For generations, the marsh-surrounded town of Shimmer, Maryland has played host to a loose movement of African-American artists, all working in different media, but all utilizing the same haunting color. Landscape paintings, trompe l’oeil quilts, decorated dolls, mixed-media assemblages, and more, all featuring the same peculiar hue, a shifting pigment somewhere between purple and pink, the color of the saltmarsh orchid, a rare and indigenous flower.
Graduate student Xavier Wentworth has been drawn to Shimmer, hoping to study the work of artists like quilter Hazel Whitby and landscape painter Shadrach Grayson in detail, having experienced something akin to an epiphany when viewing a Hazel Whitby tapestry as a child. Xavier will find that others, too, have been drawn to Shimmer, called by something more than art, something in the marsh itself, a mysterious, spectral hue.
CHAPTER 3: IRIS
When Iris Marie Broome drove past the Whitby-Grayson museum, her shoulders tensed up. For the most part, she avoided the place but there was no other way to get to Winslow’s Bakery. The AirBnB venture was a new chapter in her life, and she wanted to celebrate the milestone with a Smith Island cake, a regional specialty. She no longer worked at the hospital gift shop a few towns over and she had gotten a nice windfall from Tamar’s estate. She’d been finally able to afford the boxy slate gray Kia she now drove. It was used but barely driven. Most of the cars she had had were on the verge of collapse in one way or another. As it trundled past the museum, Iris saw nothing out of the ordinary. Just the closed building and surrounding wooden planters full of marsh-bells.
She unconsciously relaxed, her teeth unclenching, the knot in her shoulder unraveling. She got to Winslow’s just under the wire: it was fifteen minutes to closing. She felt a pang of elation—there was one whole cake left. Smith Island cakes were that odd blend of homey and elaborate. Each cake had at least seven layers of moist but stolid yellow cake. It was smothered with its trademark boiled ganache icing. This was a delicious but proudly unfancy confection, a favorite treat for watermen because the fudgy boiled icing held its shape in the harsh salt air.
“What’s the occasion?” asked Jen Winslow as she boxed up the cake. Iris always liked Jen. She’d always made a point to be gracious to her and Tamar, and treated them like old friends. Adjusting to the remote town had been difficult for the both of them. Shimmer was tiny, and the townsfolk, many of whom came from a long line of Shimmerites, were slow to warm to new people. The fact that Iris and Tamar were together didn’t help matters. But Jen didn’t care. Tamar thought that she was closeted: “Remember when she talked about how much she loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes? She asked me, ‘Were those two girls in love or what?’” Iris didn’t think that was enough evidence.
“I’m not working at the hospital anymore,” said Iris. “I hated that job anyway. You had to stand up all the time, even when no one came inside. No more hour-long commutes.”
“Hallelujah,” said Jen. “Though any day is a great day for cake.”
“Girl, I’m not gonna eat it myself. Though I could. I’ve started doing the AirBnB thing. You know, renting out my room like an apartment. I have all of that house to myself….” She didn’t finish the sentence. She had drifted into awkward territory. Iris could see the pity beginning to write itself across Jen’s features. “I have my first guest. He’s a student studying Shimmer’s history.”
“It’ll be a short book,” Jen said with a laugh. “More like a pamphlet.”
Iris smiled at Jen. She wasn’t bad looking, with a face as round as a full moon, smooth skin and braided hair extensions that were threaded with cobalt blue. Maybe Tamar was right about Jen.
I should ask her out to a movie sometime, she thought. Ever since Tamar had died, Iris had become a bit of a hermit.
She picked up the cake box, and started for the door. She almost dropped the cake, which would have been a tragedy. She was startled by what she saw next to her car.
There was a ripple of color there, somewhere between a heat mirage and the scintillating play of light on a stream. A scattershot speckle of pink light gently undulated into and out of existence. The light was the color of cherry blossoms. The translucent shape that housed the phenomenon was the rough outline of a person. She couldn’t determine anything specific about the apparition, no features or gender. It was just random flashes of pale pink.
Not again, thought Iris.
“Is everything okay?” Jen’s voice broke her trance.
“Yes,” she said. She knew that she didn’t sound convincing.
The wavering apparition didn’t move from the side of her car when she approached it. Iris put the cake in the backseat, and after a quick glance to see if anyone was watching, she whispered, “What do you want to show me?”
She waited a beat. Then the pink translucence faded away.
“You should go into business,” Tamar told her many times. “If Miss Cleo can make money that way, so can you.”
