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Somber Truths (Short Fiction)

Once upon a time – but maybe not a time that was, but a time that is, or will be – there was, or is, or will be, a somber town, full of somber people; a town that exists in hues of grey.

Magnificent hues of grey, mind you. The mercury-colored river that traverses the somber town sparkles under the brilliant white sun’s brilliant white rays.

Near the river, people sit on grass that glimmers in its silver pigment, and some lean against the towering gunmetal grey trees. And every now and again, a somber mouth curls up at the edges, in a somber signal of satisfaction.

On the somber grey streets of concrete and asphalt, somber people talk intently about the events of the day, exhorting their take on what the somber news means for their somber lives.

“Did you hear about the storm coming?” one says, somberly.

“Ah yes,” his somber companion replies. “But, we do need the rain.”

And the first somberly nods. “Good point, good point.” And his somberness feels a little better, and he appreciates his other, somberly.

Another group speaks of politics, each somberly explaining to others why their candidate is best. Trying to convince the others, one explains that with some somber monetary policy, their somber futures might be a little less somber. To which the others, unconvinced, somberly grimace, and argue for a different vision, a different future.

Meanwhile, in a somber apartment high above street level, two lovers caress, somberly looking into one another’s eyes. “I love you,” one says somberly.

“And I you,” says the other, gazing deep into the partner’s iron-colored eyes.

And they make love, the somber love familiar in marriages – the somber love customary throughout this somber town. For somber lovemaking, the townspeople know, is the result of true love, of a sincere and truthful connection.

And so it goes in this somber town. People somberly hold their somber beliefs in the core of their somber lives, and spend their days sharing their somber truths with other somber recipients, who respond somberly with their own somber variations.

Such somber relaying of somber truths was most concentrated in the center marketplace of the town. There, peddlers of somber gather, each standing somberly next to their grey carts full of somber wares and words. On some carts are written words such as “existentialism”, and “postmodernism”, and “progressivism”, and “conservatism”; others have names written; others religions; still others quotes and quips.

And walking through the somber town square, one will hear the peddlers of somber explaining: “This is the somber that will save you.”

“This is the somber that will give your somber meaning.”

And the peddlers glare at one another, and occasionally call out sarcastic comments about their rivals’ somber truths. “What kind of moron,” they say, either in somber tone or outright, “could believe such a terrible thing? Don’t you know that my somber is the actual Truth?”

And thereby pass the days, somber people in somber jobs arguing somber truths, but each all the while striving – striving for a more suitable somber companion, one to make somber more meaningful, or at least one to share a grey somber picnic with; striving for a higher paying somber job, so that twice a year they can visit a larger somber hotel, or otherwise escape the somber they are accustomed to with some novel form of somber; striving for a better truth. Always looking for a better truth, the better Truth, the one which will finally give their somber lives True Somber meaning. For though they explain that the somber is meaning, they each also know that there must be something more within that somber.

“The truth,” one peddler somberly shouts, “the truth shall set you free.” And passers-by somberly nod in agreement.

But one day a new peddler arrives, pushing a lavender-colored cart with a cherry red roof and lime green wheels. The peddler herself wears a lemon-yellow dress, and sky-blue boots. Lavender and cherry and lime and lemon and sky as you and I know them, mind you. And the colorful peddler parks her colorful cart amidst all the grey peddlers, in the grey town square in the grey somber town.

Though color had arrived, the townspeople couldn’t make sense of it. They squinted, and they somberly tilted their heads, as they tried to understand the sight. For to them, cherries were a wonderful mercurial hue, and limes were the color of slate, and lavender… well lavender was nearly black, but quite prized nonetheless in assisting the somber people to fall somberly asleep.

“Now what the hell are you supposed to be peddling there, lady?” one somber peddler asks.

To which the colorful woman smiles, a broad, silly smile that inspires a dozen groans all around her. Then she calls out, in a voice more music than message: “Once, once there was a boy, who obtained some magic beans…”

“Ach!” a somber pedestrian gasps, somberly. “There’s no such thing as magic!”

“And when he planted those magic beans,” the colorful woman sings on, “it took him to a land of giants!”

More gasps erupt throughout the square. “There’s no such thing as giants!” a peddler somberly yells. “What is this nonsense!”

But the colorful peddler continues, undeterred. “Did you know,” she asks a confused somber group passing by, “that if you break a mirror, you will have seven years of bad luck?”

Some stop and somberly, yet curiously, look upon this new peddler. “Is that true?” one asks.

“Of course it’s not true!” a somber peddler across the square cries. And to make his point, he removes a mirror from a drawer in his grey cart and throws it to the ground. “There is no such thing as luck!” he says somberly, gesturing to the shattered mirror.

The colorful peddler knocks on the lavender-colored wood of her cart. “Do not worry!” she says, smiling wide, and then pulls a rabbit’s foot out of a drawer. “These are things for good luck!”

And amidst a staccato chorus of somber groans, the strange woman tells strange tale after strange tale in her melodious voice, all the while smiling, and laughing, and jumping around. And somber people begin to gather around, to listen to her stories, and to her strange beliefs about the world – and to try to figure out what strange hues of grey make up her cart and clothes.

All to which the other peddlers in the square catch wind of, and begin to also gather around the colorful cart.

“Don’t listen to her,” the somber peddlers cry. “She is lying! She is making a fool of all of you!”

And many nod, somberly, and go on their way, mumbling about the importance of Truth.

