Once a chameleon found it could change the color of anything it touched. Before, it had always matched its own coloring to wherever it found itself. That was a talent, to be sure, but a small one. Rather than being admired, it merely contributed to a widespread dismissal of the chameleon as a flighty, undisciplined lightweight. Now suddenly everything was different. The chameleon watched as the earth beneath its foot turned the same hue as its toes. It lifted its foot, and the earth returned to the color it had been. It put its foot back down, and once again the earth changed. This was real talent. It might even qualify as genius, the chameleon exulted. Heady with this newfound gift, it took to calling itself “artist among animals.” And that’s when the chameleon’s problems began. News of the breakthrough spread rapidly. Critics hailed a revolution in the very meaning of color. The chameleon was invited to intense panel discussions and then to evenings out with the smart set. Soon it was being profiled in the arts section and then the style section of newspapers or asked for advice on brightening up a beach getaway. “I don’t do decorating,” the chameleon would reply with irritation. “I’m an artist.” “Of course you are. But couldn’t you just take a look?” Or it might be begged to touch something for a new friend, only to find it being hawked on eBay within a week. Inevitably, chameleon fakes began to be peddled at outrageous prices to eager investors. And then there was the jealousy of others who also claimed a gift for color. Snide comments began to circulate about the limits of the chameleon’s chromatic range, and waggish dismissals of its power to create anything worth taking seriously made the rounds. There were even ugly scenes at openings and studio parties. Why continue, the chameleon wondered? Its early enthusiasm for changing the way the world saw itself had vanished. Now it began to suspect a bit of tinting around the edges might be all that was looked for. Disillusioned, it withdrew from the bright lights and the openings. It stopped accepting invitations or even answering the phone. Finally, it dropped out of sight altogether. For a while, there were questions about what had become of the chameleon. There were rumors and even a few claims of chance encounters in the most unlikely of places. But the society in which the chameleon had briefly moved had itself moved on, and soon a new “artist among animals” was being feted. Years later, a small, out-of-the-way museum held an exhibition entitled “Coloring the Universe: A Chameleon Retrospective.” Attendance was light. The last day there were no visitors at all. Except for a shadowy figure in an overcoat that every now and then, when the museum guard nodded off, would silently touch one of the works, turning it gray.
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans