The Gray Suite
here's another man living here with me. His name is Mosby.
Mosby is neither my friend nor my enemy--or at least I don't think he could be relegated to either of those crude categories. Perhaps he could. The fact is, despite the considerable length of our mutual acquaintance, I know very little about him. I would likewise submit that Mosby knows very little about me, but on this point I'm less certain.
He looks quite a bit like me, Mosby does, though his features are much less distinguished. He's an angular man: tall, trim, full of angles. He's youngish, but not too young--his brown hair is sprinkled with gray through the temples. He wears silvery, wirerimmed glasses that tend to collect the soft light and shoot it back into my own eyes rather sharply. Like icicles. And he affects a neat, yet devil-may-care, mustache. I gather he fancies himself something of a rake, something of the jaded sophisticate. But I don't see him that way at all.
Still, he isn't bad-looking. He looks quite a bit like me.
* * *
Mosby and I have what I suspect is a highly unusual arrangement. We live together in a three-room suite. He has his room, I have mine, and there's a third room that links the other two; this is our meetingroom. Aside from its elemental simplicity, what makes this arrangement so unusual is that neither of us ever leaves our suite for any reason.
So far, we've had no cause to.
But let me describe the rooms. Or rather, let me describe my room and the meetingroom. Since I've never been inside Mosby's room (just as he's never set foot inside mine), I don't feel I could describe it accurately--or I should say thoroughly. Frankly, I do get a glimpse of it now and again, when he swings open his door to come or go, and I have reason to believe that his room is very much like my own. . . . But this is a thought scarcely worth pursuing.
My room is fairly generous in size: about twenty by twenty by ten, I'd judge. The walls and the ceiling are the same faintly luminous twilight gray; the carpeting is a slightly deeper shade of gray. I find the color scheme tasteful if uninspired. My room features no windows, no pictures, no adornments of any type. In fact, the only thing it does feature is a single bed, which has been positioned flush against the wall opposite the door that opens into the meetingroom. It's an ordinary bed--my linens and my blankets are both a snowy white. Sometimes I sit on the edge of my bed and brood; sometimes I lie back and cogitate. I never sleep.
The meetingroom isn't radically different from my room. It too is a soft, glowing gray (the carpeted floor a hint deeper in hue than the walls and ceiling) and is very starkly furnished. In the center of the room are two overstuffed reclinable chairs. The chairs face each other; they are snowy white. When you recline in one, a built-in footrest pops out and gently raises your feet. Opposite my door, of course, is Mosby's door, and to the left--or to the right, depending entirely on your orientation within the meetingroom--is another door. This is the door that leads outside, where Mosby and I do not venture.
We have one other item worth mentioning: a clock. The clock, which is round, has a white face and gray hands; it is fastened to the wall just above the Outside Door. Mosby and I have about as much use for the clock as we do for the Door. In truth, it's a peculiar clock: the second hand sweeps around the albino face as it should, but the minute hand and the hour hand don't budge. They remain frozen, bolt upright, pointing to high noon--or to bottomless midnight. From our perspective, it's impossible to say which.
As for what Mosby and I do in the meetingroom, well . . . we meet.
* * *
I'm in my room. I'm pacing around, rubbing my hands together. A dull anxiety nips at my heels like a puppy. As usual, I find myself revolving the great questions of existence, of cosmology. (I'm a veritable genius at revolving such questions; I'm less adept at answering them.) At any rate, I've crossed, with my pacing, some invisible line: I feel a strong desire to meet with Mosby. To speak to him. To seek what answers I can in his mirrored mind.
I go to my door and open it, peek casually into the meetingroom--Mosby is nowhere in sight. Feeling not a scintilla of disappointment, I step through the doorway and close the door behind me.
I go to my chair and sit. Stare at Mosby's door. A moment passes. Then, as I knew it would, the door nudges open and, following his usual peep outside, here comes Mosby himself: tall, gangly, aloof. Ultimately quite puzzling. As puzzling as anything else in this circumscribed world.
His glasses shimmer as he comes toward me. Except for his shoes, which are gray, he is dressed all in white--as am I. This attire gives him (and me) the look of a doctor . . . or of a patient. When he sits in his white chair, he seems almost to disappear, save for his face, hands and shoes. It's an effect I've never fully gotten used to, though I'm tickled by the realization that I must present virtually the same appearance to him.
He settles in, gets comfortable. He smiles at me.
Hello, he says.
Hello, I say.
We are ready to begin.
* * *
I tilt my head as I shape my first question, hoping to make my glasses glint as much as his.
Mosby, I say, where are we?
Where are we? he echoes. Why, we're in the Gray Suite. Where else would we be?
But where exactly is the Gray Suite?
It's . . . it's where we are, he answers.
