Fading Color



Fiction and Illustration: Craft a short story of about 700 words and a hand- or computer-drawn illustration to accompany it. Combine the work into a single PDF file. Set the story in the present day in a city where the protagonist is the last remaining farmer left in a part of town otherwise filled with skyscrapers and traffic-choked highways.

The city was gray. Skyscrapers loomed over the city, forming a gray smudge in the city skyline. An observant eye could see that each building had once been a different color: some red brick and some pale yellow, now reduced to a dull gray from years of city smog.

Alaina hurried her pace, clutching her coat tighter. In her hands she held a wicker basket, the contents of which were obscured by a burlap covering. At the end of the street, a neon street sign projected the green letters “DALE’S GROCERIES”. When she reached the spot, a tall, stringy man with graying hair held the door open, smiling at her.

“Morning, Alaina! What do you have today?” He said.

“Morning, Dale! I’ve got you the freshest deal.” She answered back.

He ushered her inside. The palette shifted from gray to beige. On the shelves facing the door, rows of beige boxes advertised breakfast cereals. Dale lead her past freezers filled with beige breakfast waffles and khaki-colored frozen burritos. They took a left into the bakery section, where sandy-colored croissants and pastries adorned tables. They stopped at a pair of green double doors, the only difference in color in the whole section. He opened them and she followed him into the break room.

They took seat at a table in the corner. Alaina set her basket between them and removed the covering, revealing an array of fruit. Dale plucked a golden delicious from the basket and licked his lips.

“Alaina, these are beautiful!” He said, turning the apple in his hand.

Alaina smiled. “This is just the sample batch, I have whole bushels of this stored at home.” She said.

Dale’s expression soured. When he spoke, he looked just above her not at her. “Alaina, I’d happily buy this basket from you. Shoot, I’d buy three baskets and pay you double for it. But when it comes to buying for the store…” He hesitated, chanced a look at her, and instantly regretted it. “Well, I can’t buy anymore is what I’m trying to say. It’s a waste of money. Customers don’t want them enough. I can’t afford it. I’m really sorry… I love your stuff. But…nobody else does.”

Alaina froze, the world sunk. She balled her firsts, her instinctively grating against one another. A scream built at the back of her throat. She swallowed it, inhaled, unballed her fists and looked back at him. “Oh, well then,” she said coolly, “let this be on me then. As a farewell gift.” She pushed the basket toward him, perhaps too forcefully.

The walk home passed without her noticing. She slipped into her apartment, grabbed a bottle of wine from her fridge, and headed to the roof, to her garden where she grew her livelihood. The center was dominated by rows of long troughs bearing the bright green tops of carrots, onions, and beets. The terrace itself was ringed with every variety of fruit tree imaginable, and fruit in every shade known to man dangled from its branches. On the fence enclosing the roof, she had intertwined grape vines that produced the finest concords. It was a beautiful sight, a patch of vibrant color among the drab quilt of the city rooftops.

And none of it mattered anymore.

She lifted the bottle to her mouth, hands trembling, and gulped it down like water. The next moments passed without her realizing. She grasped at the fruit trees, tearing mercilessly. Glistening berries, pears that fell like hailstones, lemons landing with thuds, and the full spectrum of autumnal shades in apples thrown from her hands without hesitation. She carried on, uprooted her life with her bare hands,untilthe roof too was gray like everything else.

On the street below, people had stopped. A businessman in a three-piece suit stopped and sighed, too busy for distractions, before continuing his business call. A well-aimed golden delicious hit his phone dead on. He stopped and looked up again, reached up to catch a honeycrisp. The smell enticed him. He chanced a bite. He closed his eyes, letting the crisp, sweet fruit dissolve on his tongue.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw color for the first time.