Copyright © 2008 Matt McHugh. All rights reserved.
Individuals may distribute this story freely for private, non-commercial use provided all author and copyright information remain intact on each copy.
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** This story is @ 850 words or roughly 4 printed pages. Reading time, about 5 minutes. **
Sometimes the name they give you is all wrong. It's really just meant to be an identifier, a vaguely descriptive, two-word phrase that lets someone talk about a particular shade with their salesman or spouse. "Honey, do you prefer the Autumn Sand or the Copper Slate?" or "Can I get two gallons of the Alpine Storm?" "Is Harbor Mist available in semi-gloss?" Just makes it easier for everybody. Of course, we all have unique numbers, precisely describing pigmentation mixes, but you can't use those in conversation. "I'm going to do the walls in 097342-016, the trim in 097536-732, and the wainscoting in 098451-283." No zazz. No romance. And pretty much impossible for a human to remember. No, names are better. The marketing people figured that out long ago, and they were right.
But they don't always get it right with each one of us. In fact, we're not even named by a person. Nobody looks at 183948-032 and says, "Hmm... this will be called Desert Almond." 078345-971. "And this one, I'll say is... Tropical Shadow." It's all done by computer. The coming season's palette is determined by analysis of quarterly sales, factored against a 20% percent rotation policy--that is, one out of five colors is replaced each cycle. In an average fiscal year, between 500 and 800 distinct shades are marketed. Once the selection is set and the ID numbers cataloged, a computer program assigns verbal designations, taking a word from Column A and a word from Column B to give each color a name. True, a dozen-odd consultants and freelancers are hired to craft those words and tweak the software, but the process is really just a matching algorithm guided by a few simple rules. Gradations of orange are randomly designated Tangerine Sunset, Florida Citrus, Honey Sherbet, and so on. Reds are Crimson Veil, Summer Valentine, Cherry Carnation, etc. The scheme was invented by the cosmetics industry, and the paint business eventually followed suit, to everyone's satisfaction. Everyone, it seems, but me.
Carrion Clay. That's my name. I know. Hard to believe, isn't it? I hope the copywriter who stuck that word in Column A lost the account. I'd much rather be just 096520-734, but it's not up to me to choose how people perceive me. They pick up my swatch and mostly just knit their brows and move on. A few folks laugh or call over someone to share a joke. "World's worst boxer!" "Name something you find at a pre-school for vultures." "Ooh, let's do the pocket doors with this and the lintels in Zombie Golem." I've heard them all. I am a microscopic shade off Sierra Amber and Twilight Sandstone, yet no one will ever let me near their baby's room. No one will ever choose me to give their den a touch of strength and serenity. No lonely person--ground down by a menial office job--will hand-sponge me in their bathroom to create a faux marble effect, the one stroke of creativity that keeps their soul alive. I will never know what it means to envelope a well-worn family room, to be the ambient hue that three generations subconsciously associate with the ineffable concept: "home." Brushed Chestnut may. Even Mocha Gravel stands a chance. Not me.
Once... once, a woman browsing through a sample binder stopped on my page. She traced the edge of my eggshell latex finish, feeling its minute texture with her delicate fingertip, and lingered on me, seeing me as I am, not as others have labeled me. She considered me, I could tell. Her eyes took on the unfocused drift of one lost in imagination and I knew she was seeing me in her hallway or bedroom, side by side with her drapes and headboard and bookcases. And, in that moment--that beautiful, accursed moment--I dared to hope. I dared to wish for that instant of consummation when she would step back, roller still in hand, and survey with satisfaction my final coating, a smudge of me just below the bandana on her forehead. And I would have served her for years (10 Guaranteed), witness to her private joys and sufferings, until we both began to grey perceptibly. But we would pay this no mind, old friends transformed together by time, bound deeper than any promise by countless hours in one another's company. This, and immeasurably more, I would have given her, had she but chosen me instead of Arizona Dusk.
Now, I simply wait. The third quarter invoices will have reached corporate headquarters by now, and I am surely earmarked for discontinuation. I welcome it. Honestly, I do. Not everything that exists is meant to have a meaningful existence. I will pass away, literally, not having left a single mark upon this world. If there is anything more, if there is anything beyond the misbegotten life I have known, let me be wiped clean and arrive fresh in that new place, my name forgotten, my number filed and lost, where I will have, free from all history of prejudice, the chance to shine.