This is an edited version of a short story I originally wrote for a “Philosophy of the Human Person” course I taught at Wabash College in the fall of 2010. Another version was published in my first book of essays, Things and Stuff, and I’ve been tweaking it, in hopes of expanding and having it illustrated by my talented sister, who did the artwork for my Primer. Hopefully it offers some weekend respite from the brewing politics and popery flying around the blogosphere these days. It is also my contribution to the one of the more interesting ongoing conversations online right now, spurred by Dan Gioias’ essay at First Things, regarding the role of Catholic fiction. Today, at Patheos, Frank Weathers posted a palate cleansing post about it and Even Tushnet offers a reflective octet of her own.
by Sam Rocha
When Will was eight years old, he noticed an uneasy feeling in his chest, itching right below the ribcage. Aching. Throbbing. Ran home. Found it eerily empty. “Burglary? No.” Things were missing. But something else — something far worse — was wrong.
A handwritten note laid on the kitchen counter, next to the place where the coffee maker used to sit. Neat, schoolgirl cursive told of how of much she loved him, begging that he never leave. “DO NOT follow me. Stay here. It’s where you belong.”
She could never fit in with them. Too green. Never felt at home. She repeated her love for him and signed herself away.
He became a purple person in every way except the biological pigmentation of his epidermis. Will was purple. Dressed purple. Talked purple. Ate purple. “Hell man, you even kind of look purple.” Will felt purple, and sometimes he even dreamed purple, but he knew what he looked like. Every honest mirror showed him to himself: greener than freshly cut grass.
Will didn’t go to college. Even though he was poor all his life, he was ineligible for the scholarships his purple friends were getting. “Oh well. I hate school anyway.” Moved as far away as he could and landed a job at an Irish pub.
He got along with everyone, mostly. They wanted to know why a green person would act so purple. Even purple people didn’t act that purple. Never had a good answer. Cheap and dead, made-up answers instead. Then he met a woman with the same, old questions. But she was different. She brought her own answers. Gorgeous.
Sophia was a plastic surgeon and a tattoo artist. She developed a hybrid procedure, half surgery, half art, where the epidermis could be safely lifted, tinted, and then re-placed. The ink came from melanin extracted from organ donors. “The skin is the largest organ of the body.” Only two, permanent colors: green or purple. “She’s right, this is perfect.” “My God! She’s perfect. Fucking PERFECT.”
The procedure passed and recovery was ahead of schedule. The day finally came to reveal himself to himself. Gauze removed, gently. “My arms!” Will saw himself as he truly was: purple, inside and out. He had become purple, in every possible way.
Sophia disappeared. Doubt — “Mother?” — flooded his heart.
Will went back to the home of his youth. He didn’t know why. No one recognized him. “Will wasn’t purple but he wasn’t green either. He was purplishgreen or some shit like that. He was really something. Whatever he was, you ain’t it.” Will knew he could just explain. “Just tell them what happened!” What he had done to himself. “What have I done to my self?” He couldn’t bring himself to confess. He could hardly whisper the truth to himself.
“You’re right,” Will said. Feigning a laugh and choking back tears, with that uneasy itch in his chest, he confessed. “I’m not Will. I’m Peter.”