“Shades of Green” by Chas Wilson

In his eighty-first spring, Jerome realized he’d never seen so many shades of green.  They were arranged in front of him, on one-by-one inch squares, six squares to a card, on nearly twenty cards.  That was over a hundred!  As he stood in front of the display, the paint salesman sidled over to him.  “Looking for a particular color, sir?”

Jerome answered, “Green,” but it sounded more like “Gurun.”  Since his stroke, he had been having difficulty pronouncing words and writing.  He took one of each of the color sample cards and ambled outside into the bright, warm, Southern California morning.  He eased himself down onto the curbside bench and pulled the cards out of his pocket.  The stage manager had said he wanted the walls to be green, but he didn’t say which shade of green.  What sort of green was Othello likely to have in his home, anyway?  During his almost fifty years as an automobile salesman, he had never even heard of Othello.  Maybe if he went to a library, he could find out more about this Othello guy and figure out which green to put on his walls.

He hadn’t been to a library since 1958.  He took Ruth there when she was getting some information to write a term paper for a history class at Fullerton High School.  Now as he wandered about the main branch of the city library, he couldn’t even find the card catalog.  A young lady with a round disc pinned to her sweater which said, “Just Read,” showed him how to find what he was looking for at one of the computers banked against the magazine stacks in the center of the main room.  Othello was a play written by Shakespeare and Othello himself was a Moor who lived in Venice, so Jerome located a copy of the play, a picture book on Venice, and a book on the general history of the Moors.  He took them to a table and began to read.

Jerome became engrossed in the books.  One idea led to another and, before long, he had dozens of books spread out before him, on design, color, Venetian interiors, geometric concepts in Islamic art, and many others.  Another young lady tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, we’re going to close in fifteen minutes.  Would you like to check out any of these books?”  He didn’t have a library card so it took a while to complete the process.  He had so many books that one of the young men had to help him carry them out to the Cadillac.  It took him three trips to get all the books up to the apartment.

The following morning, as he was waiting for the art supplies store to open, he thought about Ruth.  It had been over four years since she had died, and he missed her dearly.  The people at “Setting Sun” took good care of him – kept his apartment clean, brought him his meals – but Ruth did so much more.  She was always there and he could talk to her about anything.  After she died, his son David convinced him to sell the house and move to “Setting Sun.”  For three years after Ruth was gone, he had dragged himself out of bed, sat in his recliner, and watched television all day.  The only company he had was the young man who brought him his meals three times a day and the young lady who cleaned his apartment on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  But they weren’t much company.  The young man was always listening to music from a device on his ear and the cleaning lady could only say, “Berry nice.”  Otherwise, she only spoke Spanish.

Then he had his stroke.  The doctor said that unless he wanted to have another, he needed to get out and get some fresh air and exercise.  So he did.  He walked and saw the golf course, the pool, the tennis courts, and the craft shops of “Setting Sun.”  It was during one of these walks that he wandered into the “Little Theater.”  He liked it there, although the stage manager was kind of pushy and he couldn’t tell if the director was a man or a woman.  Terri, one of the “Setting Sun” staff, asked him if he’d like to join the company and got him the position of set painter, under the watchful eye of the stage manager.

He spent nearly nine hundred dollars on supplies at the art store.  He never worried about money any more.  He and Ruth had been frugal all of their lives, and with David, Aaron, and Deborah on their own since the late ‘80s, they had managed to amass a sizable nest-egg.  He took the supplies back to the apartment and got to work.  He hardly stopped to eat.  He had drawings, stencils, brushes, paints, and books spread over every flat surface in the living room, dining room, and bedroom.  When the cleaning lady tried to make some order out of his chaos, he literally chased her out of the apartment.  After three days, he was ready.

The “Little Theater” was usually closed on weekends, but he convinced Terri to let him have the key so he could work on the set without getting in the way of the rehearsing actors.  By Monday morning, he had the design stenciled onto the wall and was ready to paint it.  He started painting, but could see that the project would take him forever if he tried to do it by himself.  He asked Terri if he could get someone to help him paint.  That afternoon, Marcy showed up to help him.  She didn’t ask him what he wanted her to do, she just walked back and forth in front of the wall, occasionally stopping to put her hand on it.  After she had done this for a while, she went over to the paints, opened a can, and asked, “Where should I put this?”  Jerome showed her.  Then she went to work.

Marcy was much younger than Jerome, he figured she was around sixty, and painted faster and more accurately than he.  They didn’t speak much; she reminded him when to eat and periodically asked to see his drawings of the wall, which she looked at instead of asking where to apply the next color.  On a Sunday evening, after working every day for two weeks, they were done.  The wall was settled in a hundred different shades of green and looked like a combination of geometrically etched Moroccan leather and Venetian filigree.  It was Catholic and Muslim, ancient and modern.  It was enchanting.

Although the stage manager grumbled about his inability to get furniture and props to compete with such a wall, and the director whined that it would steal the thunder of the actors, Terri let the wall stay as it was.  It became the hit of the show.

A few nights later when Jerome was considering what he was going to do for the next play, Marcy telephoned.  “There’s going to be a sand sculpture competition at Laguna Beach, Saturday after next.  Would you like to go?”

He wondered out loud if he could find a book at the library about modeling sand.

“We need to get you a computer,” Marcy muttered.


Chas Wilson has a BA from Cameron University in Lawton, OK, and an MS from the US Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, CA.  Wilson is currently working as a financial advisor and lives with his wife, Hae-Jung, and their three youngest children in Tacoma, WA.