Grandpa reveals an alternative history of the world.
|The Colour Revolution
“You’re all too young to have known it of course, but I can assure you that, in the fifties, the world was a matter of shades of grey. I have the photographs to prove it. Take a look in that album up there and you’ll find lots of them, funny, square, little black and white photos of a world you can’t even imagine. There’s a few in colour but they’re from the early days of the sixties, just after Pandora opened her box and the world became all the colours you see now.”
Grandpa Matthews pointed a crooked and wavering finger at the solidly-bound book resting on top of his display cabinet. To humour him, I moved a chair until I could climb up and reach the book. It was surprisingly heavy and, for a moment I teetered on the edge of falling backwards. With an effort, I caught myself without dropping the book and took a moment before stepping uneasily off the chair.
Grandpa took the album from my hands and Aileen and I sat either side of him as he opened it. It was much like other old photo albums I’d seen, black pages with squares of transparent corners for holding the photographs. Most of these holders were filled with photos, only a few bare spaces indicating where the picture had been lost for some reason.
And they were all black and white, those grey tones that spoke so eloquently of the past. Some of the early ones had a sepia hint and I tried to turn the old man’s assertion into a joke.
“These look as though the world was in sepia before the fifties, Grandpa,” I pointed out.
“That’s right, lad,” he answered. “There was a gradual change from that brown look to the greys of the fifties but we didn’t take much notice, there being no hint of the colours to come. Brown, black, there ain’t much difference anyway.”
“Oh, come on Grandpa. You know these are all monochrome because colour photography was too expensive for most people in those days.”
He shook his grey head. “Hah, that’s what they tell you now. Don’t want anyone hearing of the great colour revolution and trying to find out how it happened.”
I pounced. “And how did it happen?”
“Well, there’s a bit of a story attached to that. It was all gradual like at first - here, take a look at some of the later pictures in this book and you’ll see what I mean.”
He riffled through to the end of the book where the few colour photos were. It was true, the colours were muted and washed out as though they were still learning how to present themselves in their full glory.
Grandpa pointed to the last picture. “There you are,” he said. “That’s you as a baby. Look how pale and faded you are, nothing like the great, florid thing you are now.”
“But that’s just how babies are, Gramps,” I countered. “Of course they haven’t got the colour we get from being in the sun and the weather all day.”
His eyes narrowed and he came back at me immediately. “We had a saying back then. The camera never lies, we said, and it was true. That’s what you looked like in the early days of colour, I’m telling you. Your hair’s dark now but back then it was as white as mine is now.”
I could have replied with a lesson on computer manipulation of photos but I could see that developing into a long argument. It was easier to let the old man have his way and tell us of a world that could not possibly have existed.
He had returned to his original theme now. “Ah, it was a grey world back then and I’ll admit you youngsters wouldn’t have found much fun in it. But you don’t miss what you’ve never had and we liked it well enough. Life was much simpler then, things being so black and white. Not like today, when everything’s complicated and difficult and it all looks different according to how you look at it.
“I mean, consider how the world has changed since the great colour revolution. We used to know who our enemies were and what we had to do about it. But now we’re so confused, we’re fighting each other and tearing our own cities apart because things are so bad. Much better to get rid of all these colours and go back to a time when we at least liked each other.”
I began my rearguard defence. “But think of the good things we’ve had since the sixties, Grandpa. There’s computers, for instance. They’ve saved us all an enormous amount of work and enabled us to do things we couldn’t even dream of before.”
“Aye, and made it so we can’t trust a thing these days,” he replied. “Get a letter and you don’t know whether a machine made it or there’s really some bloke behind it. You can never be sure that there’s not some hacker using a computer to swindle you out of your life savings. We were better off without them.”
He had a point. And he decided to drive it home. “D’you know, in the old days, we could send the kids out on their own and they’d play in the street all day long and come in when the street lights went on. Can’t do that now, can you? No, there’s too many weirdos about and you have to keep the kids occupied in the house, watching them every moment. It’s no way to live.”
I could see that he was getting into his stride now and it would be best not to argue. Eventually he’d run out of steam. But I couldn’t resist asking just one more question.
“So what happened to start the colour revolution?”
He stopped in mid-flow and looked up. “I told you. It was Aunt Pandora and her blasted box. She’d been told not to open it but just had to take a look, didn’t she? And that’s when all this started. Everything began to get coloured and these new-fangled ideas came out, the music went mad and everything started heading downhill.”
“Wait,” I said. “Who’s this Aunt Pandora you’re going on about? I’ve never heard of her before.”
The old man shrugged. “Not surprised. The family’s been awful quiet about her ever since it happened.”
“You mean she started all this? Kind of hard to believe, Grandpa.”
“”Ah well, I guess I have to tell you the whole story. It’s time you and Aileen knew, anyway.”
He settled back down and began. “Aunt Pandora wasn’t really as close as an aunt. More like a great aunt twice removed, if there is such a thing. But she loved you kids and would drop by to see you every now and then. I’m told she inherited a strange box from some relative or another and was told never to open it.
“And, naturally, she couldn’t contain her curiosity and had to have a look inside. That’s when all these new things got out and started messing with the world. There was no doubt about it, it was so simultaneous with the opening of the box. We were changed as well and we could feel it happening. When we found out about her breaking into the box, all became clear and we understood.”
It was so like the old Greek legend that I couldn’t take it. “Oh, Grandpa, you’re pulling our legs, aren’t you? It’s just a rerun of the Greek myth of Pandora. I bet there never was an Aunt Pandora.”
Grandpa stared hard at me then. “You think so, hey? Well, I suppose I should have expected this. I know it sounds a bit far-fetched.”
He paused then and seemed to be thinking about something. I thought he was about to confess that it was a joke but, when he spoke, it wasn’t like that at all.
“Okay, it’s time for you to meet Aunt Pandora. See that floorboard over there, the one that sticks up a little, close to the running board? Pull that up and you’ll find an old box underneath.”
I did so and it was just as he said. There was a box, covered in dust and cobwebs, under the board. I hauled it out and blew off the worst of the dust, then handed it to Grandpa.
He waited while I took my seat again. With some difficulty, he lifted the lid to reveal another, smaller photo album underneath. It contained only one photograph in the muted colours that we now associated with the early sixties.
A woman stared out at us from the picture. Tall, blonde and slim, she seemed impressive but fairly ordinary. Except for her eyes. They were piercingly, boldly red, not in the pupils to indicate a flash photo, but the irises, two perfect rings of bright, staring scarlet.
Word Count: 1,497
For SCREAMS!!! February 01 2021
Prompts: Shades of Grey and/or The box under the floorboards.