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Life in Monochrome
The last color vanishes with an audible pop, as if it’s been sucked through a straw.
And now everything I see is in black and white. Including this pillow fort. At seventeen, I’m too old to be hiding in one, but I can’t bring myself to move. I’m a frozen tableau of WTF?, staring out through the duvet at my colorless bedroom.
In front of me, my window frames our back garden like an old photograph. It’s the last day of August, and white sunshine is cascading over the monochrome flower beds. Roses and clematis and honeysuckle, all rewritten in gray.
There are more than ten million colors in the world, and I can no longer see a single one.
The colors began fading ten weeks ago, the day after my mother disappeared.
The last time I saw her was the final day of school before the summer holidays. I was eating breakfast; she was leaving for work. Wearing her usual glaze-spattered smock, cigarette clamped in fuchsia-lipsticked mouth, she waved me madly goodbye. It reminded me of a tulip in a tornado.
After school, I went to her ceramics studio, expecting to find her absorbed in her latest piece. Instead, she had left the kind of note that inspires the police to search the rocks beneath Beachy Head—a cliff with incredible views of the sea, and England’s most notorious suicide spot.
But as no body was found—and her long, rambling letter wasn’t enough proof—she’s not considered dead. She’s missing. Vanished into thin air.
Ever since then, the world without her has looked a little chalkier. Like a drop of bleach has been added to the sky. When this first started, it made total sense to me: My disco ball of a mother was gone, of course I was seeing things a little askew.
But then the colors kept fading. With each minute, hour, and day that she didn’t come bursting back through the front door … or send one of her habitually exuberant ALL-CAPITALS texts … or kick off her shoes and dance through the garden … the saturation drained from my sight. Until all that was left was the palest gossamer pastels. A last whisper of hope.
And now today. All morning, even these barely there colors have been disappearing. It’s the last day of summer; my baby sister’s fifteenth birthday. By not coming home for Emmy-Kate, Mum is really, truly gone.
As I peep from my duvet through the window, the birthday girl herself comes cartwheeling across the lawn. Emmy-Kate is in black and white too. But I bet the dress she’s wearing is pink. (The underwear she’s flashing as she turns head over heels is definitely days-of-the-week.)
My sister concludes her acrobatics and springs upright, her gaze landing on my open window. She narrows her eyes, squinting up.
I turtle beneath the duvet, disturbing the world’s stupidest house rabbit: Salvador Dalí.
“Shhh,” I warn, putting a finger to my lips. Too late. His ears fly backward, listening as the back door slams, then two sets of footsteps come clattering up the stairs to my attic bedroom. Emmy-Kate’s pony-princess prance, followed by Niko’s steady clomp-clomp-clomp. No pillow fort in the world is safe from my sisters.
Emmy-Kate arrives first, spinning in her new froufrou frock.
“Minnie! Isn’t this dress a Degas? It’s Dancers in Pink,” she says in her bubblegum voice.
With a famous artist mother, we’re all walking art encyclopedias—Emmy-Kate, though, actually thinks and talks in paintings, using artwork as an indication of mood. Dancers in Pink is an impressionist piece, a blur of lighter-than-air ballet dancers. It might seem strange, given the circumstances, that she chooses a happy painting. But she’s turning fifteen: too young to be told about a letter, a possible suicide, a cliff. As far as Emmy-Kate knows, Mum is merely AWOL, and innocent optimism is the order of the day.
I emerge from the duvet and croak, “Happy birthday.”
Emmy-Kate tilts her head, setting off a cascade of what should be strawberry-blond hair. It’s gray. Gray eyes. Shiny gray pout. My stomach lurches. Black-and-white vision would be a problem for anyone, but for an artist—even me, a total wannabe—it’s an effing catastrophe. Before I can throw up from all this weird, Niko comes stomping into the room.
She snorts at the mess. Then at me, still in my duvet nest. Despite her glam-grunge appearance—think dungarees and flip-flops worn with pinup girl hairdos and perfect eyeliner—the oldest Sloe sister acts more like ninety than nineteen.
“Minnie—you’re not still in bed?” she signs, rhetorically. Niko is Deaf, and the movement of her hands as she signs is exacerbated by the bandages on her fingertips. She’s a bona fide art student, specializing in cutouts: Think paper snowflakes, only ten times as complicated. Injury is an occupational hazard.
I examine my pajamas, my location on the mattress, and sign back, “No, I’m on the moon.”
“Humor. You must be feeling okay.” Niko rolls her eyes. “Good. You can help me make the pancakes.”
Copyright © 2019 by Harriet Reuter Hapgood