“It’s not white enough,” said the man who might be Sydney Greenstreet, “I want to buy a white shirt. Do you sell white shirts?”
Rory reached onto the rack, pulling off an identical shirt. Sydney Greenstreet was messing with him. He was now certain that the man in question had once gone to great lengths to attain the Maltese Falcon and had run Casablanca’ s black market with deviousness and cunning. This man would need to be dealt with using his own deviousness and cunning. This man was messing with him. Nobody knew which shirts were whiter than which others better than he. There was a time when he had sold paint.
Sydney Greenstreet examined the shirt. Handed it back.
“My good man, I do not think that you know which color is white.”
His exit was graceful, in spite of his legendary girth. Rory was a little bit frightened, worried that the noir icon who had risen from the dead for a new shirt would visit awful consequences upon him. And for no good reason too. There was a time when he had sold paint and he could recognize every color.
They were his friends at the paint shop, the colors. They would gossip about the boss and he would talk to them about his crush on his coworker Anna Saldivar. After work, they would meet for drinks, kind violet, eccentric chartreuse, and they would unwind over nachos and a Devils game. There was no better job in the world, Rory felt and as a seller of dress shirts, he knew this was so.
He’d be forever angry at the one who got him fired. Eggshell, treasonous eggshell, the carpet sample that he had felt was his friend “Cream”. But it wasn’t cream. Cream was in Atlantic City with a cocktail waitress he’d remember forever thanks to an ill-conceived tattoo. Rory told the couple cream and an arrogant laugh filled the paintshop, a heartless eldritch laugh, the kind of laugh that conspires with one’s bladder.
“You are beaten,” said Eggshell that day, “look on my works ye mighty and tremble.”
And everything was lost to Eggshell, his world of paint, most of his confidence. He certainly had the skills to manage dress shirts with their less than plentiful pallet, so it was strange that white defied him on this day. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe this was something else. He examined the shirt again, it was white, it had to be white.
“That’s you, white, isn’t it?”
“Yes, dear,” said white, “tis me.”
“I knew it,” he said, “I knew it was only you.”
Rory’s boss walked in on his Richie Sambora brand stilts, skillfully ducking the low ceiling at the store’s entrance. Rory’s boss was a lion and the world’s biggest Bon Jovi fan, a fact that he was never shy about revealing.
“I ran into Sydney Greenstreet,” growled the boss, “and I’ve got to say, I am a bit disappointed. You give sales a bad name.”
“I-well, you see…”
“What I see is a man who does not appreciate his job. I hired because you knew colors. But you don’t know white.”
Rory proudly produced a picture of him and the color white on a deep sea fishing trip. As proof that one knew White, it was rather concrete. Rory’s boss looked over the photo, scratching his mane in befuddlement.
“Yeah,” said the lion, “looks like you and White are the best of friends.”
“So, you see, something is going on here,” said Rory.
“As the world’s biggest Bon Jovi fan, I am a wise and giving man,”said the lion, “but I cannot permit you to keep on selling my customers the wrong color dress shirts. You know the company protocol for this.”
“Look, I don’t make the rules.”
With a sigh, Rory went to the backroom and brought out the spanking stool and the blue gingham employee humiliation dress. Rory put on the blue dress and in a falsetto bad enough to feel like divine retribution began to sing.
“Tommy used to work on the docks…”
The lion got down from his stilts, stretched Rory across his lap and administered three quick, professional spankings.
“Consider yourself reprimanded,” said the lion who got back on his stilts and walked out. Rory put on his regular clothes and he cried. He lay on the floor in fetal position, listening to the muted colors in their less than distinctive dress shirt tones trying to cheer him up. All of them but one, all of them but white.
Rory rose to his feet, a dark, psychotic smile crossing his face.
“You had me fooled,” he said, “you had everyone fooled. But it’s become all too clear what’s gone on here.”
“Ah, but you are a clever monkey,” said the raspy voice of eggshell, “yes, you have coaxed me out of hiding.”
The room became offwhite. No. That wasn’t it. Rory cursed to himself for even thinking it briefly. The room became eggshell. Each shirt, the walls, the ceiling, the door the register was absorbed in the color he could never nail down, a color now omnipresent. The voices of every other color, shade, tone grew muted and choked with silence.
“It is not for men to know what’s pure and clean or to judge what’s unsullied. Did you ever think that there might be no white, that the one you trusted and fished with and played pickup games of basketball with was actually not what you remembered? It was me,” said Eggshell, “it was always me.”
With idle fists, Rory struggled, punching the eggshell air, hitting the eggshell walls, til stained with eggshell blood, the eggshell in his veins. There was no red in him, no way that the shade of white that said it was the only white would give in. He fell again to the floor and crying in fetal position.
Eggshell laughed its soul crushing laugh again as it had all those years again.
“That’s your problem, Rory. You give up too easily. You got cocky and you phoned it in one time and you never forgave yourself.”
The lesson was short and abrupt, the epiphany, like many epiphanies, short simple, a sentence. The color returned to the room. Rory got off the floor and left work, in order to go buy some art supplies.