While standing on a shore of the lake near my home, I caught the grey. It blew in on the night breeze like a fog, curling its tendrils into my hair and fingers, sinking down into the fibers of my coat. I could have run. I didn’t. Perhaps that was why it came for me.
I thought nothing of it at first. If you are walking at night, in the solitude of your own thoughts, there is nothing that can tell you what state you’re really in. It took the dawn breaking in like an irate lover to show the color had drained out of me. The grey had sunk in and I was insubstantial as a piece of smoke.
At first I panicked. As much panic was allowed me, at least. It was a terrible thought that I might go through life like this. My priorities were still very much skewed. I imagined going to parties, attempting to shake people’s hands with my insubstantial self. How would I avoid social embarrassment? Perhaps a wide-brimmed hat and a scarf to muffle my grey face?
Too long it took me to realize: there would be no parties, no shaking hands. I was already halfway nothing. Not invisible, but not “there” enough to be bothered with. Friends did not avoid me, they simply did not see me.
Food had no taste. All the things I took joy in were now bland as chewed paper. I thought idly of suicide, but ruled it too much effort. My body was done trying. My grey shoulders and chest could lift nothing heavier than a match. My grey eyes were so dulled that I no longer braved full daylight, choosing instead to lurk in the times when the sun hovered just above the horizon.
For a while I took a sort of perverse pleasure in it. I would act in a way that would get me noticed in any other state, pushing as much as I dared. A fruit seller didn’t look up from his paper as I took a lime in my hand and let the grey chase away its green. Cars did not stop for me, so I began jaywalking. I ignored hours of business, coming and going as I pleased. Well, wished. It brought me no pleasure. Nothing did anymore.
It became effort to simply exist. I would find myself in a chair, wondering how long I had been conscious, trying to piece together a simple chain of events. It was as monumental as scaling a mountain, too often I gave up and sank back into oblivion.
What would be the end of my state? I could not see myself dying, not from such a strange condition. Would I dissipate like smoke? Perhaps I would flatten into a wall and become an ownerless shadow, or a patch of dust to be swept away.
I must have taken up walking, for I would find myself sometimes on that lake shore where I had first fallen grey. Now the fog really did creep in, embracing me like a long-lost child. My footsteps made no sound nor shape.
I found an unexpected sight in my perambulations, a man sitting on a rotten cypress log. He had a hand-rolled cigarette pinched in his lips, though I could not tell whether it was lit or not. With a jolt almost pleasurable, I noticed that he too was grey. I opened my mouth and made effort to speak.
“Salutations, brother,” I managed.
He spared me no glance. “Why call me brother? Do I know you?”
I gestured at us, our ash clothing, our smoke pallor. “We are afflicted with the same malady. Surely that makes us something.
He looked at me with filmed eyes. Taking the cigarette from his lips, he shrugged.
“I see nothing in common between us.”
“We are grey, my friend. Can you not see this with your own eyes?”
He rolled his gaze over me, shallowly ticking it up and down across my body. “Friend, everything is grey out here.”
He was not wrong. The fog silvered the sand, bleached the wood a dark charcoal. I felt irritation at this rejection of kinship. If I was not grey, I was not anything.
“Well, if everything is grey here, perhaps I should remove myself and shed this condition.”
The man shrugged with barely a whisper of his shoulders. He put the cigarette back. “As you will. I can’t force you one way or the other.”
My steps were short and agitated as I retreated from the shore. I had just one thing left to me and to have it passed over—
My hand in the yellow streetlight as I grasped the rail of the stairs that led away from the shore was a pale peach. I stepped further into that light and found my color returned. I was not grey now, merely numb. A condition curable by a hot drink and a footbath.
I spared one glance back the way I came, where the fog walled off the sight, the smell, even the sound of the lake water teething on the sand. Too timid to look a gift miracle in the mouth, I fled homeward.