The miracle-worker can perform only one kind of miracle, and it's stupid: he can make the color white turn black.
I told you it was stupid.
He can't even make it turn white again.
Every day for years he stands in the park near the courthouse making white things turn black for people passing by. All he has to do is touch it and think about the miracle and the miracle happens. A girl hands him her white patent-leather purse and viola! it's black. That goes nice with your blouse, he says. A man gives him a newspaper and ta-da! all the white paper is now black, a whole newspaper of black pages. I hope you weren't planning on reading that, says the miracle-worker, as a little joke. Everybody says, Wow! and has a laugh and then goes on their way. A young man wants his white sneakers turned black. Presto! Black! But you can't make 'em white again? he says. So, once you go black, you really can't go back? The young man is black and he laughs, so the miracle-worker does, too. Every day he stands in the park by the courthouse with a coffee tin for tips, until just about everybody's had something of theirs that was white turned black. But no one needs his miracle twice. Finally one day he goes home and the next morning he doesn't go back to the park.
The miracle-worker lives with his mother in her apartment. The apartment is strewn with white things that Greg, her miracle-worker son, has turned black. That's how she says it, My miracle-worker son. The remote control to the air-conditioner in the window is black. So is the air-conditioner itself. And the ceiling fan. And two or three walls—by accident, of course. Some things were always black. The plastic frame of a picture of Greg's late father on the wall, for instance, has always been black, but one day his mother blamed him. She said, It was white, I'm saying, it was white! Don't think I'm not on to you mister—Mister Miracle-Worker!
Now, the miracle-worker can't make something red change into something black, nor something blue or orange or violet. He's tried. He's touched a green thing and thought about the miracle but nothing happens. It has to be white. But if the white thing isn't really white, but more of an off-white, well, that works; it just turns into a less true black, an off-black. Likewise, a light gray will turn into a dark gray. There's a fine line, though, where a thing might have a color that is not white but certainly not black, a thing which is true gray, right between black and white. When he touches these things they do nothing. They either do nothing or they change into the exact same color, he can't tell. Nor can anyone, for it's impossible to tell if a thing does nothing or something which is exactly the same as it is doing, which is nothing. This is a problem for philosophers, and of all the things the miracle-worker might be, he is not that.
The miracle-worker who can only perform one lousy miracle is named Greg Grubbs.
It's an unfortunate name.
His full name sounds more regal, but nobody calls him Gregory Bartholomew Grubbs.
No, everyone who knows him calls him Greg Grubbs, or just Grubbs, because Greg Grubbs is hard to say, maybe because of the double g's. Sometimes in his bedroom he says his name over and over again really fast and it starts to sound like something a little imp should say.
His mother should have thought of such things when she named him.
Right now his mother is thinking of other things, like laundry, and dinner, and cannibalism, and Mrs. Schmidt's son, who visited his mother that day (like he does almost every day), and money, and last night's episode of Jeopardy with that question she knew, and where were those sirens she hears coming to?—to her building? is Mrs. Schmidt having a heart attack?—but certainly not the unfortunate naming of her only child thirty-five years ago in a hospital room. If she could think of everything she was ever going to think, she wouldn't think of that.
If Greg had to guess what his mother was thinking about most of the time, he'd say hot dogs. This was especially true because a few months back on her favorite TV cooking show the famous TV chef gave the "America's Best Hot Dog Award" to Chicago. She was so angry she yelled at the TV set. The TV chef hadn't even mentioned Springville! That's when she wrote the letter to the chef:
Dear So-and-So, I am sixty-nine and a single mother of one boy. My husband passed away ten years ago from cancer. Sir, I may not ever have gone to Paris or Rome, but I know I don't have to leave my city limits to find the best hot dogs in all the U.S.A. Now, Springville may not be any London or Rome, but I can assure you, young man, that you have done your audience a great disservice by failing to even mentioning it! And you call yourself a famous TV Chef! Well, I say, For shame!