And Iris always replied, “Why? It’s not like I can really communicate with them.”
They called them ‘caspers.’ The caspers were beautiful, abstract things, like floating scarves or specks of light. They were in many colors, and sometimes they were also textures. Often they had the shape of a person, but not always. Iris just saw them. When she tried to interact with them, all she got was a stream of nonsensical images in flashes. One casper might send her a collection of shells, a hair comb, the face of a silver tabby, a beach scene. Another would flash a silver jewelry box, an old 45 single, and a discolored flower flattened between book pages. It was a hodgepodge, what she saw, with no logic. Iris trained herself to unsee the tattered caspers, who, for the most part, seemed oblivious. None of them could manifest completely, and they seemed to be unmoored and confused. This was especially true of the sightings at the hospital. When she wandered away from the gift shop, the dead filled the lobby and the various floors she visited to deliver floral arrangements and balloons. She saw the shredded and portioned silhouettes of the recently dead roaming the halls—half a woman the color of eggshells, a man seemingly made of shiny black vinyl. And sometimes, children in pastel tones.
“You could try communicating with them through, I don’t know, a Ouija board,” Tamar said. She bought a board from a nearby big box store, and one night, they tried it. They contacted a couple of folks: a man named Callum and a person of indeterminate gender named Dion. (One of the questions they had asked, “Are you female?” The planchette slid to both Yes and No.)
When that didn’t work, Tamar bought a deck of tarot cards, along with a book that explained the various spreads that could be used to summon and interact with the deceased. Iris never had the time to sit down and study the fairly complicated symbolic code. The deck that Tamar purchased, though, was interesting. It had an Afrocentric theme, with many of the major arcana represented by Orishas. She remembered that Oya was the Empress and Eshu was the Fool. Despite that, she didn’t care for the tarot deck. There was one card, the High Priestess, that Iris found disturbing, though she didn’t tell Tamar for some reason. The dreadlocked woman centered in the midst of darkness wore a wrap of glowing fuchsia, a color that was replicated in the highlights of her eyes. It was one of those pictures where the eyes followed you wherever you went. Iris hated pictures like that. Furthermore, no other figures—not the Hermit or the Hanged Man or the Hierophant—were depicted with such detail or in lurid colors.
When she got home and put away the cake, she went into her bedroom. She was in the process of downsizing, getting rid of the detritus of Tamar’s things.
“I wonder why she came for me,” Tamar said. “You were more a fit for her.”
She brushed that thought aside, as if it were a gnat. Tamar’s face flashed in her mind. And her voice—what did it sound like, again? She had the sudden urge to listen to her voice, its honeyed soprano. But she didn’t have a recording of it. Iris tamped down the feeling, and continued sorting out the mess on her bed.
There were books on numerology and the zodiac.
“You’re a Scorpio, aren’t you?” Tamar had said when they first met. She had been wearing a silk green dress and had a white gardenia in her hair.
“How can you tell?” Iris asked her. She hadn’t said two words to the new hostess.
Tamar waggled her eyes. “It’s a gift I have.”
Iris moved the books into the Donate pile. There was a Goodwill in Bethany Beach. They took everything.
Tamar also went through a crystal phase. She left behind a jewelry box full of agates, rose quartz and tourmalines.
“Do you feel any energy from the stones when you handle them?” she asked Iris.
“They just feel like rocks, babe. Sorry.”
Iris picked up some of the crystals, and sifted them through her hands. She liked the sound of their clicking together, and the cool, smooth texture against her skin. The pink quartz, though, reminded her of the disembodied entity she had seen in the parking lot.
She remembered Tamar, sweating and disheveled, bent over a table strewn with tissue paper and varnish and the cuttings from wallpaper sample books and magazines.
“I feel her moving through me. I am her vessel.”
Iris sat down on the bed. It had been five years since she’d last seen Tamar. And only one year since she learned that she had died. Aunt Hagar had been vague about the cause of her death, but deep down inside, Iris knew Tamar had killed herself. When she saw the waxen body in the coffin, she was enraged. She knew that Tamar wanted to be cremated, and her ashes scattered in the Shimmer Marsh. Though they were not together—Tamar had moved to Oakland to live with her aunt—they still emailed and later texted, and even sexted. It was like they were together, if only in an abstract sense.
Cherry blossom pink had been the color of spirit she had seen outside of Winslow’s. A pale delicate color that wasn’t the glaring magenta color of the marsh-bell.
Iris hated that color.