“Don’t you see,” the somber peddlers call to the crowds, “how fanciful she is? Look at her wild movements! Listen to her preposterous voice! We all know that somber is the way to live, for somber is the Truth of the world.”

And the somber townspeople can’t argue with that logic, and therefore most of them soon somberly walk away from the sudden chaos. Though some of them do stay, mostly children, until responsibly somber adults come and somberly sweep them away, back to their somber schools full of somber Truths. 

Very few people are left paying any attention by the end of the day. Just a few wayward townspeople and somberly dismissive peddlers watch the colorful peddler pack up her colorful cart and disappear as the magnificent grey sunset gives way to the milky white light of the full moon.

And yet, the next day the colorful peddler is back in the grey town square, back with her colorful stories in her colorful dress from beside her colorful cart.

“Fe Fi Fo Fum!” she cries out in joy, eliciting disgust and somber insults from all around her. 

Later, the strange woman makes a bouquet of colorful flowers appear out of nowhere – to which an onlooking child giggles. The giggle elicits horror from the entire crowd in addition to the small child, who covers his small mouth with his small hands, confused and terrified as to what just happened.

“How lovely!” the colorful peddler sings.  “Giggle and hoot!”  To which the offending child drops his small hands, and smiles shyly, before an adult somberly sweeps him away from the colorful cart.

Yet every day, a few more grey somber townspeople gather around the colorful cart – many of whom are dragged there by their suddenly wayward children. And occasionally, though more often by the day, an exotic giggle erupts from the expanding crowd.

“Ignore the lies!” the somber peddlers peddle. “This here is the Truth! The capital T Truth!”

“No, this is the truth,” another somber peddler clamors somberly.

But one thing all the peddlers agreed on is that – no matter which of their somber truths was the truthiest, and the somberest – the colorful newcomer was altogether lacking in both somber and in truth.

Eventually the fanciful colorful non-truths become too much for the somber peddlers, and one day a few of them leave their somber carts and approach the colorful storyteller.

“Look at this cart!” the somber peddlers explain to the crowd. “These colors, don’t you see, those colors are not real!”

And the townspeople look around, seeing the magnificent greys of their town, and world, and selves, and they cannot argue. But a child, still smiling from the ridiculous story of the seven dwarves, cries out: “But the colors are pretty!”

And a couple others in the crowd agree.

And a few of the somber peddlers had had enough. “Pretty is not truth!” one says, as a somber group takes hold of the colorful cart and begins to push. “The colors are a lie!” one yells, as they tip the cart over.

The crowd gasps, children cry, and suddenly the tipped over cart turns into familiar shades of grey.

“Somber is Truth!” someone yells.

The colorful peddler looks down, and frowns, while the somber peddlers somberly nod in somber accomplishment.

After a few somber moments, the colorful peddler finally speaks to the somber peddlers, and the townspeople: “The colors are a lie,” she says, somberly.


“I knew it!”

“I told you, lies!”

“Yes,” the colorful peddler continues, but begins to smile. “They are lies, because they are a result of perception. They are only colorful because of how we see them, nothing else.”

Somber grunts and groans ripple through the somber crowd.

But soon the colorful peddler continues, with joy and song slowly filling her voice. “But they’re the most wonderful lies, are they not?” Then the strange woman reaches down and raises a pewter-color glass vase, with a large crack in its side, from a shelf in her collapsed grey cart. But as she lifts it, the murky glass of the vase begins to swirl with the colors of the rainbow.

“They broke this vase, yes, but I say that even this broken rainbow vase is more beautiful than any of your perfect, somber vases.”

Groans and gasps and giggles.

“For it makes me smile!” she says, showing her wide, silly smile to the somber crowd. “These colors, this beauty, it makes me want to dance!” And dance she does, to the horror of many.

And even worse, a few children try to mimic her dancing.

“This is appalling!” a somber vendor cries, quieting the crowd. “The world is a somber place. Life is full of hardship, and pain, and disease, and death!”

Another peddler quickly chimes in: “Our burdens are heavy, and serious. Life is unfair. And somber is the truth!”

The gathered somber adults nod, knowingly, while the children frown, understandingly.

All to which the colorful peddler also nods. “This is true,” she says. “The world is full of difficulty, and suffering. And hardship. And death.”

The somber peddlers all nod, smugly.

“And I,” the colorful woman says, “I am not going to compete on truth. I will leave that to you, somber peddlers. And to life, full of hard truths. I, I don’t compete in minds, or in contemplation, or reinforcing a bitter reality.”

The somber peddlers grunt enthusiastically.

“Rather, I peddle joy,” the strange woman continues. “The question I ask myself, after we meet, is not whether you understand the hardship of life any more. No, life will do that on its own. The question I ask myself, after we meet, is: Did I make you smile?”

The colorful peddler smiles wide. Some in the crowd also smile, sheepishly, unpracticed, yet understanding, and therein feeling a sense of color alight in their bodies.

“The question I ask, is: Do I make you want to sing? Do I make you want to dance?”

“What nonsense!” a somber peddler cries.

“Yes!” the colorful peddler yells, joyfully. “Nonsense! Let’s tell more of nonsense, and let’s all feel how it makes our burdens lighter! Let’s dance like madmen, and see how it makes our hardships kinder! Nonsense, indeed!

“And I cannot,” the strange outsider says, “I will not, compete in truths. But rather, I tell entertaining lies.

“For I, I am a peddler of joy.”