And it went on like this, and for a long time after she mailed it she didn't hear anything, but little did she know the TV studio people really got a kick out of the letter. They wrote Mrs. Grubbs and told them they were not only coming to her city to try what she called these Best-in-the-Universe hot dogs, but to her home! to pick her up! with cameras rolling! and a limousine was going to drive her and the TV chef around to all the hot dog places she liked, and Mr. TV Chef was going to sample hot dog after hot dog to see if she was right.
Greg doesn't think of hot dogs too often. Instead he thinks of things to do with his one and only miracle. He could work in a plant where white things needed to be changed into black things. That's as far as he's gotten but it isn't a bad idea. He'd save them a lot of paint just standing there all day changing white into black. He fills out applications and under SKILLS he always writes, Can change white into black (miracle). Sometimes Greg gets upset that no one calls him back, because money's short, and he gets angry that he has only one miracle, a pretty stupid one at that, and sometimes the things he changes to black on accident, like the walls, which add up to more like six or seven walls if you really count them, and the shower-curtain and bathtub, and a dozen white toiletries in the bathroom, and several doors, and about everything in his bedroom, sometimes they aren't really accidents but just Greg getting angry and summoning on accident, or half-on-purpose, that miracle, which sort of feels like throwing up without feeling sick or losing any food. Sometimes it makes him feel better to see something light change into something dark. Sometimes the darkness seems to say to him, Yeah. That's it. That's the way.
But the frame of the picture of his late father was always black, he'll never admit to that.
Over dinner the miracle-worker's mother talks about Mrs. Schmidt's son, who works with loads of money all day in an important bank. You know what Jason did today? Jason took his mother shopping and carried the bags up all those stairs. Jason drove his mother to her appointment, Jason played bridge with his mother and her friends, Jason asked the mailman where his mother's check was and you know where it was? Stuck at the bottom of his bag! Greg's mother used to play bridge with Mrs. Schmidt but now they don't, and now Greg's mother despises her. But, Oh, Jason! She always says it like that, with flare: Jason! Greg's mother talks about Jason like he was some sort of miracle-worker.
One time Greg's mother asked Jason if he can't get her miracle-worker son a job at the bank. But Greg didn't graduate high school, and Jason thought he might even need a college degree. Greg thinks he might have graduated high school and even gone to college if his mother hadn't told him so often that all their problems would be solved with his miracle. Back then she thought Greg would learn how to change any color into any other color, not just white into black. His mother thinks if he just applies himself he could do more with his one stupid miracle. Greg thinks maybe she resents him for it, like he's holding it back just to spite her.
Their dinner is spaghetti. His mother used to cook more but now it's always spaghetti, or sometimes, for a treat, linguine. Greg doesn't like it when it's linguine because then he has to get out the two candles and light them, like linguine calls for candles and wine and violin players. He says, Ma, we're not in Rome, for crying out loud. For sauce they either have canned tomato or jarred Alfredo. Worst of all is linguine with Alfredo, then there's the candles and the radio turned on to a classical music station. Tonight it's just spaghetti and Alfredo, so no candles or music. Mrs. Schmidt almost fell down the stairs today, Greg's mother says, but she didn't, Jason caught her, God bless him. You can't blame a son for saving his mother, she says sternly, but damn if a fall down the stairs might knock some sense into that woman. Not that I'm wanting her to fall or nothing, I'm just saying God works in mysterious ways is all.
When Greg's father died, his mother couldn't find anything black to wear to the funeral. There was an old white dress she wore when she was younger, so she asked her son to change it black. When he did it she laughed and stroked Greg's head and said, Oh, how lovely it looks now! and then put it on for the funeral service. Greg thinks it's the proudest he's ever felt in all his life. But now he thinks his mother would've liked it if Mrs. Schmidt had fallen down the stairs today, because then Jason would be all hers with no mother left to care for. Sometimes Greg thinks his mother loves Jason more than him, because what does he do all day but sit around? With his stupid trick that can't even earn him a dime? He can't even make black go back to white. What kind nonsense was that!
Greg gets so angry thinking about it he wants to stick his fingers in the pan of hot Alfredo and turn the sauce black.
The miracle-worker goes back to the park near the courthouse because his mother wants a couple hot dogs from one of the vendors. They're the best hot dogs in all America as far as she's concerned, and anyone who disagreed was thick in the head or didn't have any taste buds—which was exactly what she'd written to the TV chef.