Iris was eleven years old when she began seeing auras. She could remember the first one she saw.
Aunt Earline appeared as suddenly as Mary Poppins when her grandfather began getting ill. She didn’t even know that she had an Aunt Earline until one rainy day in April she showed up on the doorstep of the rowhouse in Philly. It had always been just her mother, Mona, and her grandfather. Iris’s father had died when she was very young. The week before, Pop-Pop, her grandfather, had had his foot amputated, so she had thought the burly woman in an orange dashiki was some sort of weirdly dressed health aide. She was tall, maybe the tallest woman she’d ever seen, and what Pop-Pop would refer to as “big-boned.”
“Hey, Iris,” the woman said. She knew her name, somehow. “How’s it hanging? I’ve been dying to meet you.”
In that moment, Iris knew that this woman was somehow related to her. She could see the reddish tint to her perfectly round Afro, the constellation of dark freckles over her light skin. She even had similar features to Pop-Pop, the same lip-shape, the same deep-set eyes as her mother. Relatives had come “out of the woodwork” after Pop-Pop’s surgery. Relations from Pittsburgh, Mechanicsville and Baltimore, bearing terrible looking casseroles and molded gelatin salads. All of the women had -ine and -ette names. She could never get them straight. Georgette. Pauline. Marvine. Harriet. They bought along their bored husbands, their surly teenaged kids, and fussed about Pop-Pop’s bed, fluffing pillows every two minutes or so. At least this one didn’t have a gross heat-n-serve dish.
“I’m Earline. Your aunt.” She stepped into the narrow vestibule, which could barely contain her girth. All of the -ines and -ettes were presented to her as “aunts,” so this designation meant nothing to her. She moved aside, to let her into the barely wider front hallway.
“Mama,” Iris yelled up the stairs, “Aunt Earline is here.”
Her mother emerged from Pop-Pop’s sick room, at the top of the stairs. The look on Mom’s face was shock. She looked as if she had just seen a ghost.
“Mona,” said Aunt Earline. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
The shocked look on Mom’s face fell away. It was replaced by another, darker emotion. She quickly shut the door to Pop-Pop’s room and came down the stairs. Her eyes were narrowed. “So you finally showed up,” she said. “I don’t believe it.”
“I had to come,” said Earline. “I mean, ‘honor thy parents’ is in the top ten, ain’t it?”
“Who told you about Daddy?” her mother said.
Iris, standing between them, thought for a second, Who’s Daddy? And that’s when it clicked into place. The two women had the same ‘high yellow’ skin tone and reddish-brown freckles on their faces. But they were complete opposites. Mom was small, not even five feet, while Earline towered over her. Mom looked like a doll next to Earline. A doll in a stiff grey dress, with white stockings and matching grey pumps. The only jewelry she wore was a simple silver cross necklace. Next to Earline’s loud outfit, Mom looked like a nun.
“Suzette called me, and let me know.”
“Suzette? Suzette, down in DC? How did she even know how to contact you?”
“It’s a long story,” said Earline. “And I’ve been traveling all day to get here. Plane, train, bus. I’d like to see Daddy, if you don’t mind.”
“He’s sleeping now,” Mom said. Her voice was lowered, her expression slightly less stony. “We can talk about it in the kitchen.”
She ushered them into the room at the back of the house, with its walls the color of pale butter and the round white Formica table in the center. The countertop was covered with a couple of cakes and pies, hidden beneath domes. Mom set the kettle on to boil.
“Aunt Georgette brought your favorite,” said Mom.
“Mincemeat pie?” Earline’s voice, which was deep, went up a few octaves.
Iris stared at the slice Mom placed before Earline in abject horror. The crust was invitingly flaky, but the filling was brown and ambiguous. A kind of gelled gravy enrobed chunks of something or other. The ‘minced meat.’ A strange, sweet and boozy smell wafted up. Earline closed her eyes in pleasure at the first bite, murmured an “mmmm.”
For briefest of moments, a lacy veil, the color of the early morning sky, enveloped Earline. It unfurled with each savoring bite of the mincemeat pie. Iris gasped. Was it a mist? A light? A piece of fabric?
Mom said, “Something wrong, Rissy?”
But the whatever-it-was retreated, glowered about Earline’s shape, a shimmering blue outline.
“Nothing,” she said cautiously.
Earline finished the pie, started on the coffee that Mom had made for her. “That sure was good. Child, it’s so nice to eat real food again. I will retch if I have to eat another alfalfa sprout again.”
