Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Blog | 2 comments

Photo by Flickr user Asja.

Test results: tumor. Visual cortex; brain stem; medulloblastoma; positron emission; stage 3: a foreign language he couldn’t quite grasp, like a page of newsprint too far away to read. Black and white blending into gray.

He went into the MRI machine flat on his back, and if he closed his eyes it felt like he was floating backward on a raft drifting in a still pool. Then the loud hum. He opened his eyes. The colors were there, swirling in a strange dance of their own. The hum of the machine was bronze; machinery noises always were, unless they were the dull pewter of a piston.

An infinite field of bronze rotated slowly around him, and he gasped in awe.

Out again. His wife’s voice was dark orange with worry, tendrils snaking around her head as if trying to strangle her.

He’d mentioned the colors just once, early in their relationship. They’d been in a cocktail bar, an old-timey retro whiskey joint whose sounds echoed the tan and maroon furnishings. She’d assumed, being an artist, that he was being creative, that it was a way of “looking at” things.

It was the way he saw things.

He’d been that way since childhood. It had started slowly, when he was about ten. A bird outside his window, he remembered it was a blue jay, let out its raucous squawk and a blast of gold pierced the screen. He hadn’t told his parents. He knew he couldn’t. He was old enough to know others didn’t see the world the way he did. But it had made him a successful painter. The New Kandinsky, they’d called him once in Artforum. If things kept up this way, they could afford to have a kid, maybe buy a house in a few years.

At least, that was the plan. Six months ago, the headaches started. Tests were endured; medical bills racked up. The MRI today was just the most recent and most decisive. The gray-voiced doctor ushered them into her office and talked about scheduling surgery as soon as possible.


The beeping of the heart monitor sent tiny blips of red light into the air above the machine, like miniature fireworks. But the anesthesiologist’s voice was a sleepy, soothing pale blue, and soon the drugs worked their magic and everything was dark.

After an unknown time, he swam toward consciousness but found himself in a dream. His flesh was nothing but transparent fields, like the body of a jellyfish; his bones glowed white like an X-ray. A pair of huge hands, bone hands, descended slowly toward his head. He couldn’t move. The dead white fingers moved in an eerie dance, plucking, pulling a thread that seemed to originate from somewhere inside him.

He began to unravel.

He woke up in the recovery room, head and body aching dully. Tubes snaked out of his head, his arms, out of his nose, as if he were still being unraveled. Machines beeped. Nurses murmured in the hall, and one came in to take his blood pressure.

He tried to talk, but his throat was too dry.

“We’ll try some water in just a minute, honey,” she said.

Her voice had no color; no color at all.


  1. Another sucker punch of a story – my reaction is a pained quick intake of breath. How truly awful, the surgical excision of one’s creativity…

  2. Believe it or not, I hadn’t even quite followed that train of thought to its conclusion…this mostly comes out of a fascination with synesthesia. I think as creative types, we have an affinity for those with actual synesthesia, even though I can’t claim to have it myself…

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