(You'll notice, I think, a definite tendency in our dialogs for the questions to be much more direct and substantive than the answers. In my opinion, there are three reasons for this. The first is ignorance. Neither of us knows as much as we would like; if we did, we'd have no need for these infernal colloquies. The second is pride. Ignorance isn't something either one of us would care to admit; we are therefore coy. The third is mistrust. To some degree, we fear each other; consequently we try to be cautious with our revelations.)
Mosby, I say, are we in a building of some sort? Are we in an aircraft? A ship at sea? Are we underground? Underwater? Are we floating around somewhere in outer space?
Mosby folds his hands on his crotch. Thoughtfully. You make a good point, he says.
The light, I say. Where does the light come from? There are no fixtures--and yet there's light. We can see.
Obviously, says Mosby with a parabolic gesture, it comes from the ceiling. And from the walls.
Yes, I persist, but how? And why?
He gives me a respectful nod or two, as a chessplayer might when confronted with a strong but not crushing move. Another good point, he says.
And what kind of a life is this anyway? I continue. I mean, doesn't our existence here strike you as just a wee bit bizarre?
In what way? purrs Mosby, cool as a sliced melon. And compared to what?
Well, that's true, I say. But doesn't our routine seem somewhat . . . narrow to you?
That's a value judgment, he retorts. Are there any guidelines as to how we should live? What we should accomplish?
Ah, slippery Mosby, I think.
Answer me this, then, I say. Don't you ever feel as though your existence here is a form of punishment?
Perhaps, he allows. Perhaps. But life in the Gray Suite has its benefits, too, don't you think? Imagine all the bad things we must be avoiding, for example.
I scratch my chin, stroke my aquiline nose. That's very good, I concede.
He pokes the air with his finger. Here's one for you: Why is it we never eat, or drink, or . . .
Or sleep. Why do you suppose that is?
Not as smoothly as I would like, I lean way back in my chair and employ my footrest. I'm not altogether sure how to approach that question, I say.
How long has it been since you've eaten a good meal? he asks. Or eaten anything, for that matter.
I study the clock. The second hand continues to move: steadily, steadily. The other hands point rigidly toward the gray ceiling, like rockets about to launch. It's been quite a while, I say. But really, it hasn't been all that long.
About as long as we've been here, he mutters. However long that's been.
Mosby, I'd rather not talk about time, if that's all right with you. Talking about time always makes me antsy.
Let's talk about space instead.
He tosses his hand insouciantly. Fine.
What about the Outside Door? I say. Why don't we ever use it?
Aw, no, he wails in distress. I'm not talking about that.
No, thanks. Talking about the Outside Door makes me antsy, he says, standing up.
Oh, but really--
I think I've had enough for now, he says, setting his mouth in that familiar and irksome way of his.
Mosby . . .
Sluing sharply, he heads back toward his room, all white and ghostlike. His gray shoes seem to vanish in the thick gray pile beneath him: it's as if the floor were consuming him.
Mosby, I call after him, why are things the way they are?
But he has closed his door behind him.
* * *
So it goes with me and Mosby. An endless chain of meetings in which little or nothing gets resolved. Excellent questions and flimsy answers. We are drawn to each other like magnets, and eventually repelled, as though the magnets had been touched pole to like pole. It's a process and a cycle that neither of us understands.
Life is tedious in the Gray Suite, but not completely intolerable. Mosby does have his moments from time to time, and living with him is better, I guess, than living with no one at all. And, of course, there's the matter of the Outside Door.
Every so often, by means of the Outside Door, we'll receive a visitor. We receive visitors, actually--plural sense--each of whom is new to us: they never repeat. They arrive unannounced (invariably when Mosby and I have hit an exceptionally slow period in one of our dialogs), make their little presentation and depart without ceremony. They all seem kindly disposed; I believe they're sent here, or come on their own, simply for the purpose of entertaining us. Every visitor is a total stranger.
We get all types in here, Mosby and I: singers, dancers, novelty acts. . . . Some we like, some we don't. Often we disagree in our critical assessment.
Take the comedian, for instance. Please. He dropped in on us at one point when we were just sitting there like two bags of laundry, staring silently into each other's gleaming glasses. I remember I'd just entranced Mosby with a devilish series of questions. I'd said to him, and here I'm paraphrasing: Mosby, how is it we seem to know about phenomena that we ourselves have never experienced?--or even heard about, that I can recall. For example, I said, we have a clock, and we know how to tell time--but how did we learn? Who taught us? As far as that goes, how did we learn to speak English? Who was your English teacher, Mosby?
Whereupon Mosby was reduced to a near-catatonic state, glaring at me relentlessly as if trying to singe my retinas.
But then in came the comedian. He was a stout man with a broad rubbery face and nervous hands. He was wearing an orange suit and a wide psychedelic tie whose predominant color was lilac. His pants were three inches too short. I started giggling the instant I saw him.
