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 24, 2004

Chapter 15: Beati misericordes

The pass narrowed slightly and rock walls rose up on either side of Dranger as he walked. The walls were covered in pictures and writing, daubed on in brightly colored plant dyes and clays.
"Here is a riddle, for those who seek:
"The more there are who say "this is ours,"
The more of it each has.
"How can it be that when many
Divides it all, there is more for each
Than when only a few had any?"
Life sized figures were painted on the walls, and some more than life sized, towering over him. There was a lady, all in blue, entering a temple where a child sat among old men; on the left, a man lying in a pool of blood, with rocks strewn around him, but his eyes fixed on the clouds above him. There a girl, holding a sword, and tied to a stake for burning.
He spent some time scrutinizing each picture, examining the colors and shapes.

But as he came to the end of the passage and rounded the corner of the mountain ledge, he saw a strange sight. There, boiling towards him, was a dense cloud of smoke; silhouetted against this dark background was a human figure, pacing restlessly. The figure turned, illuminated by the sunlight, and grinned sheepishly.
"Glad to see you. Hate to admit it, but I couldn’t really remember what the map said, and with this smoke..." he shrugged. "You know me and directions."
Dranger smirked. "Yeah, I know you and directions." He gauged the sun’s position, and slipped out of his pack. "I think we’d better have a bite to eat, though. I’ve still got some beef jerky here, and my canteen’s about half full. You?"
Cobb shrugged off his pack and opened it. "Um...Two cans of soup...beef jerky...dried apples...water. Yep, got plenty, I think. ‘Specially if we can keep on gathering stuff from the island."
They plucked a few fruits from the surrounding trees and sat down. They ate quietly, and enjoyed the shade. The day had grown quite hot, and the smoke that swirled at the end of the passageway made it even warmer.
"What do you suppose that’s from?" Cobb nodded toward the smoke. Dranger took a sip of water before responding. "Most islands like this are volcanic. I’d wager that’s from a hot spot that comes to the surface."
Cobb nodded mutely, and leaned back against a tree.
In the ensuing silence, Dranger grew uncomfortable. He didn’t know if Cobb was expecting an explanation or an apology, but he didn’t feel like giving either. However, the longer the silence lasted, the more uneasy he grew. Finally, he spoke.
"Listen...I’m sorry about the statue thing. I guess I shouldn’t have smashed it."
"No," said Cobb, "You shouldn’t have smashed it."
"Yeah. I’m sorry about that one. And for trying to make you leave when you didn’t want to go. I reckon we can spend another few days here, before anybody’ll start to worry about us." He turned to the younger man. "I don’t reckon we should list these days on our timecards, though."
Cobb laughed, coughing a bit on the water he’d been trying to swallow. "Yeah, that might not go over too well."
Dranger chuckled. "Well, at least we agree on that."
Cobb dusted off his hands. "Ok, so what do we do now? Do you remember what the map said to do? Or how in the world to get past this smoke? ‘Cause I haven’t got a clue."
The older man continued to lean against a tree, and thought for a moment. "Well, as to how to get past the smoke, have you still got a handkerchief or bandana? Put it over your face, and it’ll help you breathe. We can keep our hands against the mountain wall. That should at least help keep us from getting terribly lost. As for the map..." He thought for a moment, eyes twitching from left to right as if reading a map in the air before him. "The marker shouldn’t be too far into the smoke, hopefully it’ll be fairly obvious." He got to his feet. "You ready to go?" Cobb nodded.
Just then, a fluttering distracted them. A bird burst from the surroundings trees, and soared over the trail. It hovered just above them, plumage draping down almost within reach. It flapped its wings, shifting slightly in midair, looking at them. Then, in another flash of movement, it was gone. But there, floating down through the air, were two gleaming feathers.
The two men plucked the feathers from the air as they fell. They had never seen anything quite like them. They were large and broad, though very delicate. The color was a metallic yellow, with hints of blue and purple when held at different angles to the light.
Cobb took his feather and stuck it in the brim of his hat, smiling at the rather silly figure he knew he made. Dranger carefully wrapped his in a clean shirt and stowed it away in his pack.
The two men moved away and were soon enveloped by the cloud of smoke.
Arthur sweated as the day grew hot. Even in the shade, the day was uncomfortably warm. He was happy though; he’d determined to spend this year mostly painting. He had decided that smoothing down the rock walls of the passage to a sufficient flatness would be work enough for the year, without making a statue as well. After all, he was forty-two, and not entirely young anymore. A year of rest would be nice, after so many years of hard work.
Sitting in the shade provided by the overhanging cliff, he looked across the passage to the opposite wall, musing on what images to paint. He consulted the small designs that he had sketched onto a strip of flat bark. Yes...That would probably work...That bit of rock would have to be chipped off...Those holes on that side filled in a bit...but overall, the mural would work, he thought. He got up and picked up a charred stick out of the coals of his fire. He tapped the end against a rock until the soft ash fell away, then began drawing on the rock wall. The first section would need no real preparation. A bit of smoothing here and there, but he wanted to see how the first drawing would look on the cliff.
Forty-five minutes later, he stepped back from his work, and sat in the shade again, eyes on the figure of the lady. He smiled, happy with the basic drawing. It would look better with paint in it, but the drawing itself, at the moment, was rather nice. He noticed that he had managed to capture at least a little bit of the movement of the Lady’s robes. They seemed to swirl and float through the light breeze that brushed his face.
He never got tired of watching her walk toward him, especially on a windy day like today, he thought. Her skirt swirled around her ankles, teased by the wind, and her hair curled around her face. With one hand, she held up the hem of her skirt, keeping it within moderate control, and her other arm, though loaded down with books, was occupied with wiping her hair away from her mouth and eyes. He approached her, and wordlessly took her books. She smiled. "Thanks! The wind is absolutely crazy today!" He nodded, smiling. "Yeah, it’s nuts. You want to go to the coffe shop?" She nodded, reaching into her bag and drawing out a black scarf. "Yes, that sounds great! Just a second though; it looks like I’m going to have to give in to this blasted wind." She wound the scarf around her head, tucking in loose hairs. "I get called a babushka when I do this, but I’m tired of untangling my hair today."
They sat in the coffee shop, in a small back room that happened to be otherwise empty at the moment, which Arthur regarded as a minor miracle. Rachel took a long sip of her coffee, and set the cup down carefully. "We need to talk."
Arthur nodded, having dreaded this conversation ever since he’d found out about the job. He’d been offered a prestigious job at a magazine, but it would require moving a few hours away, too far for weekend visits. He had asked for a few days to think it over.
"So...Should I take the job?"
She sighed and picked up her cup again, cradling it in her hands to warm them. "Well, Arthur, ultimately it has to be your decision. I could tell you what to do, and we both know that you would do it. But if anything went wrong, or things turned out badly, you would soon come to be bitter at me for it."
He nodded, knowing her words to be wise ones.
"But, that being said..." she paused, struggling slightly to maintain her composure. "I think you should take the job. It would be good pay, it would look great on your resume, and it’s a job that you can do with a great deal of pride and honor." She smiled. "You can’t say that about too many jobs straight out of college."
Laughing, Arthur acknowledged that that was indeed the case. "But would you really be ok with me moving that far away? It would mean not getting to see each other for months at a time. We’d probably only find the time at major holidays and such."
She nodded, hesitating slightly. "I won’t lie to you and tell you that it will be alright. Of course it won’t. It will be very difficult. But many women have done this before me. Think of those who waited while their husbands and boyfriends went off to war, or off to sea." She grinned then, eyeing him over her mug. "And I have an advantage over them, because you’re not going somewhere dangerous, so I’m fairly certain you’ll come home again."
He moved to sit beside her, and put his arm around her. "You’re sure?"
"Absolutely. Go, Arthur; work hard, play hard, and when you can, come back to me and bring me home with you."

