"I know what it is Iím missing."
He looked at the computer monitor, his back to me, but his shoulder twitched in a way that meant that maybe his eyebrow quirked in acknowledgement of my words.
Hack, hack. The letters flew from his fingertips, some random greeting to some obscure internet denizen whose name would always, in my heart, translate to enemy. "Well, what is it?"
I smiled a little, staring up at the ceiling. "I miss the color white."
"Yes, white. I crave things that are white."
The keystrokes faltered for a moment. "What do you mean, you miss white?"
Laying on the couch, amidst colors I no longer found the strength to find beautiful, I twirled one lock around my finger, exulting in the feel of emptiness in my chest, in the hollow sound of my voice. "Have you never dreamed of a place where everything is white? I do. All the time."
"Youíre not - how do you spell Ďoblivioní - youíre not making sense."
"O-B-L-I-V-I-O-N. You know, white. I sometimes imagine living in a place where the ocean brushes against my front step in the mornings. There are huge bay windows, all of them open, and an easel and a typewriter. A place where I could draw, paint, and write. The sheets on the beds would be pristine white, like snow, and the pillows, too. Everything would smell of clean linen. From outside, the light would fall into the room in such a way that the walls shimmer like snow, and the scent of salt water would cling to my paint brushes and paper. The only color in the room would be beneath my feet. Hardwood floors, the kind you can curl your toes against and not feel a speck of dust. It would be really clean. At night, the stars would call to me, maybe at midnight, when the tides are high, and when I feel dirty, or like the world is getting too big and the walls are crushing me, I could run outside into the sea and swim until Iím exhausted, until Iím too tired to think of being alone or scared."
Hack, hack. He lifted his arms high above his balding head and stretched once, bending his body from side to side. I heard his knuckles crack as he turned to me and rested his hands in his lap. "You donít like it here?"
My fingers traced over the carpet and snagged on the remnants of thirty years of living, the stair steps of limbo. "No, thatís not it. Maybe I just need a vacation, you know? Get away for a week or two and just breathe. The desertÖ..it has a way of sucking the life right out of you."
"I like it. Itís warm here. The sun is always shining."
"Yeah, it is. Always."
"Some people hate the rain. My friend in England wishes she had a sunny day now and then. Whatís so bad about this place?"
"I donít know. There is too much sand here. Sand everywhere. It grinds itself into my thoughts and feelings, leaves everything dry and tasteless and brown. I donít like all the sand."
"There is sand on the beach, too. And itĎs dangerous. You can get lost." He regarded me with eyes that said I spent too much time thinking of where I could be, instead of where I was. A fatherly, reprimanding look.
"I know, but the sand there is different. Itís clean. Every few hours, it gets washed. The only danger that exists is for the unwary. Nothing ever stays the same on the beach. Itís always white."
He turned back to the monitor and began typing again. "Youíre depressed because the city is brown? Come on. Itís the way things are here. The land is brown. You knew that before you agreed to come."
The ceiling fan whirled around and around, throwing mites and stale air down on me. I wanted to gag, but if I started coughing, I knew Iíd never stop. "Brown is fine. I was just thinking. I do miss white. Maybe Iíll clean the house tomorrow, one of the top to bottom deals. Spray a little Febreze around. The cotton-scent one."
"Sounds good." Hack. The backspace button tapped an agitated cadence against the desk.
I was distracting him again, and I was sorry. "Good night. Iím tired, I think."
"Be there in a few."
I rose on unsteady feet, loathing the thought of moving, yet yearning for the darkness of the bedroom. In there, I could imagine the sheets were white. Stripping my pants off, I crawled into bed, arranging the covers beneath me and wishing, for the hundredth time that day, that we could afford air conditioning. A pile of clothes obstructed my way. We needed more dressers, more room. Room for everything.
The wind howled through the umbrella tree outside, the sighing of the branches skittering like ghosts into the shadows and crevices of the room. The neighborís dog barked, and the lights on the house across the street turned on., illuminating my wedding picture on the wall. Just one. It had been a sale, ten dollars for an eight-by-ten memory.
From the living room, I heard the sound of the computer powering down. He was coming to bed already, too. No more time for conversations with those imaginary friends who filled the corners and smoothed the edges of Suburbia for me. I whispered good night to them and feigned sleep, evening out my breathing to make the illusion complete.
The mattress dipped under his weight. Click, click. He set the alarm clock and rolled over, steepling his hands to pray, as he did every night. Our FatherÖ
A deep moan, a belch. He smacked his gums. "Good night. Love ya."
The blankets seemed even blacker to me then. A few crumbs dug into my back. I didnít really want to respond, but I knew I would, just to avoid probing questions. "Good night. I love you, too."
Fifteen minutes passed. With our backs touching, I felt that he, too, was wide awake, but neither of us spoke. I drew random designs on the wall with my finger, hoping that one of us would succumb to sleep soon, but he turned and put his hand on my stomach.
"What are you thinking?"
I turned onto my back. "Hmm? Nothing really. Nothing at all."
He paused. "Youíre sure?"
"Just a little. Too much, maybe."
Had it not rocked the squeaky bed too hard, Iíd have shaken my head in resignation. "White. Iím thinking about white things."
"Because I love white."
I could feel him nodding, but he didnít really understand, maybe, because he ventured on. "What are you thinking?"
Thereís always a time for truth, I supposed. I slung my leg over the covers and pulled the pillows a little closer under my neck. The reflections of the tree on the wall bade me speak. Stop being a bloody coward, they said. "Sometimes you just remember that youíre born alone, and that youíll leave the same way. Havenít you had a day when the world just seems too big? You want to be a child again. Thatís all. Being an adult is so damned difficult sometimes."
"Thatís true . Happens to me, too, but not really that often. What does this have to do with white?"
My eyes closed and I hated the tear that slipped down my cheek to seek refuge in my hair. The wind picked up again outside, stronger than before. The acrid smell of burning leaves and wood filled the room, almost imperceptible, but my nose had always been good. The tear died quickly, as all traitors do. "Do you smell the fire?"
"Yeah. Whereís the fire?"
Inside. "In the Bosque. By the river."
"Oh, thatís right. You told me about that earlier. Wonder how long itíll burn."
What could I have said then? That he never heard me? That the fire could burn for days and days and never touch a living thing? That all it would burn was dust and dirt and starving creatures who had erred into this place by accident? The lifeless riverbed, where nothing but tumbleweeds roamed? "Mother Nature is simple. So simple, itís beautiful. Too much growth, too much mess, and a fire starts. Everything unnecessary gets burned away. After that, what has been brown becomes green again. Filled with breath. We should be like that. Simple."
"Wonder how longÖ" He didnít finish. Sleep had finally found him. I turned towards him and splayed my fingers, careful to be gentle and not disturb him, on his shoulder. It was cold to the touch. My lips found his skin and nuzzled the back of his arm, every wish and hope and dream singing one last time before climbing back into the sarcophagus where I kept them by day, and most nights. I would have put my arm around him, but my hand burned.