Gents, how ya doin'? he said. How's life in the slow lane? What's new? What's old? Whatsa difference?
Great to be here, he chattered on, lifting his voice to clear the sound of my rising giggle. Say, heard a good one the other day. What two things in the air can get a woman pregnant? Give up? Her legs!
Hee hee hee hee!
That isn't funny, Mosby said.
And how about this one: Why is it Congressmen never use a bookmark? Huh? 'Cause they like their pages bent over!
Hee hee hee hee!
That isn't the least bit funny, Mosby protested. Not only that, it's offensive!
The comedian ignored him, jerking reflexively at his marvelous tie. Mull this one over, he said. You ready? Why did God make women? Don't know? 'Cause sheep can't cook!
By this time I was out of control; I'd slid halfway onto the floor, heaving and shrieking with laughter. Mosby's reaction was noticeably less appreciative.
That isn't humor, he sniped. It's filth!
With that pronouncement, he jumped from his chair, rushed the comedian and threw him into a hammerlock. Mosby then manhandled him to the Outside Door, all the while castigating him for his quote deplorable unquote choice of material. Though not resisting, or not much, the comedian did try to get in one last line--he was evidently a veteran performer.
Wait a second, he said. Ouch. Whatsa difference--
That'll do, said Mosby, opening the Door.
Hey. Whatsa difference between--ow!--between a--
I said that'll do, Mosby repeated, and flung the fellow out, headfirst, into the unknown.
A moment later Mosby rejoined me, and I let him know what I thought of his barbarian behavior. Well, I said, that little display will certainly enhance our reputation.
The man was a churl, Mosby frowned. Plain and simple.
I happen to think he was funny.
He was obscene.
But the point is, I was enjoying him.
You know what they say, he sniffed haughtily: There's no accounting for taste.
Maybe so, I shot back, but if you thought he was that distasteful, you could've just left the room yourself. Would've been twice as easy and ten times as civilized. And I would suggest that in the future (I was shaking my finger at him now), if you have any desire to retain your current rosy state of health--
But suddenly a thought intruded. I know what who says? I asked.
I beg your pardon?
Just now you said I know what they say. I know what who says, Mosby?
He began to squirm and fidget uncomfortably, pulling on his fingers. It's just a figure of speech, he murmured. That's all.
Uh huh. You also said you considered the comedian obscene. Tell me, how did you formulate your concept of obscenity?
I . . .
Where did you learn about morality? About good and evil? Right and wrong?
Mosby stood up. I could tell he was agitated by the set of his mouth. I'm going back to my room, he announced.
Stay here, I said, and we'll work this thing through.
I would rather go to my room, he replied. Which, with no discernible hesitation, is exactly where he went.
* * *
When the Outside Door comes open, you can't see much on the other side--it's dark out there. But I wonder: Is the darkness all-pervasive, or does it exist only in the vicinity of the Outside Door? Or does it exist in pockets, here and there, scattered across the Realm Outside? In that connection, is the Realm Outside truly outside, or mightn't it also be enclosed in some fashion? Even the most fundamental propositions are open to debate. . . .
* * *
I'm not particularly happy here in the Gray Suite. Life isn't all bad, but obviously it isn't all good either. I feel I'm stagnating. Of course this statement implies a certain relativity, and any basis for comparison on my part would be at best shaky. But I know there are comedians in the world, and singers, and dancers, and people who perform novelty acts. Perhaps what they do is more fulfilling than what I do--perhaps I could join their ranks.
I'm thinking about leaving. I'm thinking about walking through the Outside Door and abandoning this place.
Looked at in one way, my departure would represent a gigantic step for me. (Either forward or backward.) But viewed from a more realistic perspective, it would appear that if things don't go well for me on the outside, I could always come back here and simply pick up where I left off. My conclusion: I must take a chance. What principles and instincts I have are urging me to take a chance.
I feel an obligation, however, to let Mosby know of my plans. It would only be right. Bearing in mind that he tends to have a fairly negative mindset, I'm reluctant to come right out and tell him. I'm not sure how he might react to such bluntness, but I'd wager--if I had someone to wager with--that his reaction wouldn't be favorable.
Hence what we're having now is a period of preparation for Mosby. I am seeking to soften him up.
* * *
I'm in my room. I open my door and peek out furtively into the meetingroom. No Mosby. Stepping outside, I close my door behind me as gently as I can. Like a cat burglar I sneak across the room: quickly, quietly. When I arrive at Mosby's door, I take a deep breath and begin beating on it with both fists as if trying to smash right through it. The noise is astonishing--like a volley of gunfire. Abruptly I end my assault, turn and scamper off to my pre-planned hiding place: Mosby's chair. I crouch down behind it, and hide, and wait.