A week passed before they had time for more than a hurried meal or cup of coffee again. They decided to walk through the park, happily scuffling through the fall leaves. He took her hand and curled his fingers around it, feeling her cold skin grow warmer through the gloves.
"So..." she began. "How long do we have until you leave?"
He sighed, and stopped walking, turning to face her. "I’m not going."
Her face grew pale, throwing her dark eyes into sharp contrast. "Did they take back the offer?"
"No, they didn’t. I’m just not going. I don’t want to go. I want to be with you." He held up a hand to silence her sudden protestations. "Yes, I know it would have looked good on a resume, and would have helped my career. But we all know what happens to pompous asses like me when they leave their true love to go work in the big city." He squeezed her hand. "It doesn’t usually turn out well. I need you, Rachel. I need you badly." Pausing for a moment to kick a pile of leaves into the air, he continued. "I found a job here that will work. It doesn’t pay anywhere near as much, but it’s enough. I’ll be able to pay all my bills, and even save a little bit." He turned toward her. "Are you mad at me for not taking the job?"
She threw herself into his arms and kissed his cheek. "I’m so glad you’re not going...It would have been good for you, and you would have liked it, but..." She paused, sniffling slightly. "Oh no, I’m making a mess!" She laughed, hiccuping a bit. "But I am glad that you’re not leaving me. It would be sad not to see you for so long."
As they walked away through the leaves, Rachel turned to Arthur and said, "Does this mean I have to stop construction on the widow’s walk I was building for my apartment?"
Their laughter echoed through the park, bouncing off the trunks of the trees and ringing through the cold air.
He laughed again now, remembering. He was glad that he hadn’t taken the job. He had worked for a few years in a smaller company, editing books and magazine articles. They had been very happy. He sighed, and got up to continue his drawing.

copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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