I think I know what the problem is, I said quietly, knowing full well that unlicensed tampering with National Color property carried a five- hundred- merit fine.
The park keeper looked at me, then at Dad, then back to me. He bit his lip and scratched his chin, looked around and then lowered his voice. Can it be easily fixed? he asked. We have a wedding at three. Theyre only Grey, but we try to make an effort.
I looked at Dad, who nodded his assent. I pointed at the pipe.
The yellow flow meters jammed, and the lawns receiving only the cyan component of the grass- green. Although I would never condone Rule breaking of any sort, I added, making sure I had deniability if everything turned brown, I believe a sharp rap with the heel of a shoe would probably free it.
The park keeper looked around, took off his shoe and did what I suggested. Almost instantly there was an audible gurgling noise.
Well, Ill be jaundiced, he said. As easy as that? Here.
And he handed me a half merit, thanked us and went off to package up the grass clippings for cyan- yellow retrieval.
How did you know about that? said Dad as soon as we were out of earshot.
Overheard stuff, mostly, I replied.
Wed had a burst magenta feed a few years back, which was exciting and dramatic all at the same time a cascading fountain of purple all over the main street. National Color was all over us in an instant, and I volunteered myself as tea wallah just to get close. The technical language of the colorists was fairly obfuscating, but Id picked up a bit. It was every residents dream to work at National Color, but not a realistic prospect: Your eyes, feedback, merits and sycophancy had to be beyond exemplary, and only one in a thousand of those who qualified to take the entrance exam.
We ambled around the garden for as long as time would permit, soaking in the synthetic color and feeling a lot better for it. Unusually, they had hydrangeas in both colors, and delicately hand- tinted azaleas that looked outside of the CYM gamut: a rare luxury, and apparently a bequest from a wealthy Lilac. We noted that there wasnt much pure yellow in the garden, which was probably a sop to the Yellows in the town. They liked their flowers natural, and since they could cause trouble if not acceded to, they were generally given their own way. When we passed the lawn on our way out, the grass in the anomaly was beginning to turn back to fresh lawn green, more technically known as 102-100-64. It would be back to full chroma in time for the wedding.
We stepped out of the color garden, and walked back toward the main square. On the way we passed a Leaper who was seated by the side of the road, covered entirely in a coarse blanket except for his alms arm. I put my recently acquired half merit in his open palm, and the figure nodded in appreciation. Dad looked at his watch.
I suppose, he said with little enthusiasm, we should go and have the rabbit experience.
Excerpted from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Copyright © 2009 by Jasper Fforde. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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