There are lots of vendors around the square and she tells him to find the one with the Italian guy, those are the best of the best, and although Greg isn't sure he's going to know who's Italian and who's not, he just says okay and takes the money. He doesn't like going around the park anymore, it makes him sad. He doubts anyone remembers him. When he gets off the bus he notices a crowd of people on the park, right about where he used to stand all day. He crosses the street with his hands in his pockets and hears a girl's loud voice behind the people. He leans left and right until finally he can see her.
She's taking people's black things and turning them white. Everyone's laughing and shouting with amazement. The miracle-worker can hardly believe his eyes.
A young man says, Here, make my hat white. She sticks the hat on her head and ka-pow! it's white! Daaammn! the man says, laughing, and everyone applauds.
The miracle-worker is stunned, bowled over, shocked. His whole body itches with agitation. He fingers a sweaty quarter in his pocket, not just any quarter, but one he made black a long time ago. Of course, since the quarter didn't start out white, it didn't turn out black, but a dark, shiny gray, with a shimmer the likes of which he'd never seen. He tried using it on a bus but the bus-driver said, Nu-uh, you ain't sticking that thing in here, so now he carries it around with him all the time, it never leaves his pocket until his mother does wash, and then he holds it in his hand secretly until his pants are clean and dry.
The miracle-worker, that is to say, the other miracle-worker—the girl—is spunky and loud and very petite. She has spiky hair that's too bright and white to be a natural color. Come on, she chides a man, let's spruce up those dingy pants, your work-buddies will love 'em! I'm not sure, the man says. She grabs him at the knee and Abracadabra! his nice dark slacks are white now. Everybody cheers. The man doesn't look thrilled but he gives her a buck anyway.
Greg Grubbs never manhandled anyone and changed their pants black against their wishes.
Maybe she won't be able to change the dark gray shiny quarter, he thinks. She won't be able to because he's already changed it, and what he's changed can't be changed back. Then we'll see who the miracle-worker is.
He holds the quarter out to her.
What, this thing? she says. She glances up at Greg and wrinkles her nose for a second. Alright then, give it here.
She takes the quarter and closes it under her fingers. When she opens them again it's back to a normal quarter color. She hands it back. A few people clap. Greg puts it back in his pocket, his lips sealed tight, and walks away. He gets four hot dogs from the closest vendor, a Middle Eastern guy. His mother wouldn't like to know he's getting the hot dogs from the Middle Eastern guy, so he's not going to tell her. Then he gets on the bus and pulls out a handful of change from his pocket. He gasps and realizes that his special quarter is mixed in with the change from the vendor. Now there's three quarters in his hand and he can't tell which is the special one. He can't even tell by reading the date, he never looked at anything but that shiny dark sheen.
When he gets home his mother is at the door of their apartment. Oh, you brought us hot dogs, Greg! Oh, Greg, you didn't have to!
She says it loudly so maybe Mrs. Schmidt will hear that Greg brought her hot dogs.
Did you go to the Italian man? his mother asks. Yeah, he was Italian, Greg says. He had a big twirly moustache. Good, she says, nodding with her mouth full. Now if that TV chef had any sense at all he'd know that these beat Chicago hot dogs hands-down.
For several weeks after getting the letter from the TV chef, Greg's mother was on cloud-nine. That's how she described it to Mrs. Schmidt and Jason in the hallway. She'd say it with her hands on her head, I'm just on cloud-nine! The Springville Sun came to her apartment and asked her a few questions, and printed a story about her in the newspaper. They even published the letter she had written. Greg's mother was ecstatic. She started to think of other TV chefs she could write to give them a piece of her mind. And every time she saw Mrs. Schmidt she told her she was going to see if there was any room in the limousine to bring her and her son along, but Greg knew she didn't mean it. She just wanted to get their hopes up. On his mother's birthday Greg bought her a copy of the TV chef's latest book of stories and recipes. It was called You Are What You Eat and had a picture of the handsome TV chef in Paris or London, smiling and pretending to bite his arm. At first his mother was thrilled. But then she didn't like the title, and then she didn't like the picture. You are what you eat? she kept saying. What's that supposed to mean? Greg said, It's like, the things you eat go inside your body. I know where food goes! But why is he biting his arm? Who does that? When she began to read it, she didn't even like the forward. She made Greg read a line: Our bodies are only as healthy as the food we put in them, he read. If you were stranded on a deserted island with no other food, you'd be wise to eat that slim vegetarian first, or that man on the airplane you saw order the fish and pass on the cookies and soda.
