My Biological Prism
On the road outside his house was a dead rainbow. It might have been an oil slick that had separated into bands of color, but Hogarth had no interest in that explanation. He stopped and peered. Was there anything he could do to erase it? Then it twitched. It wasn't dead after all, just badly injured! He wrapped it in his coat and took it home, intending to nurse it back to health.
He used his bedroom as a sickbay and kept the rainbow in a cardboard box filled with fistfuls of cotton wool that resembled summer clouds. The rainbow regained its strength and soon was able to arch itself without assistance. Only now did Hogarth realize how young it was, not exactly a baby, but certainly a toddler. He fed it on fake raindrops squeezed from a sponge and beams of electric light.
When it was fully recovered, it followed him everywhere and became totally domesticated, sleeping against the ceiling over his bed. Hogarth felt it was his duty to reintroduce it into the wild and took it for long walks under vast skies. But the rainbow never strayed far from his side. Hogarth's friends began to frown with disapproval whenever they passed him on the street. Then the rainbow uttered its first word.
"Prism!" it cried loudly. "Prism!"
Hogarth was touched but also concerned. The rainbow was dependent on him to an unhealthy degree and wouldn't survive on its own. He had to make a renewed effort to loosen the bonds, to undo the damage. One morning he left the house earlier than usual, before the rainbow was awake, and he didn't return until after sunset. He found the rainbow in an acute state of agitation because of his prolonged absence.
"It's time we had a little talk," he said gruffly.
The rainbow quivered anxiously.
"I'm not your prism," continued Hogarth, "not your real prism. I adopted you when you were an infantile spectrum and raised you as my own, so in fact, I'm just your step-prism."
The rainbow remained perfectly still.
"It's true," said Hogarth almost defensively. Then he fumbled in the pocket of his coat and withdrew a transparent wedge of glass. "I went to all the curio shops, toured all the street markets, and finally I found this. Don't you recognize it?"
"My biological prism," said the rainbow. It was neither a question nor a statement and Hogarth sighed.
"Reunions like this don't come cheap. The owner of the antique store span me an improbable tale about the prism that Isaac Newton bought at Stourbridge Fair in 1665, a casual purchase that led to his discovery that white light is a mixture of all the other colors. That prism was an ancestor of this one, the owner said. I don't know how that could be. Do you feel it might be true? I think it's just a fable."
The rainbow sagged under its own barely detectable weight.
Hogarth set down the glass wedge with an audible click on the top of his bedside table. "I'll leave you alone together. You need time to get properly acquainted. But you can't live here any longer, I'm afraid. My friends think I've become some sort of pervert. Goodbye!"
He turned to leave, then paused at the door. "Take your sponge with you but leave the lamp. I can live without indoor rain but I enjoy reading in bed. I'm going to stay in a hotel in another town for a few days. Please don't be here when I get back. That's everything."
The empty streets were straight and grey. Crossing the bridge, he happened to glance down. A large prism was floating on the current of the river and a shoal of rainbow fish followed it.
"Adoption just isn't for me," said Hogarth finally.
Rhys Hughes has been a published author for the past 25 years. He has published more than 30 books and has been translated into 10 languages.
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