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 22

The path narrowed briefly into a small pass, obstructed at the far end by a large stone block. It was covered in images, and writing that neither man could read. The images portrayed a man, kneeling, and holding up his arms in the universal gesture of surrender. A golden ray lit upon his head, illuminating him. Above his arms and surrounding him were other images: gold, food, women, jewels, and numerous other things.
"Look," Dranger murmured. "I think he’s supposed to be giving all this stuff up. See? It’s floating away from him." Cobb nodded, eyes roaming ovver the stone.
Cobb extended his hands as a stirrup to Dranger, who vaulted himself onto the top of the stone. He leaned down and extended a hand to Cobb, and pulled him up beside him.
They stood and turned to continue along the path, but stopped upon seeing the expected statue. It towered over them, a good eight feet tall. It was, as was to be expected, an angel, but its wings were different. A rough net of branches formed the structure of the wings, but the structure could hardly be seen. Tied to the wings were all sorts of beautiful things: feathers from the tropical birds, shells of color and shape that they had never seen before, wood polished to such a sheen that it glowed, and little nuggets of raw metal that shone in the sun.
The angel held a scroll, slightly unrolled so as to be readable:
"Take gladly, friend, and be glad,
For this is a gift to you,
Take one thing that you wish you had,
And leave in its place something new."
They looked at each other, then approached the angel. Cobb fingered a bright bit of metal for a few moments, then suddenly decided on a shell that turned any light it caught into a hundred different irridescent tints. He pulled out his pocketknife, and carefully cut it free from the cord that bound it to the angel’s wing. Dranger circled the angel for a long time before pulling down a piece of wood. It was twisted and curled in an intriguing shape, and had been polished till it glowed. Its color came out in the polishing, a deep rich red, with gold in the grain.
They rooted through their packs and pockets, trying to find something worth leaveing on the angel’s wings. Cobb found a coin from some country whose name he could not pronounce. He puzzled over how to attach it to the tree, then found a scrap of cloth. He put the coin in the cloth and tied the ends together, then tied it onto the nearest branch. Dranger found a small carved figurine that he had bought in some market a while back, and tied it onto the tree.
They stood for a moment, watching their gifts sway slightly in the breeze. Then they turned and continued walking up the trail.
As the morning wore on, they became aware of the sound of a stream again. "Must be that first one we found, further down on the mountain. I think the other one goes underground after it hits the hot spot," Dranger explained.
They scrambled over some loose boulders that had fallen across the path, and saw a strange sight. The stream, which apparently had originally flowed down the side of the mountain, had been diverted. It flowed down to a rock ledge, and then hit a wooden chute that stuck out over the path. In the center of the path stood a tall tree, and the stream hit its leafy head, sparkling on every branch, and leaping from every leaf. The water trickled down the trunk, polishing it smooth, and gathered around the roots, before continuing its journey down the mountain.
The men looked up at the tree, which towered above them, and enjoyed the spray of the falling water.
It reminded Cobb of rainy days, when he was a child. No-one had cared much whether or not he was inside, so he ran around in the rain like a madman, splashing in puddles until he was muddy up to the waist.
The boy crouched beside the gutter, carefully eyeing the busy stream. The rain had mostly stopped, but a gentle sprinkle still fell, and the gutter would be full for quite a while. He surveyed his pile of sticks and grass, and selected a few promising twigs. He held them in place in the gutter while he piled up stones to hold the dam in place. When the twigs were precariously propped against the rocks, he began scooping mud out of the gutter and piling it against the twigs. The water began backing up, since it could no longer rush between the twigs, and he soon had a rather deep pool in front of his makeshift dam. The water began going around the dam, so he extended the dam out and to the fore, enclosing the little pool. He turned around, and happily grabbed his vessel: a bit of soft bark with a single leaf for a sail, stuck to it with mud. He set it carefully in the pool, watching it swirl with the eddies of the little pond.
He smiled, and stooped down, picking up a small bit of bark that lay on the pathway. He set it in the pool at the foot of the tree, and watched it circumvent the trunk, then begin the mad plunge down the mountain.
He tied the shells onto the angel’s wings, smiling. It had only taken a week or two to build the angel itself, but he had spent several months collecting odds and ends to tie onto the branches. He had found lovely bits of wood, and hung them in leafy trees, letting the motion of wind and leaf do the work of polishing. He had splashed through the waves searching for shells, and had broken off colorful pieces of coral.
He looked at the angel’s wings, all the bright colors and rich textures forming a pattern of unique loveliness.
He laid down under the patchy shade of the angel’s wings, and pondered his life these past twenty years. At first, he had thought of the island as an opportunity, a completely unique job. Then it had been a curse, cutting him off from all other society. And now, he asked himself, what was it now? A gift, he thought, it was a gift. He fell asleep in the warm morning air, listening to the soft tinkling of shell and wood overhead.
"What are you making?" His shadow fell across her work and she looked up. "Oh, it’s you!" She held up what appeared to be a tangle of think black thread and wire, with bits of shell and bamboo dangling from it. She laughed at his expression, and explained. "It’s a windchime. Well, it’s going to be, anyway. I think." Her skirt was filled with bits of shell and wood, and a pair of scissors was balanced on her knee.
She plucked up a shell with a delicate gesture, and threaded it on a bit of the string. Eyes unblinking, she carefully tied the thread onto a ring of wire, and secured it with a skillful twist. Her face relaxed, and she smiled. "There. There’s another one in the right spot." She carefully scooped up her shells and scissors, and set them aside, then stood up to greet him.
They spent a happy day in the park, he writing on his laptop computer until the battery ran out, and she working on her windchime. He scribbled notes ffor his story in a spiral notebook, waiting for her to finish her work. She tied the last knot, and held the chime aloft for inspection. The soft fall wind caught it, and blew the bits of shell against the bamboo tubes. The chime made a hollow wooden sound, one that was low and soft, and infinitely pleasing to the ears.
He nodded, smiling approval. She took the chime and tied the main string to a tree branch that overhung the sidewalk. "Can I borrow some paper and a pen?" He handed them over.
The two lovers walked away hand in hand. Behind them the chime sounded gently, a note fluttering on one of the bamboo tubes invited any passerby to take the chime; a gift from a stranger, it said.

copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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