Fiction by Ambika Thompson
In the achromat’s fantasy they’re wearing unitards. This is because they want to live in a world where wearing unitards is something that can be done at all times and in absolutely every conceivable situation, including bar mitzvahs and funerals. The colour doesn’t matter. They have achromatopsia, which means it’s like they’re perpetually living in a 1950’s futuristic television show, and life is only slightly less sexist, racist and classist than it is now. At least that’s how someone put it to them one time in a smoky bar just after last call right before they asked the achromat to go home with them for some hanky-panky, which the achromat, of course, absolutely did.
The achromat is at present in love with a tetrachromat. They want that tetrachromat in an incredibly bad, and probably emotionally unhealthy way. The achromat feels like this thing, be it love or a reasonable facsimile, is meant to be. This, their unrequited romance, and FYI completely unacknowledged on the tetrachromat’s side, has been sparked by how they see the world differently, literally, than other people. This, the achromat feels and knows, is a very flimsy premise for a relationship, but nonetheless they can’t help themselves.
The achromat and the tetrachromat met when some scientists thought it would be scientifically advantageous to study them, so they paid the achromat and the tetrachromat with money from a prestigious university that neither the achromat nor the tetrachromat could ever afford to attend to do some tests. They spent several hours over the following couple of weeks sitting and waiting in a sanitized room accompanied by a soundtrack of whirling fans, rattling pipes and an experimental, avant-garde orchestra of blue bottle flies sizzling their wings on the overhead fluorescent lighting.
The tetrachromat was already seated in the waiting room wearing a short-sleeved white button-up shirt and a Star Wars bow tie when the achromat walked in on that first day. They greeted each other then the tetrachromat began to rummage through their bag. The achromat found the tetrachromat attractive and immediately became aroused. They contemplated sitting on the tetrachromat’s lap and running their tongue over their face, starting from the tetrachomat’s jaw-line, up along their cheek to their forehead, and finishing by licking their eyeballs. Instead, because society deems this unacceptable behaviour to enact upon a complete stranger — and a slightly bizarre way of initiating communication — the achromat sat down in an empty chair and began to rummage through their own bag. They both coincidentally pulled out Etgar Keret books, which sparked a conversation.
That first day, the day they met, the tetrachromat told the achromat as they were leaving, after having little pads stuck to their heads and being repeatedly asked what they saw while medium-sized computers went beep-beep-beep, that they loved the achromat’s colours, that they hadn’t seen such colours before. It seemed insensitive of the tetrachromat to say. The achromat wondered if the tetrachromat lacked social skills. Nonetheless, it was almost unarguably clear that the tetrachromat said what they said flirtatiously.
Regardless of the possible lack of social skills on the tetrachromat’s part, and the slight shimmering of doubt that the tetrachromat had said anything flirtatiously, the achromat fantasized about the tetrachromat wearing a very teensy-tiny unitard that left nothing to the imagination except potential pubic hair colouring, but since they can’t really make out anything other than shades of grey that didn’t matter either. It’s just a fetish of the achromat’s, these teensy-tiny unitards. The achromat is also obsessed with little tracks of fine hair, visible or not, doesn’t matter, that run vertically down past the navel. The mythical, magical treasure trail, which, as far as they’re concerned, leads to the gold at the end of the rainbow — this expression loses a bit of ka-chow for the achromat since to them a rainbow merely looks like a striped “C” that’s had too much to drink and has fallen on its face. Anyways, because in the achromat’s fantasy they themselves are also wearing a unitard, they feel like a cross between Kate Bush and Freddie Mercury, and because the achromat feels like them they don’t feel like themselves, thus they can put their mouth all over the tetrachromat without fear of rejection. The achromat feels confident that they’ll do things to the tetrachromat that no one has ever done before.
When they meet again in real life at a pizza place on a treelined, cobblestoned street, after the scientific tests have finished chewing them up and spitting them out as a series of numerical and statistical observations, they kiss each other on both cheeks and hug because they’re somewhere in Europe and that’s what one does when in Rome. (Note: They’re, in fact, not in Rome.) The achromat wants to wrap the smell of the tetrachromat’s skin all over themselves, like a child curling up in their favourite fuzzy blanket, so they hold the embrace a bit too uncomfortably long for the tetrachromat’s liking. The tetrachromat breaks away, confirming the previous sentences’ validity and says, “Do you know Keret’s Unzipped?”
The achromat knows Keret’s Unzipped. In it, a person finds a zipper in their partner’s mouth, unzips it and finds a different partner inside then leaves the first partner near the bin to presumably rot. This makes the achromat start to feel unhinged because they suspect that this is not a favourable reference with which to start a conversation that the achromat had been hoping would end with their face nuzzled in wispy, downy tuffs of navel hair. The achromat can tell that the tetrachromat wants to say more, and that saying more will not lead to the achromat ever witnessing the tetrachromat in a teensy-tiny unitard ceremoniously sashaying in a precoital fashion.
“I feel like I’d just want to unzip you and leave you behind the garbage even if one day I think that might be a mistake,” says the tetrachromat.
The achromat’s ears start to burn, which means that they have presumably gone red, which is something that the achromat was told was not desirable. Basically, they were told, it was akin to taking a feeling out of a rucksack and putting it on a sign that has an arrow pointing at oneself and waving it around for everyone else to see. The bubblings of a desire to rip the zipper from tetrachromat’s jacket and strangle them with it prick the achromat’s consciousness. Rationally they understand that this seems to be an inappropriate amount of rage.
“I love your colours,” the tetrachromat says, “but it’s not enough.”
A series of questions, concerns, queries dart through the achromat’s mind like, Enough for what? What did the tetrachromat think they wanted? Are they expecting me to pay for their coffee? Regardless of the belief the achromat held split seconds earlier that they were madly, deeply, eternally, and passionately in love with the tetrachromat, or at least foresaw an above-average romp with them, the achromat feels now like that was simply a different character in this story. That Keret had written it from right to left then scratched it all out as though it never happened. The achromat frantically tries to write it from wrong to right, and makes a mental note to write Keret a letter giving them shit for this, even though they realize that this is ridiculous.
The achromat concludes that sharing a chromosome deficiency and a particular affinity for a certain author seems like it’s not enough to create a love to endure eternity anyways and not even enough to materialize a fantasy involving teensy-tiny unitards, and wispy, downy navel hair.
The achromat momentarily forgets all about the tetrachromat, who’s still sitting across from them, so the tetrachromat stands up to leave, a little annoyed with being ignored, thus snapping the achromat back to reality. The tetrachromat pulls their shirt up and scratches their belly. The achromat imagines a fine, alluring hair trail leading to the pot of what the achromat now deems as rusted, mouldy, dirty, useless gold. The achromat closes their eyes and everything goes black. When they open them again the teensy-tiny unitard fantasy is floating lazily out the open door with the tetrachromat, and the achromat can’t help but wondering if things would have worked out if the tetrachromat had been a deuteranope instead.