A second later, out comes Mosby. His face is as white as the clock's, though much less stoic. His eyes are big and fearful. With a jittery hand he pushes his glasses up the bridge of his long nose and comes trembling forward.
Hello? he says. Hello?
When he draws near his chair, I spring out at him and seize him about the waist. Gotcha! I shout.
Mosby lets out a terrified yowl and stumbles away from me, flailing. When he sees who it is, he screams: Are you crazy? You must be crazy! Are you crazy?
* * *
Another occasion. I peek out, and there sits Mosby in his chair, gazing right at me. Beautiful, I think, and, leaving the door slightly ajar, I retreat a couple of steps, bend over and kick up into a handstand. I open the door the rest of the way with my dangling right foot and wobble out into the meetingroom, taking in the brain-grayness from an entirely new angle.
Without a word from either of us, I make it to my chair and flip over into it. Not very gracefully. I'm upside down on my back, my eyes trained on the flabbergasted Mosby. Up comes the footrest, raising my head. I am quite relaxed.
Are you all right? says Mosby, his tone one of profound concern.
Hello, I say.
* * *
Still another occasion. We're in the middle of a prosy, circular discussion about why we do what we do when, diverting Mosby in mid-equivocation, I stand up and begin unbuttoning my shirt.
Why are you doing that? Mosby says.
I ignore his question and continue unbuttoning.
I asked you a question, he says.
Ignoring him still, I remove my shirt and toss it in his direction. It lands on his lap. Next I stoop down and take off my shoes and socks.
You know, says Mosby, I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but your behavior's been kind of around-the-bend lately. You know?
Whistling a carefree tune, I unzip my pants.
Oh my goodness, he says.
I drop my pants . . . and now my white Fruit of the Looms. Naked, I stand before Mosby.
You're really not all right, are you? he says calmly. You really are crazy. Aren't you?
What is the matter with you? he screeches in a voice piercing enough to curl every hair on my pallid body.
Mosby, I say, holding up a mollifying hand, I'm only trying to open your eyes--
Well, you've certainly done that!
--to new possibilities.
Is there a possibility, he says dryly, you might put your clothes back on?
I exhale and put them back on. I sit down again.
Don't you see, I propose, that life doesn't necessarily have to be the way it's been? That we can change things? Strike off in new directions?
I'd say you've proven that, he admits, settling back into his fat white chair. But so what? What's it mean?
Mosby . . . (I examine my knuckles, weighing my words; I'm still inclined to be cautious.) Mosby, I say, what if I were to die?
Die! he laughs. You can't die in the Gray Suite. Or at least I don't think you can. Nobody has yet, he adds.
What if I were to lock myself in my room and not come out?
You'd be out soon enough, he says smugly.
I slant forward in my chair, aiming to transfix those glittering lenses with my own. Mosby--I'm thinking about leaving. I'm thinking about walking through the Outside Door . . . and perhaps never coming back.
He blinks at me. Why?
That's no answer! he yawps.
I'd like to discover what's out there, I say.
I can tell you what's out there, he scoffs. It's a world full of comedians, is all it is. Singers! Dancers! Novelty acts! And buddy, they would eat you alive.
Maybe. And maybe not. I'd like to find out for myself.
You weren't meant to be out there, he says. You were meant to be here. You were meant to be here with me.
Says me. (He rakes his hand crosswise through his hair, away from the part.) I can't believe you're actually thinking about taking off and leaving me. . . .
Mosby, I press on, all those questions we're always asking each other . . .
Some of the answers might lie outside! In fact, all of them might!
Oh, I don't care about answers, he says sullenly. I just don't like the thought of being left here by myself.
You could tag along with me, I suggest. We could try it together.
At which point Mosby comes arcing out of his chair as if pricked by a loose spring. Me go out there! he cries. Not on your life. Do I look like Balboa?
I'm tempted to quiz Mosby on his knowledge of history and how he acquired it, but instead I say: Suit yourself.
He veers away from me. All this is very upsetting, he says. My head hurts.
I'm going to my room, he says.
I might not be here when you come out again, I say.
Heels rising and falling, he lifts his arms, waves his hands confusedly. Dismissively. He does not glance back at me.
Mosby, I call.
His door swings open and shut. For the present, Mosby is gone.
My eyes travel from his gray door to the Outside Door. Silently, something on the other side is beckoning to me. I can see no purpose in waiting further. I take a short quick step toward my destiny and stop myself. Then I continue. As I cross the room, parting the crepuscular grayness, I realize that this may qualify as a historic moment. Perhaps I should mark the time.
The clock's bloodless face stares down at me. It is precisely noon. Or precisely midnight. In this context, it's impossible to say which.
No matter. It's time to leave.
© 2003, Greg Jenkins