World Tinted Blue
Downtown Wichita was always empty Sunday nights. The businessmen had retired to their homes for the evening, teens stayed in to do homework for school the following day. The only people out were homeless, and even they took shelter on these evenings, which seemed longer than any other.
I drove through this emptiness, feeling like the last person alive in a world that took no notice. Synth melodies drifted through my car speakers, though I kept the volume down. I was on a mission, a quest, for beauty.
The car bumped slightly as I turned into the spiral and parked, cutting music mid-measure. Door open, step out, close. The orange lights of the parking garage gave everything a dull, almost mystical glow. Hesitantly, I stepped away from my car, extending my senses as far as possible. This was it. Beauty was here, and I was not going to miss it.
Very slightly, I grinded my foot into the concrete, feeling old dust twist under my shoe. I sniffed the air and wrinkled my nose slightly at the stench of urine. Carefully, I regarded this bottom floor of the parking lot, before turning and starting my ascent up the spiral.
Wichita is not a large city by any means, but it is a city nonetheless. Despite its empty Sunday nights, it does bustle somewhat during the day, which calls for certain necessities, like parking structures such as the spiral. That's all it was, a parking structure five stories high, two twisting ramps spiraling up to the roof. And yet, as I climbed the ramp, passing the second story and continuing onwards, I knew beauty was here.
That knowledge faltered as doubt crept in around the third story. What was I doing? How could I expect to pick a location, go there, and expect to find beauty? How could I know where to find beauty when I wasn't sure what it even was? As I rounded the fourth story, I smiled ironically and ignored the small stitch in my side. Why didn't I just drive up the ramp?
I stopped and leaned against the wall of the ramp, breathing heavily. I was too young to be this tired. After all, I thought, wasn't I young enough to chase the ghosts of my whims? A brief wave of embarrassment passed through me. Why was I here?
Images of the empty city passed through my mind, families safely tucked at home, and those without homes or families cowering beneath street bridges. I felt sick. This city was so ugly, an empty concrete husk. The emptiness weighed on me, as if I myself were nothing more than a shell. My resolve strengthened. I needed this.
I began to move again, making my way slowly up the rest of the spiral until I finally came out on the roof. The sky was tinted orange from the streetlights and I shivered looking at it, despite the warm night air. Still slightly shaken, I stepped up to the edge and looked out at the city.
From here it looked even worse. The sidewalks were empty, and only the occasional pair of headlights made their way through the streets. I felt like the last person alive, and the loneliness of it overwhelmed me. A cry of anguish boiled in my throat, but I choked it down and stepped back. I thought a different perspective would change things, but the city seemed just as twisted, no matter how I looked at it.
Casually, I glanced a little to my left and let out an involuntary yelp of surprise. Standing at the edge of the roof, on top of the raised barrier to stop cars from driving off, was a girl. She was perfectly poised, arms at her sides, prepared to take her last and longest step. My brain flew in a panic, obscuring all other thoughts.
"Hello." I said, rather dumbly. She turned to look at me, and I was fascinated to see that even at this late hour, she wore a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses. Very briefly, the clouds parted, allowing the moon to shine on her pale face. The light cast through the sunglasses tinted her whole face blue, but rather than giving her the appearance of someone choking, it made her seem like a mermaid looking through the depths at an unsuspecting sailor. She didn't smile as she appraised me, and her face showed no sign of tears. If anything, she was perfectly calm.
"Are you ok?" I asked, before sharply reprimanding myself. People who are ok don't come to parking garage roofs late at night. The irony of this thought was not lost on me. Still, it was out there, and I waited for her response.
Her eyes twitched very slightly beneath the blue lenses, and I wondered if she were fighting the temptation to roll them. Instead, she turned back to face the open air in front of her. "You have eyes." Her voice had the same level of poise as the rest of her. "Leave me."
I almost did, such was the power I felt in her voice, as if I were nothing more than a servant, but I quickly pulled myself together. My earlier resolve returned even stronger. Now I had purpose, focus.
"It's just," my voice still sounded unsure, and I mentally wrestled to bring it under control. "I came here to find beauty, and you're the only person I see, so you must be it."
