“Color of Gray”
In art school, I took a literature class where we studied art-related fiction e.g., Girl With a Pearl Earring. One of our assignments was to write our own art piece. I came up with a story based on a fictionalized account of my own experiences. It is a tale of an insular artist discovering and dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Considering the readers’ responses, i.e., my classmates, I suspect this story is definitely worth holding onto, and quite possibly, marketable. Now, I have given myself the directive to find the appropriate markets for it. That may be more challenging than writing the story itself.
Here is an excerpt from my story, “Color of Gray”:
It is very funny the things one thinks of when faced with adversity, mortality. I use the term “funny” quite loosely. Anyone can muse about this superficially, but really, you don’t know until. . . .
I sat on the hard surface of the bed in the emergency room, swinging my legs impatiently. Up, down, right, left, clockwise and counter. From the moment I stepped into the waiting room until I was admitted, I was confident my grotesque appearance was due to an allergic reaction to insomnia medication. The sleepless nights while battling my creative energy were really not as traumatic, considering. Never mind I was on the lowest dosage, and my response was atypical. I was healthy, a vegetarian, and a yoga practitioner. Could it be the paints, the turpenoid, the varnish?
I tried to lie back on the bed. The choking feeling I had become too familiar with during the past two weeks came on full force. I struggled with my newly swollen extremities to sit up once again. Where did my comfort level go? I viewed my faint reflection in the glass wall separating the room from the Ivan Albright-inspired scene of the E.R. A thinly diluted watercolor portrait I did not recognize. The model for my hours of study and practice looked back at me. Where did I go? I was hideous.
The doctor, a tall drink of water with spiky, heavily gelled hair and post-adolescent acne, came in. He looked serious. Does he practice that face in the mirror? “Mass in your chest . . . ten centimeters . . . compressing . . . might be cancer.” What? I haven’t brushed my teeth since this morning. I hope my breath doesn’t smell.
I felt like I was hit with a log. Cancer is something that happens to other people. Not a thoughtful, bright, young person as myself. My God, I will not make it to forty. Overwhelmed at the realization, I fell back onto the bed. The braided cord twisting slowly around my neck was the least of my troubles. As the doctor, no, medical student, came towards me and held my hand, I was reminded of Noah Wylie. He was so damn young. Get your psuedo-sympathetic, taken-from-the-book bedside manner away from me. You have your whole life ahead of you to dry the backs of your ears. My life is behind me. I really did want to do a silverpoint drawing someday.
How will I sleep? If I can make it through the night, I will be able to handle the prognosis the next day. It was a hospital for Christ’s sake; there were plenty of pills to choose from to send me blissfully into oblivion. I became acutely aware of the pain the upper half of my body was in. Three heads long from the top of the head to the navel. That is what I learned in basic anatomy. I knew more about the human structure than the average person. I did not understand what was happening to me, though.
I never conceived myself vomiting green bile. Too much morphine, or not enough. Sap green with a touch of Indian red. Not a lot, the pigment is very transparent. Hmm. Maybe a splash of indigo blue to cool the mixture in places. Make it more interesting to the eye. The colors should sing and dance on the canvas. My head lolled to the right on my pillow. I didn’t have the strength to resist looking at the x-ray of my torso. The gray mass was suspended behind my ribcage. Why is it so difficult to render that part of the body? I wish I practiced that more. The tumor—like a lump of clay. I bet I could mold it into something interesting, beautiful even. Instead of killing me, it would feed me.
I had no idea what day it was. The on-duty nurse pulled my straight, waist-length hair into a loose ponytail. Such a perfunctory action to her was such a welcomed gesture of kindness to me. My hair had not been washed since the morning of the day I came here. Will it fall out?
I had the luxury of free time. If I didn’t have to work, I could paint eight hours every day. I could work out more, clean my apartment, or see more plays. I was left there in bed, watching television. The drama playing out in the little, black box was a welcome escape. I wished I had my sketchbook. It would not matter, as I could barely lift my arms to scratch my face.
The tubes, lines, and wires were finally removed. I was unfettered. I had the freedom to haul my engorged form to the washroom. I stopped at the mirror. What a horrific composition. My face was crimson, bloated, with dried mucus on my philtrum; my soul was black. I could call it “The Four Humours at Play.”