But the next day, while drinking tea and chatting about all their happy thoughts, the women were interrupted by the little bell ringing over their doorway. In stepped the woman whose eyes and heart were as charcoal black as her mind. A shudder went through the three friends when they saw her, but their beautiful minds worked quickly to remind them of their wonderful jobs, and they smiled at the possibility of easing the thick darkness into the shade of a velvety night sky.
“Come in, please, and tell us about yourself,” Wendy said as she stood and moved toward the tea pot. But her steps were halted by the icy tone of the visitor and the dark magic that seeped into the room like a poisonous gas.
“Don’t bother with your charming words and ways,” the wicked one said. “I will not stay long. I am only here to teach you something – something that you all need to learn. You may find the good in other people’s situations, but it is not a challenge for you, because you have never experienced what they have. Your lives are easy, and you live as though you have no knowledge of the real world.” She stepped to the middle of the room, and dramatically glared at each woman. “You will now know the deepest meaning of the word Suffering. And I defy you to find the good in that.”
As she said these words, the clear minds of the women clouded – the spring green mind of Lily turned to a murky poison green; the taupe mind of Wendy turned to a sickly infected yellow, and the peacock blue mind of Joy brewed into the grey shadows of a foreboding hurricane. They all closed their eyes and moaned in despair, not sure what was happening to them or how to stop it. And in the midst of the blinding confusion, the woman with the terrible charcoal mind vanished forever; but when she was gone, the darkness remained.
Wendy fumbled for her tea cup, hoping it would ease the sudden churning of her stomach, but with one sip she dropped the cup and ran to the restroom, heaving until she could scarcely breathe. At the same time, Joy doubled over in her chair, crumpling to the floor and twisting and writhing in pain. “Something… is terribly… wrong!” she gasped. Lily tried to stand and reach the telephone to call for help, but also fell from a shocking loss of strength in her back and legs. When Wendy staggered back to the front room, her face was flushed and her neck was covered in hives, fever raging so that she was on the brink of unconsciousness. She managed to press the emergency button on the phone before the world faded before her eyes.
Joy awoke in a hospital room, with her friends in the beds on either side of her. Monitors beeped, and as she tried to sit up her muscles and a dozen wires and cords protested. The others were already awake, but very quiet, and the doctor solemnly studied each of their files. They all knew him well – Wendy’s brother, a kind-hearted young man with a mind the color of the blue sea on a clear summer day. When he noticed their questioning gazes, he sighed and sat down. “You three ladies have been through a very traumatic ordeal,” he began. Joy looked at her friends, who remained silent as they waited, and she noticed that there were thick black storm clouds permeating their minds. She assumed her mind looked the same, for she felt a strange sensation which she never remembered feeling before, and she didn’t know what to call it. But it was a smoldering dampness on her soul that she feared would bury her alive.
“You are each suffering from illnesses that are chronic and debilitating. The clouds imposed upon your minds kill the true color and cripple your bodies, minds, and spirits. And while there are some treatments we can offer, the treatments will only lessen the symptoms temporarily, not get rid of them completely. If we tried to extract the clouds in surgery, you would surely die. There is no known cure.”
Lily, with a weak and shaky voice, asked, “What do you mean? Will I never be restored? Will I never be able to run or sing or jump again?”
The doctor hung his head in sorrow and said, “No, I don’t believe you will. The Weakness will not leave you; rather, it is progressive, and will eventually take your life.” Lily lay back on her pillow, and as a tear fell down her cheek, Joy thought she saw it shimmer with a faint green – the last drop of hope draining from her frail body.
“And what about me, dear brother?” Wendy rasped from the opposite corner. “Tell me, how does this suffering affect me?”
Without looking up, the broken-hearted doctor whispered, “Sickness is your constant companion now. You must be very careful about the food you eat and the places you go, because you have developed severe allergies to many things. We cannot even know the extent of it, because I believe other disorders and diseases will develop and build on each other as you grow older. Your health is very fragile, and you will have to sacrifice many things you enjoy, for the sake of prolonging your life.” Wendy’s taupe complexion paled as her final thoughts of self-comfort and assurance evaporated with this diagnosis.
Joy did not want to ask, and didn’t think she needed to. Hearing the diagnosis of her friends helped her grasp the Deep Heartache that they had all succumbed to. If her friends had lost hope through weakness and comfort through disease, then certainly the intense pain in her body would torment her day and night and rob her of joy – her purest, peacock blue, beautiful joy. And if there was no more joy in life, then there was nothing to live for. Her life was over, and the Charcoal mind had triumphed.