His mother was making a look of horror at him when he glanced up.
Greg didn't get it. But he did know how once an idea got in his mother's head it usually stayed there a long time and grew bigger and bigger. Like the frame around his father's photograph that had always been black, but that she accused him of making that way. After that she started accusing him of making all sorts of things black that had always been black, like the cord to the vacuum-cleaner, and the mouse on her computer, and some of her black dishtowels. Now she's got it in her head that the TV chef is a cannibal. Now she thinks the TV chef is coming to Springville to eat her. Why else would he come to her no-name city, just to meet her? And especially after that letter! Every word she wrote was true, she wouldn't backpedal on a lick of it, but he probably didn't like hearing the truth, a big TV chef with an enormous ego like him! And now he was coming with this whole big lie just to chop her up and fry all her pieces. On TV, no less! she had said. He'll say it's pork, or venison! I don't want that man coming here. No way. Let him make his sick recipes out of some other poor, dumb soul, not me!
There was nothing Greg could do to knock the idea out of her head. She spent all her time on the Google looking for something about the TV chef and cannibalism. He felt sad for her. It was the only nice thing that had ever happened to his mother and she wasn't going to enjoy it, she wasn't even going to let it happen.
Greg said, What are you going to do when he comes? She thought about it and finally said, very seriously, I'll tell him to go across the hall to Elaine's.
A few days after seeing the other miracle-worker, Greg goes back to the park to see if she's still there. It's easy to find her, she has a crowd.
He hates that miracle-worker. He wants to tell her that the crowd won't last, they'll all have a thing or two turned white, maybe something he turned black, and then they'll be done with her.
He picks out a white paper cup from a trashcan and walks over to the miracle-worker with the white spiky hair. He waits until no one is around and then shows her the cup. See this? he says. So? she says. He turns it black. She gives him a funny look and says, I remember you, you had the quarter. She takes the cup from his hand and with a cocky grin makes it white again. Is that all you can do? Greg says. Just make black things white? She shrugs. I can speak Spanish.
The two miracle-workers get a cup of coffee across the street. Greg feels weird walking next to her. She's so much smaller than him, or else he's so much bigger. He is big, with sloppy hair that really isn't any color. Her hair is so bright white, Greg thinks, you couldn't miss it a mile away. But it's fake. Greg feels weird drinking coffee with her. He's never drunken coffee in the café, where the college students study and talk, and he's never had coffee with a girl other than his mother. She's a drifter, she says, and she knows all about the fading crowds. She's been across half the county, standing in parks performing her miracle, and when she leaves here she's going across the rest of it. She talks confidently, like nothing in the world could stop her. Her name is Ivory, but Greg thinks that's fake, too.
You should be Ebony, she says. Oh yeah, says Greg, like the song. Oh, but that's about black people and white people. Yeah, she says, and rolls her eyes and looks into her coffee.
Ivory sticks a finger in her coffee and turns it white. It looks like hot milk and she looks very pleased with herself. Then she lays her hand on the blackish table and turns it whitish.
Greg jumps and says, You shouldn't do that.
Why not? Don't you just want to turn everything black?
No, says Greg, even though sometimes he does, and turns the table black again.
Ivory laughs and pushes the glass sugar container toward him.
No way, he says.
Come on, she says, blinking her eyes at him. Do it for me . . . I'll turn it right back!
Greg touches the sugar in the container and turns it all black. Cool! Ivory says, pouring it out on her finger and into her white coffee. Isn't that cool?
Yeah, now turn it back before they see.
Who? she says, sticking her finger in her mouth to see if the sugar still tastes sweet.
I don't know, the people at the counter. Come on, change it back.
