by Karen Bookman Kaplan
Then a psychic change occurs, one that is as unexpected as the arrival of this peculiar material in their lives: Rose, like a monk at the end of a vow, not only ends her silence, but avoids the most scripted conversational conventions.
“Um, you know, um, I haven’t noticed this before, but the red on my belt looks a little darker than the red on my... uh... shirt and slacks. And... uh... the red on my shoes is a bit pinker than I mean the rest of my outfit.” She speaks as if starting up an engine for the first time, full of uneven bursts. She curtly looks away from the others, as if by speaking she regretted having given something of herself away.
The others wonderingly look at their own clothes, and likewise notice subtle gradations of light and dark. Hubert gets up to go to the bathroom. When he returns, he remarks, “I’ve never noticed this before, but if you go from the bathroom to the living room to the kitchen, each room is slightly warmer than the other. What is going on here with us? Clara? Notice anything peculiar?”
“Hmm. Actually it is so peculiar I was bashful to tell you. I had set up silverware and dishes before you all arrived, to serve a snack, and I had never noticed before that the silverware feels cooler than the dishes. This is so strange, all of us noticing all these tiny differences.”
They all realize the source of this power, and as if acting as one conscious being, instinctively stop playing with the white material and let it land wherever it may.
“This is interesting,” says Clara, “but I don’t know if this is good or not; I mean being so hyperaware of everything might drive us crazy.”
Gray adds, “I wonder how long the effects of this will last.”
“Maybe until we go and wash our hands,” puts in Hubert.
As if once again all compelled to act as one, they rush to put this theory to the test. After that, Rose looks at her outfit and admits she can no longer distinguish the variations in the degree of red dye. The others say the differences they had noted are no longer discernible. They all look relieved.
Clara says this is an incredible find, and because it can be used at will, it is nothing to be alarmed about. She adds that she is concerned how activating this sensitivity mechanism for a longer time might affect her work.
Gray is more leery of it, wondering if it is bad for the skin or even bad for the mind.
Meanwhile, Clara, wanting to free herself from any hesitation about the unknown by taking on her own dare, tells her friends that she is going to see what the longer-term effects are of being exposed to the material.
Gray is curious; this is so much like a scientific experiment. Rose allows that she is intrigued, but as if having used up her day’s allotment of words, does not elaborate.
Hubert is now a little worried and says he will periodically check back with her to make sure she is all right and, if necessary, wrest the putty away from her if things get out of hand. He even goes so far as to ask her to write and sign a note that he has her permission to act as proxy if she becomes cognitively incapacitated.
She thanks him for his protectiveness, but wants to take her chances without all the fancy precautions. They all agree, though, that each will take turns checking in with her to see how she is doing.
With all the excitement about the white material, I forgot why Clara had called the meeting in the first place. But she herself had not. She likes having herself, as well as her sculptures, be the center of attention. “I want you to tell me — oh, let me get out the snacks; you must be hungry.” She brings out an assortment of crackers in the form of different flowers (in this more vegetarian-oriented world, this is their endearing equivalent of our “animal crackers”) with various toppings.
Gray, the king of fairness, then counts out crackers for each of them, like a card dealer, making sure everyone gets the same number. As he is engaged in this idiosyncratic ritual, Clara eagerly asks her tiny assemblage, “So, what do you think of my city now?”
Gray says, “It is definitely more alive; you’ve got people doing things. But having the white on the rink — that really bugs me. I don’t know. I feel I want the white out. Shouldn’t be there.”
Hubert inexplicably falls in with his own anxious response, “Yeah, I don’t know, Clara, the rest of the sculpture is so much fun it makes me want to become one inch tall and go and join in, but I don’t like the skating rink being white; it’s just too unreal. It’s the only thing that doesn’t fit. It’s silly-looking.”
“So the white spooks you guys, does it?” Clara asks teasingly.
Meanwhile I am so drawn in to this outlandish conversation I feel as if I am practically part of the dialog myself. “What is the deal about white?” I ask. “No white clothes, no white snow, and you want to banish white from the sculpture. What gives?”
They of course do not hear, but it is almost as if these thoughts had entered their subconscious, because then Clara continues, “You know what? Maybe I am on to something original, after all. Odd how you guys find the piece so provoking, while I thought you would find it just plain old, more fun and entertaining...
“Say, I remember reading somewhere that white is avoided in our society because it is seen as covering up a thing’s true color. And that that’s why white symbolizes deception. I mean, that sounds kind of goofy; still, it is funny how much we don’t like it most of the time.”
“Aha,” insists Gray. “See? Then I am right. Let’s get this crummy trickery symbol the hell out of your town.”
Then Hubert says, “On the other hand, and I shouldn’t have been so quick to tell you to get rid of it, maybe having a little trickery adds spice to your amusing little town. Keeps everyone guessing. Makes everyone wonder why the one out of kilter thing is there.”
Rose looks ecstatic as she vigorously nods in agreement.
Clara opaquely concludes, “Then I’m gonna let the white rink stay; otherwise a town with no questions would be a real bore. Even joyful places have their questions.”
Gray shrugs and gestures with his almost pure white palms up as if to say, “Well, you’re the artist, not we.”
I would love to get my hands on that white material and see what subtle things I could experience, such as the now imperceptible differences of taste, say, between one banana and another. Or the change in the weather of half a degree. But then again, always noticing every little difference could become the torment of a torrent of distractions. Either that or I might become jaded by it all.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2012 by Karen Bookman Kaplan