“Does this mean that you’re out of that group?” Mom stood, leaning against the counter.
“Black Gnosis is no more,” Earline said.
“And we don’t have to call you Sister Imani?”
“Sister Imani has left the building.”
“What are you all talking about?” Iris couldn’t stand it any longer.
Earline gave Iris the once-over look. “You don’t know? They didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“Well, when you were two, and your daddy was still alive, I joined a religious group called Black Gnosis.”
“Religious group,” Mom muttered, “more like cult.”
“Now, now, Mona. I’m not disagreeing with you. But let me tell the child the story my way.”
Nine years ago, Mona and Lamar Broome lived a few blocks away, in an apartment building. Iris had no memory of the apartment but apparently she’d spent the first two years of life there. Earline still lived at home with Pop-Pop. She was a year older than Mona, and was, in her own words, “a lost child.”
“A hot mess,” Mom said under her breath. Iris thought, Mom really hates her sister. That’s when she saw the thin outline of color surrounding her mother. Earline’s had been clear blue. The light emanating from Mom was a muddy red color, like an old bloodstain that refused to come out in the wash.
“Your mom isn’t wrong,” said Earline. “I was a hot mess. A lost soul, stumbling through life. After Mona married Lamar and left the house, I started up secretarial school cause Momma—your grandma—said single girls could meet men out in the workforce. But I never got the hang of shorthand and dictation. I might as well learned a new language. When Momma got ill, I quit school to help around the house.”
“What did Grandma die of?” Iris asked. Both her grandfather and mother were tight-lipped about things like death and illness.
“Rissy!” her mother hissed, as if on cue.
Earline: “You didn’t tell her? I swear. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Momma died of stomach cancer.”
Iris watched her mother actually flinch at the naming of the disease. As if saying ‘cancer’ could summon those rotting cells. Her halo-light deepened in color, became bloodier.
“It’s not like you had to take care of her,” Earline said.
“You know that Iris was born around that time. I couldn’t—”
“Chill, sis, chill. I’m not blaming you. Anyway. When Momma passed—”
“Bless her soul,” said Mom.
“We all went nuts in different ways. Daddy became a holy-roller. He read the Bible backwards and forwards, went to services on Wednesday and Sunday. Started quoting the Good Book in every situation. Corinthians this, Leviticus that.”
Pop-Pop was still a ‘holy-roller.’ (Iris liked that phrase; she imagined a steamroller the color of the Golden Calf trundling down the streets, flattening sinners on the pavement.) She wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music. He’d warned her of the Satanic messages hidden in rock music, and how they could summon demons. (She doubted that ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ was some witch’s spell when he’d told her that.)
“It was during this time that I met David Okeke, the leader of Black Gnosis. He was one charismatic dude. And he looked a little like Sly Stone. He knew several languages fluently, and he knew the Bible as well as Pop-Pop ever did.”
“Oh, hush,” said Mona. “Daddy reads from the Good Book every night.”
Earline paused, and rolled her eyes at her sister. “Daddy knows the King James Version. Does he know the original translations from Ancient Greek and Latin? Does he have a copy of the Apocrypha, the books of the Bible that were edited out by King James? Well, David Okeke did.”
Mona finally deigned to take a seat at the white round table. “Black Gnosis is a heathen cult. They worship African gods alongside Christian ones. Who’s that goddess you worship who wears pink?”
“We only worship the one true God, and his son, Yeshua. Black Gnosis is a Christian group. The goddess in pink, as you call her, is the mother of Yeshua. She is the feminine divine, the black avatar of the Gnostic Sophia, Christian goddess of wisdom and secret knowledge.”
Mom looked like she was going to have a fit. “That’s blasphemy,” she said, through gritted teeth.
“Technically, it’s heresy,” Earline replied. “But, it’s not even that…”
The two sisters began to argue in earnest. Earline was easy-going, and didn’t take it seriously. This drove her mother crazy. Mona was a daddy’s girl, through and through. Earline probably took after Ethel, the grandmother Iris had never met. Iris stopped paying attention to the minutiae of the sisterly spat, picking out things that sounded interesting. Iris was in the midst of a passion for anything pink. All of her favorite shirts, and hair accessories and socks and scarves, were some shade of that color. She was intrigued by the idea of a goddess that wore pink things.
