The Gift: A novel

My project for A man finds himself alone on a paradisical island where has has no need to work to support himself. His life is spent transforming the island.

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Location: Los Angeles, United States

I am an awkward, stubborn, slightly insane woman who would rather talk Plato than Prada, rather watch Frank Capra than Carrie Bradshaw, and rather listen to Norse myths sung in Icelandic than anything currently on the radio. Yeah. Told you I was weird.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Chapter 13: Invidia

The path lead upward into the mountain. Up ahead, the two men saw the path narrow into a small pass, with cliff walls that rose high on either side. As they entered the pass, they noticed that up ahead, the pass became a true tunnel, when the cliff walls closed over it. As they entered the passage, the air was bright with the noonday sun. A few feet farther, and the light ws that of sunset. They took a few steps more and found themselves in a dim twilight.
Finally, when the darkness was almost complete, Dranger fell headlong over the marker. It was set into the ground, and in the dim light, was indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain. Dranger rummaged around in his pocket, finally pulling out a small cigarette lighter. He flicked it once or twice before he got a steady flame. He held it over the marker, then shouted in surprise, and started back.
“What is it?”
Dranger took a deep breath. and moved toward the marker again. “Well, first of all, it's not a marker per se, but a statue. Seeing a face that suddenly kinda spooked me. Almost thought it was the nutcase himself, but I think it's just a statue. He flicked the lighter again, and held it over the statue. A shudder ran down Cobb's spine as he saw the face of the figure. It was somewhat androgynous, with no clues as to its gender. Its hands were crossed over its breast in a gesture of supplication. But it was hard to focus on anything else when one saw the eyelids. They were sealed tight, and stitched with a rough thread, apparently while the clay was still wet. Cobb had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the disturbing image, but managed to do so. As he did, he noticed that just below the figure's hands was a flat smooth section of clay, like a shield laid over a dead warrior. He pushed Dranger's hand slowly toward the feet of the statue, until the whole section could be seen. Not surprisingly, the surface was covered with text.
As the dim little light flickered against the walls of the tunnel, Dranger noticed that a pile of small torches lay against the wall of the cave.
Walking over to the torches, he took two and brought them back to Dranger. He lit the torch, and put the lighter back in his pocket. The two men blinked slightly at the sudden light, then turned to read the text on the statue.
“Look not to others, but instead,
Be content with your lot,
And let not envy turn your head,

By wanting what you have not.
Let your eyes be sealed away
When you want what another's got,

And don't let Envy hold you sway.”

