‘Seeing colour is a luxury of the rich’. That’s the world David lives in, but he’s not gonna sit back and take it anymore. Not when the answer lives just across the street…
It’s burning me up. Every time I see him, bile cuts the back of my throat and I have to find something to hold on to lest the shaking gets too bad.
I’ve never had it like this. I’ve been with others like him, with the same luck, but I didn’t struggle with it the same way. Maybe they were different. They certainly didn’t shove it in my face the way he does. He may as well be wearing a sign saying ‘the sky is a wonderful shade of blue. How’s your life going?’
Bastard. I’d swear he does it deliberately. I’d swear he wakes up every morning and looks out of his window across the street at me. He knows I’m the odd one out, so he digs the knife in a little deeper, twists it at just the right time.
Not seeing colour is bad enough. I mean, I can barely remember before the Switch, so it’s not like I’m bereft or anything. But knowing there’s colour there, in abundance, and seeing only black and white, that’s what really bites. And that bastard wears suits in every colour of the rainbow.
There’s no way for me to be sure. I mean, it’s all different shades of grey to me, but I know it. I just know. The way he smiles and waves every morning, tweaks his auburn collar, or neatens his red tie. I’m pretty certain his shirts are warm oranges and purples.
There’s a tiny voice inside that tells me no one wears orange shirts, but he does. And he does it just to spite me. Bastard.
Well, not any more. I sip my pale grey orange juice, take my last bite of darker grey toast, and put the plate in my white dishwasher. I pace down my light grey hall, open my black front door and step out onto my pebbled driveway, every stone of which is a slightly different shade of grey.
He told me, once, a few years back, how brave he thought I was. He said for the non-coloureds, choosing such a bright driveway was bold. I smiled and said life was about taking risks. I had no idea what colour my drive way was. I was tempted to scream at him that it was grey, unless you were a rich son of a bitch like him, but I bit my lip and remained the good neighbour.
I think maybe that’s when I realised how evil he was. That’s when I saw what the world had made of him. It was bound to happen. Switching the colour off and making this two tier society was bound to unbalance people. And that bastard is clearly unbalanced.
I watch him get into his car, almost seeing the sign on the side declaring it a striking shade of metallic blue, and sniff. Off to work, same time as usual. I’ve been keeping track. I know when he’ll be home. I know when his wife will be home. She comes back later than him, so I’ll get about half an hour. More than enough.
I can’t remember where I read about it first. Apparently, once you pay your licence fee, they do an operation. The adverts used to call it a flick of a switch. ‘Want your colours back? Easy, just pay the fee and we flick the switch.’
Not that catchy, when you think about it, but it didn’t need to be. From colour to black and white overnight. People were queuing up. I would have, too, except I couldn’t afford it even back then. Before they put the prices up.
I amble across the road, hands stuffed in my pockets to hide the shaking. They do the operation and the colours come back. Simple. I wonder how long I’ll have, once I’ve done the first bit? I’ll have to be quick.
I let myself in through his back door. I’ve watched him slip a key under the mat when he takes the dog for a walk enough times. Such a shame about the dog. He said he thought it was one of the weird tropical plants they’d just planted at the park. I made all the right noises, knowing plants had nothing to do with it.
But then, he is a bit funny. Off kilter is how my mum would have described it.
The kitchen is quiet and I can feel the colours glaring at me, shining bright in their quest to drive me to my knees. I glare at them then march through the house, destroying as I go. Vases with bright grey swirls on. I can see the mauve and taupe, the mustard yellows and sea greens in my mind. They smash on the floor, coloured shards spreading everywhere.
Into the bedrooms where paintings, old paintings from before the switch, scream at me. They tear easily enough, though the sink is soon clogged up. I watch the water turn grey and something lodges in my throat. All of this is for me. All of this is here to make me feel bad. Bastard.
When I’m done, I settle down to wait. He’ll be at work all day, so there’s plenty of time. The day drifts. I do a more thorough search, digging out a few more bits and pieces I know are bright and cheerful, and destroying them as best I can. He can pay whatever he wants, I’ll make sure the last things he does see contain no more colour than my life.
At last, with black shadows creeping across the dark grey walls, I hear his car in the driveway. I’ve already prepared the ice. Two cups filled with cubes that click and shift as they melt. It’ll be enough.
The front door opens and I hear the first gasp. He races through the house, pleading with himself that it isn’t true, that this hasn’t happened to him. He dashes into the lounge so I follow, stand in the doorway whilst he shows me where the safe is and, in a fit of generosity, even opens it for me.
It’s full, of course. I’ve only come to steal one thing. Well, two things. He turns, sees me. I enjoy the confusion on his face. He’s trying to deny to himself that I’ve done all this. But another voice, the one that knows what he’s been doing to me all this time, tells him not to be so stupid, so naive.
Of course it’s me.
‘David, what have you done?’
‘Only what you deserved.’
‘I’d have lent you the money.’
‘I don’t want your money.’
‘It would just be a loan. You’d pay me back.’
‘Bro, please, listen—’
‘Don’t bro me. You didn’t help mum, did you? You didn’t lend her the money, so screw you.’ I’m done talking. I launch myself across the lounge and drag him to the floor. I’ve always been bigger than him. When we were five and seven, I was still beating him in fights.
Nothing’s changed. I punch him a few times, just to knock the fight out of him. Then I dig my fingers in, one eye socket at a time, until I cradle the precious orbs in my hands. He screamed for a while, but his throat cracked a while back and now he’s just sobbing.
I push myself up from his chest and race into the kitchen. His eyes go in the ice and I turn to my own. This is the tough part.
My hands hover just above my eyes.
‘David, stop. It doesn’t work like that.’
Even now, he’s lying to me. I dig my fingers deep and scream as the pain washes over me. There’s something purifying about it, as though I needed it to reassure me this was right. And it is. It couldn’t be righter. I hear my eyeballs squelch on the kitchen floor, but I’m already groping for his.
I find them and cradle both, trying to keep them as free of blood as possible. Then I press them into my sockets. Nothing’s happening. What’s going on? Why isn’t it working? I blink, but my eyelids bump against my hands.
I’m blind. I can’t see anything. The world’s gone black. It’s not the first time. My laughter scares me and I stop just in time to hear another two, soft, squelches.
‘Joe, are you there? I can’t see you.’
‘I’m here, it’s alright. I’ve called the ambulance.’
‘Yeah, they can fix that, if you’ve got the cash.’
I bite my lip. I won’t ask. I refuse. I refuse.
‘I can lend you some money, if you want.’
I’m silent. I can’t say yes, I can’t.
‘Except, I’m a bit strapped this month, so they’ll have to be black and whites.’