Walking home, I noticed two women walking towards us but on opposite sides of the street. The first, a tall stately African American woman with blue-black skin, had cadmium-red hair, dyed and chopped. That hair was lacquered as shiny as helmet, cut in a clean line across her forehead with sharp triangles plastered close to her ears. The second woman, about a half block behind, was short and wide with plaster-white skin and a great cloud of hair colored the very same shade of red, flaming from her head. The first woman wore an acid green shirt and silver shoes; the second, a bright yellow dress with lace beneath. In the far background, waiting for the light to change while lounging against the wheat paste poster of the Dalai Lama was a slender woman covered neck to ankle in a most artificial shade of turquoise blue, looking as if she had just been cut from an acrylic sky. When the light did change, there was red above her head, too -- the same red as the women's hair but unattached to anything except the time it takes to cross the street.
I stopped and rubbed my eyes just to make sure I wasn't imagining this scene. The brilliant colors seemed too intentional to be casual, but I knew this was no stage set, just an 'average' moment of an 'average' day on an 'average' street. Nonetheless, I felt as if I had fallen pell-mell, not like Alice into a rabbit hole, but into an Edward Hopper night scene that had been washed bright with sun or onto some vast floating field cluttered with petals blown from poppies.
Then, later in the afternoon, long after we had returned home, there were sirens and firetrucks, racing down the street -- so many that I put down my book and went and looked. There, on the block where I had seen the women with the fire-red hair were the flashing red lights of emergency vehicles. I saw no smoke. For a moment, I wondered if the women with the fire-red hair I had seen earlier had indeed been real, or were they markers, pins on a map of dreamed disaster.