- Vol. 03
- Chapter 09
“Where do you want it?” he asks. “Back? Front? Future? Past?”
I hesitate. I reach out to touch it, but he draws back quickly, with a smile. “No,” he says, shaking his head. “No touching.”
“But it’s not…” I continue to stare, trying to feel it with my eyes. “It’s not what I thought it would be. It’s not…”
He holds it high so that it unravels from his hand towards the ground. “Look,” he says, with a shrug. “It’s what you asked for.”
I come to my senses. “No,” I say firmly. “It’s not what I asked for. It’s dark grey. It’s not black.”
He begins winding it around his hand. “It’s black,” he says, “but it’s not opaque. I never said it would be opaque. It’s translucent, and the light coming through it makes it grey. So—” he tips his head to one side, “—where do you want it?”
A black stripe, he’d said. Mine for the asking, he’d said, to be placed in whichever reality I desired. Who could resist? I had pictured it lying across my past like a smooth dark ribbon, where maybe it would ripple lightly over my regrets, and cover stale memories like a warm, narrow blanket. Or maybe it would slice straight through the heaviness of my present: a long, blank ravine filled with nothing but possibilities and perhaps.
I look at it now, the dark streak bound around his hand. And I watch as it begins to shimmer, and then to move, writhing slowly up his arm towards his neck.
“A snake, then?” I gasp, but he laughs and shakes his head, pulling it gently away from his throat.
“A simple black stripe,” he says. “But I didn’t say it wouldn’t move, or try to find its own way.” He winds it around his fist again. “So, where do you want it?”
StripedI take a step backwards. “I don’t,” I say. “I don’t want it any more.” He throws his head back and laughs, and laughs. “No returns,” he says. “No refunds.”
Refunds? “But I didn’t buy it.”
“But you chose it,” he says, and he begins to stretch the stripe from one hand to the other, from left to right and east to west. “So where do you want it?” He is walking slowly towards me now, the stripe pulled taught between his clenched fists. “Or perhaps I ought to just decide for you?”
He lifts the stripe over my head. And as it passes across my face it looks like a rope, but I guess that’s because he didn’t say he wouldn’t twist it. And I suppose I never asked.
It’s over, now. He’s gone, and the stripe lies rigid across my present; carved forwards through my past and gouged backwards into my future. And it’s a shroud across my vision, but it’s not opaque, like I thought it would be, so at least there is light coming through.
I keep my eyes fixed on the light coming through.