Meanwhile, the halo-lights of the two women began flashing like strobe lights. Moody blue, muddy red. It began to bother her, so Iris left the women to their quarrelling. She snuck upstairs, and paused by Pop-Pop’s room. It smelled of sickness: astringent medicines masking sweet rot. Pop-Pop was asleep, his eyes moving rapidly beneath their closed lids. His breathing was shallow and rough and there was a sheen of sweat on his brow. But that wasn’t all that Iris saw. A translucent, wispy shawl of black, lightly spangled with red, hovered over his body.
Instinctually, Iris knew what the black shawl meant, as it translucently hovered over her grandfather. It meant imminent death. She resisted the urge to lift up the edge of the comforter that hid his amputated foot. It was too macabre. The medical term for the rotting flesh was gangrene. (For the longest time, Iris thought her mother was saying Gang Green. She imagined a microscopic army of sickly green cells, eating away at Pop-Pop’s foot.)
The shawl encased his body like a filmy web. He looked like a mummy. Iris was in the room before she knew what she was doing. She began waving the black shawl away. It dispersed briefly, into shreds and tatters, before it coalesced back together. Iris snatched at it again. It was a pointless exercise. Death would not leave its web. She wished she had scissors, to rend the veil into a thousand tiny pieces.
She snatched up a bunch of the black stuff. It was a cloud, wet and vaporous. It also stung, like wires or nettles. It squirmed between her fingers, flowed through them. It was an ugly color. Not a rich, luminous black, like the hair on her head or the space between the stars. No. It was grey-black, faded and unhealthy looking. Why couldn’t the shawl that covered her grandfather be a better color, something more vibrant. More alive. Not this half-color that leached the life out of him. Something bright. Something pink, like the wisdom goddess that Earline spoke about.
It didn’t happen immediately. It was insidious, slow, but the grey threads of transparent shawl began to change. Grey into pearl. Pearl into peach, like the inside of a shell. The threads were few and far between, yet they were brighter than the formless mass of the death-shawl.
“Rissy! What are you doing in here!”
She dropped the piece of cloud at the harsh sound of her mother’s voice.
“Take a chill pill, Mona,” said Aunt Earline.
“I expressly told you not to disturb Pop-Pop. He needs his rest.” By this time, Mom had her French-tipped nails on her shoulders, piercing through the thin fabric of her blouse.
“Leave the child alone,” said Earline. “She’s hardly in the damned room. I see you’re an old school style parent.”
Mom let her go, and faced Earline. “How dare you. How dare you judge me. You have no idea what it’s like to raise children.”
“Actually, I do.” Earline was calm, cucumber-cool. “Black Gnosis ran several day care programs in Oakland and Detroit. I’ve worked with children of all ages. And I know that spare-the-rod crap doesn’t work.”
Mom was speechless. Her mouth hung open. Iris could feel the tension in the air. The pressure dropped. And Mom’s blank expression hid the roiling anger within her. Iris wished she could warn her brand-new aunt about the tongue-lashing she was about to receive.
The impending fight, though, was defused.
“Mona?” came Pop-Pop’s dry voice. Iris heard cracked earth in those tones. His voice was shriveled, like a raisin.
“Daddy,” she said. Iris knew from experience that the fight was far from over. It was just delayed. Mom could hold grudges. “How are you doing? Do you need any water? Are you too warm?”
Pop-Pop grunted, waving away her questions. “Who’s that in the doorway?”
“It’s me, Daddy,” Aunt Earline said. Her voice was suddenly timid. Iris noted that Earline didn’t move away from the door frame. “I’ve come home.”
Pop-Pop weakly motioned both Iris and her mother to move aside. His hands trembled. “Earline?” he said. It was a choked whisper.
“Yes,” Earline replied.
Then Pop-Pop did the strangest thing, as strange, in its own way, as the shawl-aura things Iris saw.
He began to cry. His wrinkled face became even more wrinkled. Large tears leaked from behind his glasses, the streaks getting caught in the folds of flesh. His lips quivered. Iris was stunned into silence. Pop-Pop never cried, not even when he lost his foot. She didn’t even think he had the ability to cry.
Mom said, “See what you’ve done? You went and upset him.”
“Oh, Mona. Hush,” Earline said as she moved into the room. She went to Pop-Pop’s bedside, and embraced him. He looked so small and frail in her giant arms. The translucent shawl draped itself over her arms, enfolding her grandfather. The black halo around him changed color, to a light, spring-like green. The green of pistachios, mint, and new leaves. Pop-Pop trembled like a baby in Earline’s arms.