She exhaled out what might have been a small, bitter laugh. "You're mistaken."
"Maybe." I agreed. "I've been wrong a lot. But still, we're both here, so we may as well talk."
She shook her head very slightly. "Words are hollow. They can be twisted to serve any purpose. I'm done with talk."
"Then we can just go somewhere and sit." A slight note of panic crept back into my voice and I cursed myself before suppressing it. Nothing seemed to be working.
Again, her head shook slightly, though she did not turn to face me. "I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be."
"So am I." I blurted, unsure of whether or not I was lying. If I wasn't then one of us was mistaken, and I hoped to God it was her. "I'm here to help you."
Her throat quivered as she swallowed, and I was sure I had struck a nerve here. When she spoke again, her voice quivered, hinting at a sea of sorrow hidden beneath her aloofness. "I'm beyond help."
"You don't know that." My voice quieted as I moved slowly closer to her. "You don't know me. Maybe I'm the only one who can help you. Maybe I'm your knight. Maybe I'm here to…" I paused, swallowing. "To help you find beauty in your world.
Her head jerked towards me in anger, her eyes flashing behind the blue sunglasses. "You don't know anything about me or my world!" She spat. "I don't even know what your world looks like, so how can you know mine? How can you presume to know mine?" She stared me, awaiting an answer. So stunned was I with her outburst, I had no answer to give and her anger slowly subsided. She turned back to face the city. "No." She said. "You're not a knight. You're a witness."
I watched as she shifted her weight, preparing to step forward. Panic welled up within me. I could not let her fail, though I was still too far away to grab her. Instead, I opened my mouth and shouted what I was sure would be the last words she would ever hear.
"I like your sunglasses!"
She paused. Very slowly, she turned back to peer at me. Her poise and grace had not left her, but they seemed somewhat diminished, replaced instead by curiosity. "What?"
I breathed, once again fighting to control my nerves. "I… I like your sunglasses. Have you had them long?"
Her eyes slid out of focus, and I realized she was trying to examine the sunglasses without taking them off her face. "For as long as I can remember." Her voice was not expressionless; rather it was so complex that I was not sure what to make of it. Still, I continued on.
"Do you always wear them?"
She nodded, and I saw a tear roll gently down her face.
"Well, I like them." I felt as if I should turn the subject around to getting her off the ledge, but something deep within me urged me onwards. "The only problem," I continued, "Is that I can't see what color your eyes are."
She smiled, looking almost bashful. "I don't know either. All I see blue, but I had no idea until someone told me. I'm different." A small sob broke from her. "My world is different."
"So," I treaded carefully here. "Why don't you take them off?"
Her eyes rose to meet my own, filled with fear. "You don't know what you're asking."
I shook my head, and for the first time since I met her, I felt perfectly calm. "I know exactly what I'm asking. I'm asking for you to change your perspective." I looked out over the sleeping city. "Who knows, maybe you'll find beauty."
Her eyes never left mine, as she shook with fear. All her poise, her barriers were gone, leaving behind a frightened girl.
I smiled reassuringly at her. "Take as much time as you need."
Still staring, she paused before slowly reaching up with one hand. Shutting her eyes tight, she removed the sunglasses from her face and dropped them over the edge of the spiral, letting them drift in the breeze before smashing on the concrete below. Very slowly, she opened her eyes and looked at me. They were brown-gold, in fact, very closely resembling an orange that is both dull and mystical. She looked around, inspecting this new world. "Is this…" She began. "Is this how everyone sees the world?"
I thought back to times when I had played with blue sunglasses, blue goggles, and remembered my own experiences. I shook my head. "No, it isn't. What you're seeing is yellow."
Her eyes widened in despair and panic. "Then how…"
I smiled. "It's ok." I took a step closer to her and held out a hand. "You just need to let your eyes adjust."
She looked at my hand, before very gently taking it, allowing me to help her down off the ledge. Together, we started to walk back towards the sloping ramp of the spiral, but before we began our descent, I stopped and turned to look back at the city. For the first time, sleeping deep within it, I saw a quiet beauty.