The rainbow was truly the thing he was seeking.
“Rainbow…” he drooled.
The tunnel, his life, collapsed into a single moment. He reached the end of the tunnel in an instant. His feet felt sand, far below. He watched the water splash and as it rose up, caught sun rays that illuminated every crystalline droplet. Rainbow sprays pattered his face. Rainbow waves crashed over him. He felt the best he’d ever felt. He had been missing the point this entire time. Change was Life and Life was Change. Alex had messed up and nothing could save him now. Maybe Hell would be Beige.
The Pacific was especially warm that evening.