10 Shades of White

Tara Lindis


  1. Two days after the biopsy, I’ve been called into a room at Mt. Sinai, where the ceiling light is super white, against ultra-white walls. The fluorescent is not the warm white of being blinded by the sun, nor is it the cool white of fresh snow, silencing the world with a hush. This white raises your skin into goose bumps and cold sweat.
  2. The doctors have bleached white coats with wide square pockets, starched and pressed lapels, and their names embroidered on one side in turquoise blue thread, the kind of blue of the Mediterranean Sea. I sit on a table covered in thin white paper. It crinkles when I fidget; it sticks to the sweat on the back of my knees. I wait for the doctor to speak, as she scrolls through the information on the computer screen, I consider this hospital table paper; thinner than butcher paper and typing paper, thicker than the tissue paper inside a present, akin to baking or parchment paper, but less of a waxy sheen. The white of the paper is mottled, with shades of translucence and spots that resemble turned milk.
  3. In the pandemic, everything is ultra-sanitized, from alcohol-based hand sanitizer that strips the skin of moisture, to the disinfectant that pierces the nostrils. If white had a smell, it would smell like a hospital, as sterilized as a void.
  4. My Audio/Visual Engineer husband has told our children that light differs from color, but in both cases, white is the absence of pigment, color, tint. I’ve joked that if white were a character in a book, it would be Moby Dick,whose absence is a presence that pervades the entire novel, and if anyone catches sight of the massive white whale, they are simultaneously confronted with awe and terror.
  5. The doctor takes a deep breath, after she asks for my name and birthdate, and before she says what she is about to say. In that millisecond of breath, the briefest of pauses, I catch a space, where a time line might go on a child’s history chart, a black ink mark that differentiates before and after.
  6. “Hold on,” I say. “I want my husband on the phone.” Because of the pandemic, he can’t come into the hospital with me. He’s sitting in the car across the street, illegally parked at a fire hydrant with a sign that says: FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY.

“Of course,” the doctor says. “There’s a lot to cover.”

I pushed my husband’s name on my phone. We wait for the ring.

“Is it bad?” I ask.

“It’s bad,” she says.

“How bad is bad?”

“One might say as bad as bad can be in a situation like this. But there’s a plan.”

My husband answers: “I’m here.”

His voice tints the room with warm familiarity.

  1. White is the color of an undertow, that swarms your body with cold, fills your ears with a watery roar, and swathes your mind in mist. In the white-out of rolling water, my sense of direction disappears, leaving my feet floating high above the white linoleum tiled floor, and my eyes blind, blinking hot tears.
  2. The doctor’s mask is white. She has rail straight posture, and I appreciate that she’s straightforward, well-researched, an expert in her field, but I can’t see her face. Blond hair pulled back into a loose bun, crystal blue eyes. I can see enough of her face to know she’s pretty. Still, I think, this would be easier if I could see her face, if it wasn’t hidden behind a white mask.
  3. “We’re as flummoxed as you. We didn’t see it coming. You have no risk factors, no family history, no genetic mutation. There’s zero reason. But here we are.”

The empty oval of the zero, the u’s and o’s in flummoxed, the series of o’s in her no’s, these are white.

  1. “It’s a ten-month treatment plan, with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. It’s aggressive, because it’s an aggressive disease, but we have good outcomes,” the doctor says. My husband asks a question, then another about how to tell our children, and another about what to expect and another—I no longer hear. The chill of white has left my mind a blank. White is no longer the color of absence. It is the color of everything, an entire world crashing down and rushing in at once. White is the color of beginning.


Tara Lindis has published work in Kenyon Review Online, The Fourth River, Construction Literary Magazine, and in Best MicroFiction 2021. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she now lives in Brooklyn, New York.