I’ve never known a time when there wasn’t the Golden Finish. Since I was a child, my hands were coated in solid gold along with everything else in the world. Any other reality was conceived as a fairy tale or child’s nonsense. Our history books said that in ancient, more primitive times there was no Golden Finish and everything had different colors. Now everything was as it should be: no reds, or blues, or anything else, just gold.
Who wouldn’t want the Golden Finish? It made everything amusing; it made life worth living. Some people didn’t have the Finish, or they couldn’t see it. The only difference I could see in their lives was that they were sad, miserable, and annoying. I laughed at them and their pain. It seemed so trivial and pointless. Why couldn’t they just enjoy the Finish?
One day a friend of mine called me on the phone. He said he had something to show me. There was an urgency in his voice, almost panic. I laughed and told him to relax, and that I’d be right over. He said it was on Tenth Street in the alleyway right next to the grocery store. I put on my golden jacket and shoes and started out the door.
While I was walking I saw a young girl sitting on the curb crying. It was hilarious. Why was she crying? What was there to cry about when the world was pure gold? I pointed and laughed at her, which caused her to recoil and let out a hilarious squeal. The sound of her scream was so funny that I laughed even harder, attracting a crowd that gathered around and began laughing as well. With a swift kick to her side, I sent her squealing away down the street, and the crowd erupted with laughter. It took a good ten minutes to settle ourselves. Such a stupid little girl with her stupid little problems, life with the Finish was so much better.
I made my way to Tenth Street where my friend was waiting in front of the grocery store. He was out of sorts, shaking and wide eyed.
“I found something,” he whispered.
“What is it?” I asked, “What is wrong with you?”
“Shhh!” he put his finger to his lips, “Not so loud.”
He looked around to see if anyone had heard us. “Follow me,” he said, motioning with his hand and turning down the alleyway.
We walked for about fifty feet before he stopped abruptly and stared at the ground. I leaned over his shoulder and saw what was bothering him: in the middle of the alleyway was a crack in the Golden Finish. In-between the gold was a jagged line of dark pavement. I had never seen another color other than gold before. It looked like a horrifying aberration next to the gold.
“Wh-why’s it there?” my friend stammered. I examined it from a distance.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem possible,” I answered, walking around it. “You didn’t touch it, did you?”
My friend’s eyes widened further in horror. “Of course not!” he lied. “I’d never…”
“You did, didn’t you?” I chuckled, but started to back away.
“You have to help me! Ever since I touched it, the Golden Finish started fading! I think I’m beginning to see different colors everywhere!” he pleaded. He reached out for me, but I jumped back against the wall.
“I don’t have to do anything of the sort! You brought this upon yourself.”
“You have to!” he said, jumping forward and grasping me by the shoulders.
“Get off idiot, you’ll infect me too!” I tried to wrestle out of his grasp and tripped over his feet. I fell face forward right on top of the crack.
He looked down at me, mouth agape. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Really, I’m sorry—” he ran off.
I stood up and brushed myself off. I looked over myself. No harm done. The Golden Finish was still there. I laughed off the past few minutes and walked back to my parents’ house without looking back at the crack. But a terrible feeling grew inside me, and I was troubled for the first time in my life.
Later that night, I was watching the news with my parents and a story came on about a man who burned down a city block just for fun. My parents laughed hysterically along with the news anchors. I tried to join in, but there was something wrong with my heart—something stirring.
My mom noticed, “What’s wrong dear, you’ve got a stomach ache?” she scoffed.
“No, I’m fine,” I tried with a snort.
They laughed at me and went back to howling at the television. I went into my room and locked the door. In the mirror, my face was still covered in gold. My heart rested a bit, but out of the corner of my eyes I saw a crack in the Finish on my wall. I turned towards it and panicked; I wasn’t seeing things. In a frenzy, I found a suitable covering and placed it over the crack. With it fixed for now, my bed welcomed me and I fell right to sleep.
That night I dreamed about a man I didn’t know, running wildly through the streets with a silver sword, slashing holes in the Golden Finish. He was tall and fearsome, wearing bright clothes that burned like the sun, his skin like bronze. I desperately tried to stop him, but he was too fast and my feet seemed stuck in the ground. In an instant, he turned around, his eyes bright with fire, and ran me through with the sword. I looked down at the blade protruding from my stomach in horror, gold blood pouring out of the wound, the Finish evaporating away, leaving bare skin. And yet I felt no pain.
I awoke, as a shaft of orange light floated through my curtains and bright red and pink clouds filled the blue early morning sky. It was so beautiful, as if I was truly seeing the world for the first time. My heart dropped in my chest as the last bits of Golden Finish disappeared from my green bedroom walls. I looked at my fleshy pink hand and a teardrop rolled down my cheek. The mere thought of the Golden Finish was ugly and repulsive compared to this.
I thought of all the evil I had done under the cursed Finish…the men I killed, the widows I robbed, the orphans I banished from my worries. And I thought of the girl I had kicked and humiliated the previous day.
In a rush, I ran out of my room, out of house, and sprinted back to where she was yesterday. There she was in the same spot, her blonde hair all matted and dirty, her eyes red with tears. She looked up at me and started crying again. This time, I sat beside her and wrapped my arms around her. She didn’t recoil, but cried into my shoulder. Grief like an ocean’s wave rolled over me and sorrow burst forth; for the first time in my life I wept. We wept together, the girl and I, for what we had done, for the world still in slavery to the Golden Finish, and for the uncertainty of the new lives we had ahead of us.
The bright, yellow sun rose higher in the sky and people flooded the streets with laughter and mockery. I saw my friend walking around the street corner looking bewildered, yet filled with joy. There was no gold on him too. He caught my glance and nodded. I returned the nod.
Somewhere in that alleyway was the crack in the Finish that had become our world. As it had grown for me, my friend, and many others, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was the real world, and that it was only a matter of time before the cursed Golden Finish was permanently stripped away, allowing everyone to see the sun rise in its full splendor and glory.