Karen had never seen anything like it. Everything in the entire room was white - the trio of candlesticks on the white coffee table, the grand piano tucked in the alcove, the two high backed armchairs set at right angles in front of the white laminate wall unit, the plush carpeting, the smooth ceramic tile, all of it pristine, icy, perfectly white.
The slender elderly woman didn't so much walk as glide soundlessly toward Karen, her hand outstretched in greeting. Virtually indistinguishable from her surroundings, her perfectly coiffed platinum hair framing her patrician features, the warmth of her smile lent some relief to the starkness of their surroundings. "Sylvia Warner, " she said, her voice low pitched and elegant.
"I'm very pleased to meet you."
Karen blinked, pulling her eyes away from their amazed inventory of white furnishings. "Thank you," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with you." What an understatement, she thought. Karen had admired Sylvia Warner's poetry for years, and included it in every one of her poetry workshops. Being hired as her personal assistant was the opportunity of a lifetime. Surely just being in her presence would provide the inspiration she needed to revive her own creative process. Yet, how could a woman whose poetry was filled with colorful, evocative images, live in such colorless surroundings?
"Please, come in, sit down," Sylvia invited her. "When we spoke on the telephone the other day, we only touched briefly on the responsibilities of this position. I'd like to discuss in more detail..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed Karen's eyes wandering around the room. "It's quite different, I know," she said.
Karen quickly refocused her attention on the woman in front of her. "I'm so sorry," she stammered. "It's just that...well, I've never seen a room quite like this before."
"Yes, of course," Sylvia continued. "And I admit, it's rather eccentric of me." She sighed and pursed her lips, obviously wondering how much to reveal to this stranger sitting in front of her. Karen returned her gaze with what she hoped was polite interest.
"You see," Sylvia continued, "after my husband died, I just couldn't seem to bear the assault of color on my eyes. It was almost as if, without him, all the color had been drained from my life, and I wanted - no needed- my surroundings to reflect that."
"Yet, your poetry," Karen said, "it's so vibrant and full of - well, color!"
Sylvia smiled wanly. "It was," she said. "Lately, I have not been able to write in the same way at all." Her eyes, unnervingly blue in a face so pale, were suddenly awash with tears. "In all honesty," she said, "I find myself unable to write at all."
A chill ran down Karen's spine. Suddenly the pervasive lack of color seemed ominous to her, as if the oxygen had been removed from the room along with the pigment. There could be no revival of creative energy here, in this room devoid of color, devoid almost of life itself. She quickly rose to her feet. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Warner," she gasped. "I don't think this will work out after all."
The thin hand desperately gripped Karen's wrist. "Please," Sylvia whispered, "I am in need of your assistance. I can tell just by looking at you that you would understand, that you of all people could help me find my way back to color again."
Taking a deep breath, Karen stopped. Could this woman possibly know the depth of the void in her own life? The way all words had stopped for her a year ago, on the day her six year old daughter Katie ran into the path of an oncoming car. From that day forward, nothing but darkness had existed in Karen's heart and mind, a darkness far removed from this woman's surrealistic world of white.
Karen stared down at the slightly gnarled fingers wrapped tightly around her wrist. This was the hand that had written some of the most touching poetry Karen had ever read, poetry that blossomed in her spirit and allowed it to soar. Was it possible that together they could restore a small bit of the vibrancy that had been snatched from their lives?
Sensing Karen's acquiescence, a sigh of relief escaped from the older woman's lips. "Thank you," she said softly. "I can't tell you how pleased I am. Now, let me fix you a cup of tea," she said, turning to leave the room. "I have something special that has been waiting for just the right moment, and I believe this could be it."
Within moments, she had returned carrying a large white lacquer tray, a lace cloth draped smoothly over it. Karen's eye was drawn immediately to two bright red cups with gold handles, set smartly on matching saucers.
"When I disposed of all my colored china, I set this red tea service aside," Sylvia said. "I suppose I was hopeful that someday a bit of brightness would return to my world."
Setting the tray on the coffee table, she smiled and gently touched Karen's hand. "Perhaps I must reinstate the color into life myself," she said, "not wait for someone or something else to do it for me."
She offered Karen the brightly colored cup, curls of fragrant steam rising from its rim. "Please," she said. "Join me."