No way, she says. I like it better this way.
Ivory make him nervous, so he doesn't understand why he invites her to the apartment for dinner. Maybe because she tells him she has no food and nowhere to sleep. Maybe because she's a miracle-worker like him, and miracle-workers should stick together. They leave the café and Ivory grabs a big backpack she's hidden in the bushes at the park. When they get to the apartment, Greg sees that it's all cleaned up. The TV chef is supposed to come tomorrow, but he doesn't understand why his mother would clean if she doesn't plan on letting him in. This is Ivory, Ma, she can turn black things into white things. His mother looks her up and down. What's wrong with your hair? she says. Then she goes into the kitchen to make spaghetti, muttering, Great, that's all we need around here, another miracle-worker! Ivory giggles into her hand.
Despite his mother's irritation at another miracle-worker in the house, she makes linguine, not spaghetti, and linguine with Alfredo, so Greg has to get out the candles and turn on the classical music station. Greg tells Ivory about how his mother thinks the TV chef is going to kill and eat her, or in any case, eats people, probably right on his show, calling it stir-fry chicken or something. He tells her this in confidence so she's not surprised if his mother brings it up, but the first thing Ivory does when they sit down is say, Why do you think the TV chef is going to eat you?
His mother isn't fazed by the question and tells her all about the title of the book and the picture on it—she gets up to show it to Ivory—and retells lines she's read, changing them so they sound more like a cannibal wrote them. He says you should eat vegetarians, they're the healthiest! Can you believe that! she says. I'm a vegetarian! says Ivory, laughing. Greg's mother says, I wouldn't want to be you when he gets here tomorrow. As for me, I think he'll pass, what am I anyway, just skin and bones.
Ivory is going to stay the night. His mother likes her now that she's taken her fears about the TV chef seriously and even agreed with her and told her that she was smart to suspect what she suspects. Greg supposes Ivory was only kidding, and that his mother missed the joke. In the living room later that night his mother gets a fantastic idea, that's how she says it, but Greg doesn't think it's so fantastic. Two of the walls in the living room are black because of Greg and she wants them white. No prob, says Ivory and makes them white. Greg's mother is thrilled. Then she starts finding other things, the air conditioner and the remote control, and brings her into the bathroom to change the tub and the shower curtain and all the little tubes of pastes and gels. Oh, this is wonderful! Look Greg, all these nasty black things white again! Greg follows them around the apartment making nervous comments but they ignore him. They go into his bedroom, where nearly everything is black, and suddenly it's brighter than he's ever seen it. Oh, and this, and this! his mother cries, rushing back to the living room where she snatches the picture of her late husband off the wall. No, Ma, Greg yells, that's always been black! Leave it alone! But Ivory has already turned the frame white. Greg touches it and turns it back to black. His mother swats at him and shrieks. Ivory turns it white. Greg grabs it and turns it black again, then touches a wall and makes that black, too. Gregory! his mother cries. What has gotten into you! The TV chef is coming tomorrow!
Greg's chest is heaving. He tosses the picture on the couch and storms to his room.
His mother picks up the black picture frame and hands it, smiling, to Ivory.
In his room Greg feels small and helpless. The room is too big and bright, even with the lights out. He touches all the walls and makes them black. He stands on the bed to touch the ceiling, which had always been white, and makes that black, too. He thinks of Ivory going to the park tomorrow to perform her miracle, as stupid as his. He'll be glad to be rid of her. But then he remembers that maybe all the people who gave him things to turn black are having Ivory turn them white again. She could go around town turning everything he'd made black into white, and then what? He'd be like that perfect gray between black and white that didn't turn any color except its own, that no one could rightly say had ever done a thing.
When he wakes up in the morning the two walls near the door are white again. Ivory must have snuck in and done it as a joke. He finds her stretching and yawning on the couch, still in her clothes. His mother is running around in her slip with curlers on her head. For breakfast everyday she makes oatmeal with syrup on it, but this morning nothing is on the stove and Greg's stomach growls. So, you're going to let him in? Greg says. Well, I'm not letting him go to Mrs. Schmidt's! she says, rushing past him. Did you see your room? Ivory asks. Yeah, Greg, says, funny. Don't you ever laugh? she says. Greg thinks about it a moment. At what? She rolls her eyes and goes into the bathroom.
