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Attractive Killer

Black and white painting of a man and woman in bed with gas masks on and reading a book with a volcano on the cover

Evenings have a dreaminess to them now, a heaviness filled with fog. A hazy nightmare, where the outlines of shapes blur into their surroundings. A grayness hangs like a bad memory. The trees outside have withered, a thick film clinging to decaying bark.

I sigh and shut my eyes, imagining the view behind the thick curtains. The image left me with familiar dread. Shivering, I pull the white sheets around my shoulders and inhale as deeply as I can. I grab my partner’s arm, and his warmth pulses through my fingertips. My head falls onto his shoulder, and I let my weight press against his cool t-shirt.

He flipped the page, and I began to read the words before us. “It was an attractive killer. A tragedy of nations masquerading as a spectacular sunset.” My mind flashes to the sunsets of the years before, us in this very spot, the curtains pulled back to reveal the city below. I will never forget those colors—reds and pinks as vibrant as the petals of roses, yellow like the ripest lemon. And the purple—it was as though that color existed only in the sky. The violet hue was hypnotizing, the spell broken only as the sun dipped behind the flattened tops of the Oquirrhs.

My heart was full during that summer a few years back. Every night as the lights in the city began to flicker on like fireflies, we would curl up by the window and prepare for the spectacle. Somehow the sun would emerge from behind a grey curtain; a sea of colors would reveal itself. Those nights felt so easy. I would look over and see the colors painted on his face, lighting up his eyes and reflecting off his hair.

The pollution created these brilliant displays of light. We should have realized each new depth of color meant more toxins in the sky, but we were mesmerized by the sight.

Slowly the sunsets began to recede in brilliance, until all that was left was a faint wash of purple against the haze. The phenomenon of colors held on as long as it could, but eventually it had to let go. Now, the dim light of day slips slowly into darkness, the colors hidden behind the gray. We don’t watch the sunsets anymore. The heavy curtains are always pulled tight, not even a sliver left uncovered.

He closes the book, and my eyes are drawn to the cover. In the drawing, the volcano releases a billowing plume of smoke, but the lava draws my attention. The shades of red and orange bring me back to the unobscured sunsets from my childhood. They did not hold the rich pinks and purples, but were untainted by the poisonous sky.

I closed my eyes, and I imagined bright blue skies that slowly transformed into an orange twilight.


Casey Clifford is a painter and writer receiving her MA at the University of Utah's Environmental Humanities Graduate Program, where she explores the role of art in air quality issues in Salt Lake City. She recently received a scholarship for funding for her research project from GCSC at the University of Utah. b. 1994

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