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.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Chapter 20: Adhaesit pavimento anima mea

As the sun mounted in the sky, Dranger and Cobb packed up their camp and began to move forward once again. They had taken no time the night before to examine the path ahead of them, but did so now. They had spent the night in a broad flat clearing, overgrown with grass. On the far side of the clearing lay the trail. As they entered it, however, they stopped short. There, in the middle of the path, stood the statue of a wolf. The hair on its back was raised, and its lips were lifted in a snarl. But around the snout of the beast was bound a tightly fitting muzzle, made of some strong rope.
They walked up to the statue, and examined it. It stood on a rock in the middle of the path; the front side of the rock was carved with a verse:
"Beware the ancient wolf; the beast
Who consumes but never can be filled;
For he who envies loves least,
And all his affection is killed."
They studied the map at the base of the statue, and moved upward on the trail. As they walked, each kept an eye out for the next stop along the way, but was inwardly distracted by memory of his dream.
As they walked, they came upon two statues, standing opposite each other on either side of the path. On one side was the now-familiar robed Lady, smiling down upon them. On the other side was a man clothed in the robes of a bishop, and holding a sack of coins. At his feet lay a small sled, lashed together out of branches and twigs. He wore a bishop’s mitre, but it oddly had a wreath of what appeared to be holly around it. Suddenly Cobb laughed. "It’s Santa Claus!" He pointed at the sled, and up at the wreath of holly. "See? Saint Nick!" Dranger, somewhat startled, gave a quick laugh, and agreed.
They moved to examine the other statue, but were forced to stop. The ground began shaking beneath their feet, and they threw themselves down on the warm ground. The entire mountain shook for a few moments, and all the birds on the island cried out in a loud voice, taking to the air. The quaking stopped, and all was still.
"I didn’t know this area was prone to earthquakes, did you?" Cobb gasped. Dranger shook his head. "There’s always a chance in volcanic areas, but this was supposed to be a pretty quiet spot. Guess we just happened to come at the wrong time. "
They picked themselves up and dusted off their clothes, which by now were quite grubby.
They continued up the path somewhat warily, always keeping one hand within grabbing reach of the rough mountain wall, but no more quakes impeded their journey. As they continued up the mountain side, each man fell into deep thought.
"Hey Stan."
"Yeh?""What is it that makes you want to keep doing this? What is it that you want?"
Dranger was silent for a long time, contemplating his answer. "I don’t know. I want to know what sort of man would spend his time doing this to an island. I want to know how he did it all." He paused, fiercely debating with himself over whether or not he should reveal his deeper desires, and finally decided to take the plunge. "And I want to know what he knew. I mean, what would I do if trapped on this island for any length of time, and didn’t know if I’d be rescued? I’d either go completely off the deep end, or make a raft and take my chances at sea. " He pushed a tree branch out of the way, and watched it snap back into place with a leafy rustle. "But this guy didn’t. He wanted to leave a record, and a beautiful, difficult record at that. Why? How did he know that it would draw people in, have such an effect on them?" He drew a deep breath, and exhaled. "Yeah, that’s what I want. What about you? What do you want out of this?"
Cobb grinned lopsidedly. "The meaning of life, what else?" He laughed, but added, "And I’m only half joking about that. I wonder if this old guy didn’t maybe know something I don’t about living, and I sure as hell want to know whatever he knew."
Dranger nodded, and tugged his hat brim down to better shade his eyes. Cobb fell silent, wondering to himself why he claimed to want what he did. After all, only two days previously he would have said that all he wanted from this island was a large profitable mineral deposit to reward, thereby earning a rather substantial bonus in his paycheck. But he knew know that even if he found a pit of solid gold, he could never report it to the corporation. They would come in with bulldozers and mining equipment, and destroy the place, raping the island to get what they wanted, and leaving it in rubble. But now, after only two days on the island, all he wanted to do was see what awaited them at the peak of the mountain. Only once before in his life could he remember wanting something so desperately.
"Yeah, it was a graduation present. They traded in my first car, and got me this one, brand new."
Cobb was sure that his face must be the color of a lime, sure that his envy of the truck was written on his face for all to see. Then he realized, with a sick feeling in his stomach, that that was exactly what Griegson wanted him to feel.
"So, what kind of gas mileage does it get?" he asked casually, determined not to give the other boy the pleasure of watching him drool over the candy-apple red truck.
"Oh, not great, but not terrible. About 30 miles to the gallon, I think."
Cobb had an insane urge to "accidentally" scrape his own battered set of keys down the side of the car, but decided against it, knowing that Griegson would have no qualms about "accidentally" running him down in an already-scratched truck.
He drove home morosely that day, sullen and distracted. He had never done anything to the truck, but it taunted him for months; a thing that he could never attain, but could not forget either.
He shook himself alert again, and looked toward the top of the mountain, which was hidden by a line of trees. He sighed, and shifted his pack higher on his back, taking more determined steps. This was one goal he fully intended to achieve.
Arthur stood in the light of the rising sun, tears running down his cheeks. "Why can’t I see you?" he shouted to the sun, but received no answer. The birds flew around his head, but he took no notice of them, having long grown used to their morning song.
He wiped his tears away slowly, and turned to the day’s work with a heavy heart. He had no desire to continue his work; all he wanted was her. She had been gone so long...He gathered clay for his statues mechanically, bringing up great armfuls from the stream, by means of his wooden sledge. As he sculpted the face of the Lady who would guard the right side of the path, tears began seeping from his eyes again, and he blinked them away quickly.
His stomach felt heavy and sick, and he had no desire to eat, and had had no appetite for days, All he wanted was her, but she was not to be had, not by him, not by anyone. He looked up at the smooth clay face of the Lady he had been sculpting, and slowly sank to his knees.
"Mother Mary," he whispered without feeling, "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." He fixed his eyes on the clay face above him, but saw only the face of a love, long lost.
"No, Arthur, I am not perfect, and you really must stop thinking so." She sat beside him under a tree in the warm summer sun. He opened his mouth to protest, but she stopped him. "No. I know what you’re going to say, and what you say will be true, but you don’t believe it." She moved away from him and got to her feet, pacing barefoot in the long grass.
"A few years ago, I was a very different person. I had never had a boyfriend, and no-one had ever shown any real interest in me. I was desperate that someone should do so. I had my heart set on one man, and one only. I just knew that he was the one for me." She smiled sadly at him. "I’m afraid I threw myself at him. Rather painfully and obviously, in fact. It was only later I found out that he was in love with my best friend. They eventually got married. But I would not forgive them for loving each other. My desire for Michael ate away at me from inside; I couldn’t eat, sleep, or do school properly. I couldn’t look either of them in the face anymore." She drew a ragged breath, her eyes lowered and sad. "I know it sounds like such a small thing, but I would wager that you have never experienced it. It is not a pleasant experience to hate one’s friend, and hate yourself for hating her. I wanted Michael’s love, or love of some sort, so badly that I killed and choked off the love of two good friends." She sat down beside him again. "I had to give it all up. It was the only way I would ever learn to have friends again. I gave up all claim that I thought I had on human love." She laughed slightly, face upturned now to catch the light of the sun. "I did go to another wedding the year after that; I was able to dance at another friend’s wedding, and it was glorious. There was no envy there, and so love had plenty of room. "
She took Arthur’s hand and looked at him earnestly. "Now you know that I am not so close to perfect as you had thought. I find it difficult to love without envying anyone else who has a claim on the love." She smiled again, and plucked a flower from the grass. Leaning close, she whispered in his ear, "But I’m learning." She stuck the flower in his hair, laughing.
He remembered the sound of her laugh, but it only intensified the ache he felt within. He had never wanted her so badly as he did now, when she was completely out of his reach. He tried to think about what she had told him about coveting the love that did not belong to her alone, but it still lead to thoughts of her.
He stopped work, leaving the figure in the sun to dry, and buried his head in his hands.
He felt her hand, small and cold, touch his gently, and pulled his hands away from his face. He was oddly ashamed to let her see his tears, though he knew that she would not mind them.
"I don’t want you to go," he whispered. She lay against the aseptic sheets quietly, her dark hair spread out like a cloud. She nodded slightly, and wrapped her fingers around his. She was not quite strong enough to close them completely, so he wrapped his other hand around hers, closing her fingers over his.
"Arthur..." He looked at her, eyes bright with tears and grief. "Arthur, I’m not going to tell you not to mourn for me. You will, and should, grieve. You’re a sensitive person, and not grieving would hurt you worse than anything else that might happen as a consequence of this. And I’m not going to tell you to get married to someone else and live happily ever after, because I don’t think that you will get married. But I will tell you this." She squeezed his hand, and looked intently into his eyes. "Do not follow after me. I am not what you are really seeking, nor should I be. Search for what you know to be true, and when you have come to the end of your search and can not find what you have sought, I will be waiting for you, and will show you what you are looking for." She smiled, and laughed quietly. Her laugh was still light and rich, but no longer held the strength that he had first heard in it. "You never were any good at seeing, you know."
He laughed for a split second, though it sounded more like a hiccup through his tears. "Don’t leave me, Rachel. All I want is you."
She closed her eyes. "Ah, now, see, that is a mistake." She beckoned him closer; he leaned over her to catch her whisper. "You are Arthur. Go find your Grail. I am not it. " His tears fell on her face, but she had no strength to wipe them away. She opened her eyes weakly. "Are there any nurses in here?" He shook his head. "They told me I could have the last---" He swallowed hard. "A few minutes alone with you."
She smiled, the old mischievous glint sparkling out of her eyes for a moment. "Good. Arthur, please pick me up and take me to the window."
"But you’re--"
He slipped his arms underneath her, and lifted her gently. When he got to the window, under her orders, he let her feet down until she stood in front of the window, supported by his arms. The morning light fell on her face, and it shone like never before. Her skin, always so pale, had now become almost transparent; the whiteness of her brow reflected the golden light, and the tiny blue veins of her face looked like veins of sapphire running through a bedrock of alabaster. Her eyes shone as brightly as the sun, and she gasped as she saw the sun rise. He glanced at her, and saw that her eyes were fixed, not on the light, but on the disc of the sun itself, and she did not blink.
" excelsis..Deo" she gasped, and he felt the last bit of weight leave her body. Her eyes, though no longer bright, were still fixed on the rising sun. He cradled her to his chest, and let the tears come. The nurses would be here soon; now was the time for mourning.
He got to his feet and walked out into the morning sun. Turning to the east, he fixed his eyes as best he could on the disc of the sun, which seemed to fill the sky.
"I cannot see," he whispered again. "Please...some hint, some sign...just one...I cannot live with this desire unfulfilled any longer."
He fell to his knees in the grass, eyes buried in his hands. Spots of molten color boiled behind his eyelids, the penalty for any mortal who stares into the sun. He blinked, blinded by sunspots and tears, and looked up again. He caught sight of the clay figure he had begun to sculpt. For a moment, he saw her face on the figure, and heard her laugh on the wind, stronger than it had ever been. He saw the gold that the sun cast over the ground, and saw the way it turned his own body into a thing of gold and jewels.
Weeping freely, but no longer despairingly, he lifted up his hands to the sun. "In excelsis!" he shouted, glorying in the rough scrape of his voice.
The sun rose on a man who had finally lost everything, and so no longer held onto anything as his own.

copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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