It was nice to have someone else in the house. She had been used to living alone for so long that she had forgotten how nice it was to see someone in the morning and the evening. Xavier mostly kept to himself, bouncing between his room and the museum, but they shared breakfast and dinner together. The past few years, Iris had become a hermit. Her mother and her aunt had passed just before Tamar left. She’d spent hours going through dead women’s things, and dealing with probate courts in Pennsylvania. Mama’s stuff had been easy to get rid of; it was mostly clothing her mother hadn’t updated since the ’80s and ’90s, an endless supply of garish colors and shoulder pads. And church hats. Mama’s hats were architectural wonders, with sombrero-wide brims and gardens of fake flowers. The only thing she kept of Mama’s were the photo albums. Aunt Earline was used to living frugally, so there wasn’t much to get. Iris ended up with her collection of masks and sculptures. They now hung in her bedroom. These stylized wooden faces were sometimes her only company for days on end. She still had a bunch of Tamar’s things, stuff that Tamar had left in Shimmer.
Xavier left for the museum every day at 9:45am. It was a brisk fifteen-minute walk there and the weather was cooperating so far. She’d been tempted to drive him there the first time, just to get his bearings in the small town.
Then, she thought about the pink translucence she’d seen. She hadn’t seen any caspers for quite a while, and it was strange that it showed up in broad daylight. She knew that she should be used to them by now. But, the thing had followed her. Waited for her.
The sound of a phone ringing broke into her reverie. The ringtone sounded like cricket chirps, and it came from Xavier’s room. Iris knew that he had left for the day, so he’d probably left the phone by mistake. She entered his room, and found the small phone still plugged in, with a “Mom called” message on the screen before it faded away.
She sighed. The right thing to do would be to take the phone and charger to him.
“Is Xavier Wentworth here?” Iris asked the man behind the information desk. He towered over her. If she hazarded a guess, he was maybe six-foot-five and rail-thin. He wore a grey coverall with the name LINCOLN sewn in a white oval. Lincoln hunched his shoulders as if he were ashamed of his height.
“Yes, he’s in the back. Shall I get him?” Lincoln avoided eye contact, as if he were distracted.
“He left his phone at my house,” Iris said, “and I’d like to hand it back to him.”
The tall man nodded and left. Iris stared at the desk, with its computer monitor, its metal form curved in a U shape and topped with a glass ledge.
Don’t look at the walls. Don’t look at the walls.
The information desk was stacked with brochures. Brochures that had reproductions of the art on high gloss paper.
That was all it took.
She stood in the marsh. It both was and was not the Shimmer Marsh. From horizon to horizon, islets full of reeds stretched. There was no tree-line. Only water, in shades of blue and streaked with chalcedony-green blooms of algae. The marsh floor was fawn and chocolate, dusted with traces of white and grey silt, strewn with broken shells and fish bones. The colors were super-saturated, like a painting. The color here wavered, echoed and sang. They were more than just strands of light, filtered through a prismatic lens. Iris felt each color as an emotion. Mournful blue, resilient green, cheerful yellow. Marsh-bells dotted each clump of grass, vibrating delirious euphoria like a note just beyond hearing range. For a moment, she let it wash over her.
I’ve missed this.
It was glorious, this feeling of belonging and joy.
A marsh-bell sphere expanded next to her, the blossoms fusing together like glass. The stem sank, and the muddy ground grew. The blossoms came together, became a fabric satiny in its sheen. In the whirlwind of bright purple, arms and legs grew. The veil parted, revealing a face. Or, something like a face. Eyes were the beads of stamens, the mouth was the trumpet of a blossom.
Iris, it said.
With Tamar’s voice.
The dream marsh burned away, replaced by sealed concrete, cinderblocks, fluorescent lights and the face of Xavier in front of her. His face was wrinkled with concern.
She felt a moment’s embarrassment at her spaciness, followed by anger, at herself, for coming here in the first place.
“You left your phone,” she said, when she got her voice back. She fumbled in her purse, pulling out the phone and the charger.
“You okay?” He took them from her hands.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Iris said. “Just fluorescent lights give me headaches.” She shaded her eyes, as if to demonstrate.
That seemed to quell his concern. “Thanks so much,” he said.
It took all of her resolve not to dash to the museum entrance.
Excerpt from A Spectral Hue
Craig Laurance Gidney is the author of the collections Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories and Skin Deep Magic, the Young Adult novel Bereft, and The Nectar of Nightmares. His work has been nominated for the Lambda Literary and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, and he has won both the Bronze Moonbeam and Silver Independent Publishers Book Awards. He lives in his native Washington, DC.