Beige needed a makeover. A homebody who ran an accounting business from her computer, she avoided going out into the rainbow world filled with people sporting flamboyant colors while she remained next to invisible. For days at a time, she holed up in her bare-walled apartment with a northern exposure where she never saw the sun, venturing out only to pick up a few groceries.
One year on the vernal equinox, the new season beckoned, so she pulled on a sleeveless gray dress and crept out into the sunlight. Down the street she encountered a woman with skin glossy as new leaves, bent over examining seedlings in a large garden. The Green Woman stood up, tall and straight. "Hi, neighbor. Come have a look."
Beige stepped with care among the tender sprouts. "You have an impressive garden."
The woman pointed to her bright green arm. "It offers many rewards, and even some cash. What brings joy to your heart, my dear?"
Beige couldnīt think of a good answer, so she mumbled something incoherent. The Green Woman led her around the garden, naming the vegetables that each row promised. Five minutes later, Beige noticed her own arms and legs had turned the sickly shade of grass trapped under a rock.
Another ten minutes convinced her that she would not grow any brighter. "I have to be on my way. Iīm looking for..." She couldnīt finish her sentence. The Green Woman handed her a daffodil and wished her luck in her quest for happiness.
Downtown, in the reflective window of a bank building, Beige noticed her skin had turned a frightening ochre, probably the unfortunate mix of beige and yellow. She threw the daffodil into a compost bin and continued on to a tall building occupied by well-established agencies, including the highest-paying accounting firm in the city. Perhaps they were hiring, and would get her out of the apartment.
She slipped in through the automatic doors, approached the security desk, and asked to speak to the Director of Human Resources. In his office on the top floor, she found a beet-faced man in a suit the color of cheap wine. Staring at his garish purple tie, Beige asked the man, "Can you use me? Iīm good with numbers."
He seemed to look through her. She forced herself to ignore his hand resting on the sleek thigh of a woman who stood next to him behind his desk. When he said his "girl" met his needs, Beige thanked him for his time and made good her escape.
Back out into the sunlight, she saw her skin had turned a delicate tint of lavender, reminding her that the blue of the late afternoon sky had always been her favorite color. She ambled to a park and stretched out on cool grass in the lengthening shade of a tree.
As the sun slid toward the horizon, she pulled a hand mirror from her purse. Her skin now shone a luminous shade of cerulean. Satisfied with her new brilliance, Beige considered changing her name, until she recalled a painting she had seen of a Hindu goddess with blue skin. Fearing to offend the deity, she found a dimly lit restaurant and reverted back to Beige.
Stalling her return to the lonely apartment, she dawdled at dinner until the sound of a salsa band drew her to an adjacent ballroom. She slunk to a seat in the darkest corner, away from flashing light beams that danced around the floor in a whirling spectrum. Chic men and women trickled into the club and filled the room with their sensuous moves and seductive smiles.
A woman swept in, wearing a second-skin scarlet dress that showed enough cleavage to make Beige blush. That is, her face felt warm, but, in truth, she probably remained her usual nondescript color.
Scarlet suffered no loss of dance partners, and just before the second set began, she approached Beige who remained huddled in her corner. "Come out of the shadows, honey. You look like a ghost."
"I donīt know how to dance."
Scarlet flashed a red-lipped smile. "Plenty of men here to teach you." She gripped Beigeīs elbow and pulled her onto the floor. A dark-eyed man stepped forward and took Beige in his arms, but after a few fumbling steps, he gave up and swayed against Scarletīs curves to the pulse of the drums.
Beige wished she could disappear. She hurried outside and grabbed a taxi. Back at her apartment, in her bathroom mirror, she discovered she had turned the color of a baby blanket -- tepid pink, nearly boring as beige.
The next morning she arose and put in a couple of hours at her computer, but the warmth of spring called to her. She slipped into a pastel print sundress and strolled along the boulevard until she came upon a construction site with a bulldozer crew loading dark earth onto a truck.
A brown man sipping coffee on his break answered her queries. "This will be one of those new sustainable buildings. Itīll produce all its own energy, even collect rainwater and recycle waste."
Beige thought those sounded like good ideas. The Brown Man grinned down at her and said he looked forward to the weekend when he could go to the beach. "And what do you do, young lady, besides wander the boulevard like youīre searching for something?"
She told him about her work at the computer in her stark room. When she glanced at her bare shoulder, she noticed her skin had turned a lustrous, tawny shade. The Brown Man remarked how different she looked than when she had first approached him. "You should get out more often and have some adventures."
"Iīll get burned."
His unblinking gaze seared her cheeks. "You know they do sell sunscreen." A smirk fluttered the corners of his mouth. "But maybe thatīs not the kind of burn that worries you." His break ended, the Brown Man rejoined the construction crew.
On her way home, Beige found herself bounding in long, free strides. Her skin gleamed long after she had left the dirt pile and the Brown Man. Instead of bringing comfort and refuge, the gloomy apartment now left her restless and itching for change.
The next day, she visited the supermarket for sunscreen and a straw hat. Returning to the garden, she asked the Green Woman, "Can I help you, if I donīt get in the way?"
The woman tucked a narcissus into Beiges hatband. "I figured I might see you again. But you look different. Tell me your name again."
A pause, and a glance at her still-tan arms. "Bronze. My name is Bronze."
As the two women dug and planted, the shy accountantīs skin retained its sepia cast. Back in her apartment, she messaged her clients that she had taken a summer job and would work on their files in time for the tax audits.
She worked throughout the season while the garden burgeoned with vegetables, fruits, and flowers -- indigo eggplant, vermilion strawberries, and dahlias of every hue.
Each Saturday, Bronze helped the woman load an old pickup and transport the produce to the farmersī market. Behind display stands piled with fruits and vegetables, a kaleidoscope of vibrant people bantered with customers and traded goods with their fellow gardeners. A man boasting skin the rich russet of shelled pecans played a flute while children danced around his baskets of almonds, walnuts, and yes, pecans.
When vibrant leaves floated in the autumn breeze and days grew short, the two women loaded the truck for the last trip to the farmersī market -- flame bright pumpkins destined for Halloween carvings and holiday pies. In the naked garden, dry cornstalks stood like exhausted skeletons, and Bronze returned to her accounts in the apartment.
Deep into gray winter, her skin began to resemble the yellowed pages of an old book, but at the end of each tedious day, thoughts of spring made her smile. Upon the first sign of budding trees, she returned to work in the Green Womanīs garden. Tilling the rich earth with her shovel, she morphed into Bronze again.
No longer a chameleon, on Sundays she ventured out to the beach.