When the door-buzzer buzzes his mother shouts for him to get it and runs into her bedroom to get dressed. Greg goes into the hallway and looks down the stairwell. He sees a bunch of men coming up the stairs with cameras and speakers and lights. Then his mother is next to him and she says, loud enough for the entire building to hear, Oh, is that the TV chef coming up here? Would you look at all those cameras! I can't believe I'm actually going to be on TV! Me! I feel like a Hollywood starlet!
But Greg is looking at what she's wearing. It's a bright white dress, the one and same that he had turned black for his mother ten years ago when his father passed. Ma, why's that dress white? Ivory turned it white again, she says. It'll look better on TV, Greg. Who wears black on TV? she says, banging on Mrs. Schmidt's door. Greg is furious. The cameramen are tromping up the stairs. When Mrs. Schmidt answers his mother says, Elaine, so sorry to disturb you, but is Jason coming today? I'm not sure where he'll park, we've got all these TV people here. Mrs. Schmidt is peeking through her door at the people with the cameras. Oh, right through there, gentlemen, his mother says, beaming and pointing into her apartment.
The TV chef isn't here yet, just the cameramen who are pointing instruments around in the air and opening and closing blinds and testing lights because they're going to film a few scenes in her apartment before they go out hot dog-sampling. His mother is on cloud-nine, walking back and forth from person to person asking questions and checking the hallway to see if any neighbors are gathering near the door. Why did you turn that dress white again? Greg asks Ivory, and she says because his mother asked her to. Why don't you just get out of here, he says. Go on, go turn everything white and leave. I want to watch, she says, and besides, your mother told me I could stay. Then she pinches his dark gray button-down shirt and makes it light gray. Cut it out! he says and turns it back. That's a stupid trick. Now she glares at him. Stupid trick? she says. Stupid trick? Is your trick stupid? Yes, he says. Who needs it? She looks at him slyly and says, But who knows about it? A few people in this dumpy town? You've got to get yourself out there, Greg. Like you? he says. Tromping across the country? She pulls Greg down to her so she can whisper in his ear. I've got a plan, Greg. Your mother is about to be on national TV, and you and me need to get in on some of that, right?
Greg doesn't like it. She says she's been thinking about it all night. At the right moment, when the cameras are rolling, she's going to walk up to the chef and turn something on him white. They'll get mad, Greg says. No, they'll be too amazed to get mad. But what if he isn't wearing anything that's black? Chefs wear white. Then what? That's where you come in, she says, duh! He scowls. She squeezes his arm. Greg, think about it, we'll both be famous!
Greg thinks about it and likes the idea of being famous.
But he doesn't like the idea of upstaging his mother, who seems to have forgotten all about her fears of being cannibalized on TV and is looking quite sure of herself and even graceful, laughing and schmoozing with the cameramen in her bright white dress. But that dress makes him angry, and maybe she deserves to be upstaged. And maybe he will get famous. His mother would forgive him soon enough, what with living in his mansion house, where he can turn anything he wants black because it'll be all his. And she won't have to cook spaghetti every night, he'll have cooks to make it and a server to bring it. And then what'll his mother think of her miracle-worker son?
When the TV chef gets there he is handsome with hair like the color of a penny and sunglasses on and a big group of important-looking people around him, but no one as important-looking as himself. Some cameramen bring Greg's mother over to the TV chef and then Greg sees it—his mother's smile getting shaky and nervous, her squirming shoulders trying to break free of the cameramen. Mrs. Grubbs! booms the TV chef walking toward her with his hand extended. How great to meet you finally! He grabs Greg's mother's hand and bends down to her and shakes and shakes it with both of his. I've got to say, Mrs. Grubbs, you gave us all quite a lashing with your letter! Quite a lashing!
Greg can see his mother is petrified. She keeps smiling but it's a fake smile, and she's laughing but it's just a tittering kind of noise and he feels scared for her.
