A different shade of beige

By Tatiana Pelizzon, 1998

I come from a city that was once, many years ago, the capital of the flat prairie lands. Inhabitants and people who just happened to pass by became so used to think of it as the Beige city that the real name is now forgotten, tucked away where our cleaning squads no longer bother to exert all their dusting expertise.
It’s the wind that does it, everybody knows it by now. There was a competition years ago, and a very good prize was offered to those who could come up with a feasible plan to stop the wind or at least to deviate it from its course. News of the contest reached the other capitals of the region and for a couple of weeks the streets and cafes of Beige were full of foreigners. What an explosion of colours! Quickly subdued by the settling dust but not so quickly that we could not feast our eyes on them. My husband, a tall and good-hearted man no one remembers anymore, took part in the competition. For nights he had been working hard devising complicated machinery to fend the wind off. He had always been a very clever man, my husband, not always easy to speak to given his propensity for excessive meticulousness. I still keep his drawings along with his diary and a picture of a woman.
The drawings are excruciatingly beautiful and, as you would expect, very detailed. The whole idea was to cover Beige by means of a chemical wall which would have destroyed the wind molecules as soon as these would have come close enough to be impacted by the fatal chemical reaction. The problem, you see, lied with the fact that it was somewhat difficult to devise the right chemical composition, enough to stop the wind but not so powerful as to impact the air we all needed to breathe. But I am not as clever as he was, I cannot explain to you all the complexity involved in such a project. This work of his, though never implemented, attracted the attention of an Engineering Committee that was based in another city of the prairie lands. My husband was invited to give a presentation in this city and one day, all dressed up in his brown smoked suit with matching tie, decided to leave. One could well say that it would have been better not to accept such an invitation, but this is my own, very personal point of view. The point of view of a wife.
I don’t know for sure what happened while he was away. Yes, I have my suspicions, I have imagined things, you know, but I found it hard to ask for details. Well, it would be more appropriate to say I found it hard to ask for anything, I found it hard to speak to him, almost impossible to understand what he said if it were not for the few daily gestures we all can interpret. Mostly what he wanted was to sleep. And he slept for long hours, sometimes days.
My husband used to be fond of discussing fine points of our language. Among his most treasured possessions was an etymological dictionary. Did you know that in our dialect there are twenty-eight words to signify different shades of the colour commonly known as “beige”? A colour that might appear to the uninitiated rather dull, and yet…During the last weeks of his life my husband seemed to forget the most elementary words of our dialect, he hadn’t completely lost his speech, you could hear him whisper away, especially at night while he was sleeping but, careful as I was in trying to catch every single word, I could not make out what he was talking about or, indeed, what language he was using.
One day woke from his habitual state of confusion and said that he wanted to add a word to our dialect’s dictionary. The word was “Laura” and it has since become the twenty-eighth word we use to describe the colour of our city: it means the colour of the sand when seen through foreign eyes. A very different shade of beige.
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Notes:

This story was the second story to be written after Beige. It inspired the idea of creating a collection of stories based in a city.

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