Dranger could not help looking again at the eyes of the supine figure. The stiff thread tore and squeezed the clay in disturbing contortions. Yet somehow, he did not feel primarily horror or pity for the person represented. Instead, he kept having the disagreeable sensation that the face on the figure was his own. Since the figure had bland features and no discernible gender, this was a fairly understandable sensation, but he still did not like it. 3614
“So then I said to him, 'Hey, lay off! If you can't keep your own woman, why should I make it easier for you?'” Raucous laughter sounded from the bar, and Dranger's fist closed more tightly about his beer. He hated Jackson, hated him with every bone of his body. He had lost more potential girlfriends to that man than to any other single cause he could think of. Even now, a flock of admirers were crowded around him, laughing at his crude jokes, and letting him buy them drinks.
Dranger could never understand how he had gotten as many promotions as he had. Such a boorish jerk shouldn't have been able to impress any employers, but Dranger had to admit that he was good at what he did, damned good. And so he got promoted, though anyone with half a brain could see that he would burn out before the age of forty. He had no staying power.
Another round of laughter erupted from the bar, and Dranger clutched his glass to hard that his knuckles turned white. Reaching into his pocket, he drew out a small camera. He was hidden in a small booth a few feet away from the bar, and knew that the camera would not be seen unless he turned on the flash. He quietly snapped a few pictures, then left for the evening. He took the camera to a one-hour developing center, and examined the photos when they were returned. Slightly blurry, but good enough. He stuck the pictures in an envelope, and consulted a telephone directory, then scribbled an address on the envelope.A few weeks later, the word began to spread around the company that Jackson's wife had thrown him out, unable to cope with his philandering anymore. He still came to work, but looked older, angry. He still visited the bar every night, but tended to keep to himself.
He closed his eyes, rubbing them in the darkness. He stomach twisted in upon itself, pulling itself into a knot that weighed on him heavily. How could he have done such a thing? No man has any right to ruin another's life, he thought, particularly when the other man is doing a fine job of ruining his life without any help from anyone. He opened his eyes, and looked again at the eyes of the statue. They were still grotesque, particularly in the flickering light of the torchlit cave, but now they seemed almost a kindness: after all, one who cannot see cannot see the good things another has, and make himself sick over them. The ghastly seam of the eyelids became, instead, the sutures left over from a life-saving operation.
Arthur came out of the cave, blinking in the strong sunlight. He made sure to come out every hour or so, just to get a glimpse of sun. Also, his years on the island had deeply tanned his skin, so that he was almost completely resistant to sunburn. If he spent too much time in the darkness, his skin might begin to pale, and he could get burned badly when he next went out.
He had decided to sculpt the statue in the cave itself, and drag it into the sunlight to bake. It might take a little longer to sculpt, but then he would be able to judge how it looked in the dim light with which it would be seen. He had wanted to take a break for awhile; he was not looking forward to the next part of the process.
In his belt was threaded a bit of bone, which he had obtained from one of the birds on the island. He did not often eat meat, but found it necessary to do so once in a while to maintain his health. He had carefully selected a bone that was thin, but strong. He had used a bit of flint to gouge a hole in the end of the bone and shave the other end down to a point. He had his needle, but now he had to find thread.
He walked to a part of the island which he knew contained trees with a singularly fibrous bark. He peeled a long strip of bark, and began picking out strands of fiber. He soon braided these into a thin rope.
He threaded it through the eye of the bone needle as he walked back to the cave. He took a deep breath and plunged back into the darkness. Sitting beside the soft clay figure, he lit a torch and, planting the end of it in a lump of clay beside the statue's head, began to sew, stitching the unseeing eyes closed.
Arthur met her at the bus stop, as he always did, to walk her home. She had moved off campus in an attempt to set up her own household. "I am tired," she had explained, "of apologizing for everything I own for being 'college furniture' or 'college silverware' or 'college' anything! I want nice chairs, and a room that I can paint however I want." So she had found a small house across town, that was near to the apartment where Arthur and his roommate lived. It also had easy access to a bus route that ran by the school.
Arthur's brow furrowed in concern as he saw her. She looked a bit flustered, and got off the bus in a bit of a hurry.
"What's wrong?" he asked, as he took her hand. "You look upset."
"No, " she smiled, "just a little bit stressed today." He started to press her for a more complete answer, but stopped as she suddenly broke away, pointing up to a tree. "Look!"
There was a large spider web, every strand gleaming in the light of the setting sun. He smiled as she took his arm, cupping his hand over hers.
He couldn't ignore the fact that she seemed more flustered and upset every night that week. Then on Friday, a strange thing happened.
They were sitting in the lobby of the English building: Rachel was sitting, catlike, on her chair, leaning over the arm towards Arthur, who was explaining his latest story idea to her. A sudden rush of students flooded the lobby, indicating the release of several classes. As th tide ebbed, a small group of younger students, several of whom Arthur knew, passed by. One of the young men looked at Rachel and Arthur, and his face clouded. Speaking somwhat too loudly, he remarked to his companions, "Man, I hate it when cuddling couples infest the lobby." Pausing, he turned to Rachel whose countenance had suddenly grown cold, and said, "You know, he shouldn't control you like that. You don't have to hang on every word he says. " His face had begun to turn red, and his eyes were restless.
Arrthur longed to wipe the confident expression off the young man's face, but knew that he must not. It would only give him more reason for hate and envy. He must see that Rachel had made her own decision.
Rachel, who had straightened up the moment she saw the young man, sat quietly. Arthur had never seen this look on her face before, but got the distinct imnpression that it was not the first time she had used it. Her eyes were steady, and her gaze was clear and bright. Her skin still glowed, but now it was as the cool white light of a star, not the warm light of the sun.
"Sir, you must stop this. This kind of envy will not give you what you want, and is already making you miserable. Let it go, before it destroys you." She paused, and calmly stood. Even under the dim floresant lights, he thought she had the regal solemnity of a queen. The young man stood quietly, eyes downcast. "Look at me for a moment." He raised his eyes hesitantly, already embarassed by his outburst. "I am flattered by your attraction, as any woman would be, and I cannot make you stop feeling these things. But I can, and do, ask you to stop envying Arthur. Stop pestering me on the bus. Go, be happy, and let go of your envy." She sat again, and the young man left hurriedly.
As they heard the door at the end of the hall close, Arthur turned to Rachel. The solemnity had faded, and had been replaced by a relieved look, mixed with a bit of sadness.
"I'm sorry, Arthur, I should have told you. That's why I've been so flustered lately. He rides the same bus that I do, and he's been sitting close to me every day, trying to attract me." She smiled, a little sadly. "Poor boy, he was really smitten. I tried to tell him about us, but he hated the very thought of you. I thought he'd get over it, but when he did that today..." She shook her head. "I knew it wouldn't end unless I really sent him away."
Arthur nodded. "Did I offend you by not speaking up? I know, a gentleman should defend the honor of a lady, but I thought it might make things worse."
She nodded. "He wouldn't even have been able to hear what you were saying." She laughed. "He might even have challenged you to a fight, and that would really have been bad, because you would have creamed him." She took his hand, and they walked out of the lobby into the sunshine.
He put the last stitches in the eyes of the statue, and cut the thread. He took the ropes that were bound to the sledge on which it rested, and began to pull it out into the sunlight to bake.
copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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