The TV chef is getting his apron on, and it's white, he's all in white, just like Greg said. Then the TV chef and Greg's mother are in her kitchen and the camera and lights are all pointed at them, and there's lot of commotion while his mother just stands there tittering and flashing her eyes around because she doesn't know what else to do.
Someone yells Action! and the TV chef holds up a hot dog and shouts, Welcome to Springville, America! right into the cameras. Now, we all know hot dogs are as American as apple pie. Recently we had a contest for America's best hot dog and we gave the prize to Chicago. But one viewer didn't agree! You've all heard her passionate letter chewing us out!—Greg's mother's smile all but disappears when he says that, chewing us out, and she starts looking pale—That's right, it's Mrs. Ethel Grubbs, and I'm here with her today in Springville where she claims we're going to find the true winner of America's Greatest Hot Dog!
Then the TV chef turns to Mrs. Grubbs. What do you think makes Springville's hot dogs so superior to hot dog champions like Chicago?
I don't know, his mother says, laughing. They're good. You know, I didn't mean to chew anyone out, I just thought that . . . You know, Springville has a . . . Well, we may not be Paris or London! but . . .
That's alright, that's alright, Mrs. Grubbs, says the TV chef. Okay! Mrs. Grubbs is going to take us out today to some of the best hot dog vendors in Springville. Tell us about these vendors, what makes them so special?
Well, she says, I like the Italian man's the best . . . Not so much the Arab's, though.
The TV chef glances up at the camera and Greg has a sinking feeling that things aren't going well. Ivory pulls him down and says, Are you ready?
Now, says the TV chef, I've been telling you that we're only as healthy as the food we eat. But are hot dogs healthy? Let's open one up, shall we, and see what's inside a hot dog. Then he raises a large knife to the hot dog in his hand and Greg's mother shrieks. Yeeaagh! she yells, jumping away.
Someone yells Cut! and everyone starts to bustle around and tell Mrs. Grubbs to just calm down, it's okay, she's doing fine.
Are you ready? Ivory squeals into Greg's ear. Do it as soon as they start rolling again.
I don't know, Greg says, wiping his sweaty head. No, maybe! I don't know!
The TV chef slices a chunk off the hot dog and Mrs. Grubbs looks likes she's going to swoon watching him. Now, he says, let's get a good close up of that. Look at the even texture of the meat in that casing. A hot dog can be made of beef, chicken, turkey, pork, just about any meat like this—
Not any meat, Mrs. Grubbs says, tittering again. I mean, you can't put . . . uh . . . venison in it!
Well, says the TV chef, laughing, I'm afraid you can, Mrs. Grubbs! I've had venison hot dogs and they are superb! But I love meats, everyone knows that, any kind! And you can make a hot dog out of just about any kind of meat. In fact, I can't think of a meat I haven't had in a hot dog!
Oh God, says Mrs. Grubbs, looking sick.
Ivory hisses, She's bombing! They aren't even going to air this if you don't do it!
But Greg is trembling too much to move. He's squinting at his mother who looks like a ghost with all the hot lights on her and her white dress. And the TV chef is booming with energy, a white sort of energy, so that all that whiteness makes Greg feel dizzy.
Some hot dogs are healthier than others, the TV chef says. There's even vegetarian hot dogs. Mrs. Grubbs, I have a very special slice of hot dog here—just for you—that I want you to try. But Mrs. Grubbs doesn't want to try the hot dog slice that the TV chef holds in his fingers. Greg knows she is convinced the hot dog slice is full of human meat.
Greg gouges his eyes with his palms, not knowing what to do.
All that white, says Ivory, glancing at Greg. It's so bright you can hardly see them.
You're right, Greg says. It's bright. And he thinks he hears the darkness telling him what to do. But it's Ivory: Change it, she's saying, over and over, digging her nails into his arm.
Come on, Mrs. Grubbs, the TV chef says, holding the slice up like he was going to toss it in her mouth. Open up, Mrs. Grubbs, I thought you loved hot dogs!
No, she says. No, I'm full, thank you.
Mrs. Gruuubbs, he sings, bringing the hot dog slice closer to her mouth.
No! she screams, and smacks the hot dog out of his hand. Get that thing away from me!
