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 24: Beati qui esurient justitiam

They took time at the foot of the tree to fill their canteens with fresh water, then moved on along the path. However, just as they rounded the corner of the mountain pass, they saw a second tree, also planted in the middle of the path. But this one lacked the natural splendor of the cascade; instead, the tree was surrounded by five figures, all dressed in scanty rags. Each figure was emaciated and bony, and they all reached toward the branches of the tree; some of them almost looked as if they would fall over from reaching too far.
The two living men circled the ring of carved men, looking at their sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. They looked into the branches of the tree, seeing the rich red fruit that also hung from this tree’s branches, but the sight of the emaciated and desperate figures had removed their appetite for it.
After one silent circle, they moved on down the path. Ahead of them, they could see another large stone step. But in front of the step was a sight unlike any they had yet seen. It was another angel, to be sure, but not sculpted, like the other figures had been. It was carved directly from a large tree trunk, and polished to the point where it glowed like fire in the morning sun. He stood, guarding the pass, wings outspread to either side.
Cobb and Dranger hesitated slightly before passing the statue, and at that moment, the sun climbed into the height of the noon hour and hit the statue directly. It appeared to burst into flame, the reds and golds of the wood illuminated more brightly than before, until neither man could look at it. They passed by hurriedly, and hoisted each other over the stone step.
Arthur rubbed the fistful of leaves over the surface of the statue. The process ground down the leave and his own hands faster than it ground down the wood grain, but it gave it a smoothness and a sheen that was otherwise unattainable. He dropped the leaves, since they had begun to crumble, and ran a hand over the statue. The entire surface was smooth to the touch. He reached into a small clay pot at his feet, and drew out a bit of animal fat that he had been saving. He began rubbing it into the wood, the oil seeping in and drawing out the color of the grain. After covering the entire piece with the oil coating, he grabbed another handful of leaves, and continued sanding. This process was repeated for many weeks, until the statue was entirely smooth and glowing with the inset oil.
The morning after the sanding was done, he took a small tube he had carved from wood: the tube had a sharpened point at one end. He went out to a tree that he knew well that often dripped copious quantities of a beautiful amber-colored sap. He picked up a large rock, and proceded to hammer the small tube into the tree trunk, and set up a clay pot underneath it to collect the sap. He took a twig, and went around the tree with another small pot, and began scraping sap off the outside of the tree.
"Sabrina fair," he grunted, reaching up to pull off a large knob of golden sap.
"Listen where thou are sitting,
Under the glassy cool translucent wave,
In twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair."
He looked up at the tree, and grinned. "Well, I’m not sure about the hair, or the lilies, but you most certainly are ‘amber-dropping.’ So I shall call you Sabrina."
He took the pot of semi-hardened sap, and set it in the middle of the hot coals of his cooking fire. The sap began to soften, then to bubble and melt. He knelt by the stream and wet a bit of soft leather, part of an animal skin, and wrung it out. He used a forked stick to lift the pot from the fire, and poured a bit of the sap over one section of the statue, and replaced it in the fire. He quickly turned back to the statue, and began spreading the sap with the leather. He rubbed it into the wood, smoothing it out carefully. After a few repeats of this process, he stepped back and took a look at the effect.
The statue, from the combination of oil and sap, had begun to glow slightly in the sun. He smiled, knowing that it would take a good deal more work, but it would indeed produce the effect he sought.
He banked the fire, and sat down in the shade.
"You need to eat, you know."
He shook his head, and pushed his plate away almost untouched. "I can’t; I’ve got to settle this. I can’t sit here, knowing what really happened, and let this happen." He got up, and pushed his chair away from the table.
He walked out of the cafeteria and across the campus. He opened the door of Beardley Hall, the home of the history department. Turning down a hallway, he knocked on a closed door.
"Come in."
He opened the door and looked in. A professor sat behind a scarred old desk, absently typing on a computer. "Yes?"
"I need to talk to you about John Dooley’s paper."
The professor sighed, hit a few last keys, and turned to face him. "I cannot allow my students to cheat on their papers. His was too similar to another student’s paper to be coincidental. The other student is at the top of his class, and has been well respected here for three years."
Arthur leaned forward. "Sir, I have to ask you reconsider. You see, I was with John in the library when he was researching and writing his paper. We often study together, and both had major projects due during that period. So we agreed to meet everyday, hoping that the presence of the other would encourage each of us to work as hard as possible. He did. I saw him writing that entire paper, and I could tell you which books he used the most."
The professor looked at him for a long moment over the top of his glasses. "Do you have any other witnesses, sir?"
He nodded. "Ask the librarians who work the late shift. They had to kick us out several nights that week. Some of them might even remember reshelving the books."
The professor sighed, removing his glasses. "Well....I shall definately look into this. He never told me that he had a witness to his writing; probably too proud, I should imagine." He turned to look Arthur in the eye. "But, if this turns out to be true, he will have a great deal to thank you for. He would have been placed on academic probation, if not asked to leave the school. We don’t look too kindly on plagurizing."
Arthur nodded, and stood to leave. "Thank you for your time sir, and your willingness to listen."
On the way to his next class, he had just enough time to grab a sandwich before class began.
He dampened the leather strip again, and went back to work smoothing hot sap onto the wood statue. Over the next few weeks, he collected sap from the clay pot he had placed under the tree, and continued to smooth it on the form of the angel. It was slow work, but proved to be worthwhile. Over time, the layers of sap built up, forming a transparent red-gold aureole around the figure. When the sun caught it, it looked as though the angel was made of flame.

copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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