And just at that moment Greg the miracle-worker launches at the TV chef and grabs his apron, but the TV chef yanks away before Greg can make it black and yells, What are you doing! Who are you! Greg lunges for him again and the TV chef pushes him off, cursing and swearing and calling him a maniac. Ivory pushes the TV chef forward, screaming, Do it Greg! I've got him! Do it!
Greg's mother is shrieking, too, into the camera, There's humans in that hot dog! It's human meat! He's a cannibal!
The kitchen swarms with cameramen. They grab Ivory, who's still screaming, and hide the TV chef behind them, so Greg turns to his mother in a panic and sees that white dress exploding in his eyes with all the bright lights. He grabs her and Poof! the white dress is pitch black! Greg's mother cries, What are you doing! and swings her arms wildly, and Ivory tears away from the cameramen and grabs the dress and Ka-Zam! the dress is white again. Ivory shouts, Are you filming this! We're miracle-workers! Look! Look! Greg makes it black again and Ivory makes it white again and his mother is shrilling and swinging at them both and everything is in chaos.
Alright, that's enough! shouts Greg. Stop turning it white! It's supposed to be black! He doesn't care about the TV and the cameras and being famous, he just wants the dress to be black. But Ivory doesn't listen and turns it white. Then she turns Greg's dark gray shirt light gray again, so Greg screams and turns the walls in the kitchen black. Ivory grabs a camera and turns it white, and Greg grabs a giant white lamp they're using and turns it black. But the lamp burns his hand and he screams out in pain, and the TV chef is yelling, and everyone is leaving, all the cameramen and the TV chef and the important people around him, pouring out the door with their equipment.
Look what you've done! Greg's mother screams, punching his arm. And you! she yells at Ivory, you hussy! They're leaving! Don't leave! Make them stop! Greg!
Greg's mother is crying as the last of the cameramen leave. She storms across the room to shut the door and sees Mrs. Schmidt and Jason in the hallway, staring. How did it go? asks Mrs. Schmidt, timidly. Greg's mother screeches and slams the door.
Greg's mother goes to her room and locks herself in there for a long time.
Ivory shakes her head. I can't believe that didn't work, she says. Then she shrugs and leaves.
Greg goes to his room where half the walls are white and half the walls are black. He wants to change them all black, but then he doesn't, he just sits on his bed.
Greg goes to the park by the courthouse the next day but Ivory isn't in her normal spot. He walks around the park with his hands in his pockets looking. It ought to be easy spotting her with that white hair, but he can't find her. Then he sort of misses her. She made everything he turned black into white again, what was so wrong with that? He could always turn it back. There are a lot of people about in the square. Maybe they'd want their white things turned black again, Greg thinks. It's not such a stupid trick when people need it.
He glances across the park to the café, and something seems out of place there. It's the chairs—they're all white. He walks across the park to look closer, because it seems to him they were black chairs two days ago. But before he gets to the café he notices a man, down the street, talking to a police officer and pointing angrily at his car. The car is white, so bright-white it may have just been painted. He walks toward them but is distracted again, this time by a streetlight farther on—also white—and another beyond that. He follows the streetlights down the block like a trail of breadcrumbs, finding other things that are white but which he suspects used to be black: the iron gates in front of the library, the door handles on the bank's glass doors, a homeless man in a white trench coat and white army boots.
Then Greg looks up and realizes he's at the bus terminal. He can only take one step toward the building before the blare of a horn makes him leap and scurry backwards. It's a Greyhound bus leaving the station, roaring by and nearly squashing him. Greg, coughing in the hot exhaust fumes, sees all the tires of the bus rolling by him. Every tire is white! The bus turns onto the street and Greg runs after it, coughing and waving his arms at the black windows. Is that her? He thinks he sees someone wave, but he's not sure. And he's not sure why he's running after the bus yelling for Ivory. What would he do if it stopped? But it doesn't matter, the bus with the white tires isn't stopping, it's going faster, and in a few seconds it's far down the street.
Greg stands on the side of the road watching. She's starting her journey across the other half of the country, he figures, like she said she would. Maybe, he thinks, he'd see her again someday, when she was on her way back home.
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