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 10, 2004

Chapter 7: Salve Regina Te Luctis Ante

The two men walked on in silence for most of the afternoon, lost in thought. The undergrowth of the area was not thick enough to require machetes, but it was thick enough to impede their progress. They were now on the north side of the mountain, and the sun was beginning to stretch their shadows in front of them.
They had stumbled around for a good two hours before Dranger began to realize that they should have found a marker. He stopped, and turned to Cobb. "You haven't seen anything that looks like a marker, have you?" Cobb shook his head, frowning.
"Me neither. But we should have. That map..." he paused, trying to picture it in his mind. "Yeah, should've been only about a forty-five minute walk. We've gone on for more than twice that. We gotta turn around." He began truding west through the trees, Cobb following him.
They backtracked for an hour and a half, then spread out in a slightly wider search pattern. Dranger tugged at the brim of his hat, wondering if perhaps he'd read the map wrong, or if the marker had possibly been destroyed by some natural process. But it didn't seem as if anything dramatic had happened in this area, no landslides or earthquakes, and the statues seemed to have been constructed in such a way as to last through most normal weathering.
A shout from Cobb woke him from his musings. He hurried off in the direction of the sound, and found Cobb busy clearing vines and grass from a flat stone marker. It was not particularly well-hidden, but unless one's attention was completely focused on finding it, it would have been easy to overlook. They must have passed right by it at least twice that day, but been too lost in their thoughts to see it.
Cobb took a corner of his shirt and rubbed the face of the stone clean. The surface was flat and broad, and polished to a smoothness that contrasted with the landscape. Blowing the loose dust away, Cobb read:

" Seek and find, but if you do not,
Your end will escape your quest.
Be not concerned with your own thought;
But seek it without rest,
And find it you certainly must.
Search you out what is best,
For all the rest is only dust."

As they read the inscription, Dranger suddenly noticed that he could no longer see his shadow, and had to squint to make out the writing on the rock's surface. Looking up, he realized that the sun had almost completely sunk below the horizon. He slipped his pack from him shoulder, and began to take out the contents. Cobb noticed, and began to do the same, realizing that setting up camp would be more easily done in the light of a setting sun than in complete night. They finished putting up the tent as the first stars came out, then cleared a space for a fire. As it crackled and leaped in the night, Cobb gathered a few pieces of fruit from the nearby trees, while Dranger vanished into the woods. A few minutes later, he came out carrying two small birds, which he began to pluck and clean. Within an hour, the birds were roasting on a makeshift spit over the fire, and the two men had finished the fruits.
Spreading out their sleeping rolls, they both lay on their backs, gazing up at the stars. Neither had ever seen a sky so clear and devoid of interference; by comparing the constellations to the top of a nearby tree, they could even watch the progress of the night. Stars appeared over the horizon, while others dipped down behind the tree. The movement was slow and imperceptible, but measurable. Watching the stars spin across the night sky was like watching time itself.

"I just stopped to say goodbye. The taxi's waiting, so I gotta go."

She stopped at the door, and turned to face him. Her small suitcase dangled from one hand. "I'll try to stop back by and get the rest of my stuff sometime soon. Wouldn't want it to get in your way."

He nodded numbly, still not able to believe that this was really going to happen. But there she stood at the screen door, holding that suitcase, with a taxi waiting out front, and here he sat, still unable to rouse himself to do anything that might keep her from going. "Why?" he croaked.

She sighed, and leaned against the doorpost. She looked tired; he hadn't quite realized how exhausted she looked. "Because you never look at me, Stan. You never talk to me. You're always doing something else. We used to have something. I don't know how I held your interest then; I sure as hell don't remember now. But I can't just be a knick knack that happens to be able to cook." She opened the screen door, and put a foot outside the door. "I can't live like that. So I'll let you get on with your life. You'll get over it pretty soon, and you won't even miss me." And with that, she was gone.

He heard the taxi's wheels crunching on some loose gravel as it pulled away, and then it was over. Over the next few months, he realized that she was right. He did get over it, and he didn't miss her. And he hated himself for it.


Dranger shifted around, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep, hoping that it would free him from the memories that came back at times like this. But how had he let her slip away? It seemed like one moment, they had been amazingly happy, then the next day she had left him, claiming that he no longer paid attention to her. But he had never noticed...perhaps he really had spent too much time moving around. He just never knew what he was supposed to concentrate on, it seemed like whatever he chose was always wrong. In the end, shortly after Lisa had left, he had simply stopped caring. In his world, no-one cared what you were or were not interested in, as long as you did the damn job.

He rolled over resolutely, determined to sleep; but sleep was a long time coming.
The man's hands were chafed and raw as he rubbed down the surface of the stone. He looked down at the flat stone marker, now beginning to be worn smooth. He rubbed his hands, trying to alleviate the pain, then got up and walked down to the stream. He held his hands under the water; it was not exactly ice cold, but it was better than nothing. Little red streams flowed from his palms as the blood diffused in the water. He noticed that several blisters had broken open.
He wondered again why he was doing this. Surely most men would either settle back and live life in ease, "going back to Nature" as it were, or would try to build a raft and leave the island. Why could he not do this? For six long years he had waited here, working on bizarre sculptures and strange tests, though it was unlikely that this island would ever have visitors.
Finally, he decided that the water had done all it could. He bound up his palms with long grasses that grew by the side of the stream, and headed back to the stone. Reaching it, he sat down and picked up a small rock that lay beside it. The rock was worn flat on one side, and was beginning to grow almost smooth. He placed the flat side against the stone surface and began working again, slowly grinding down the face of the stone marker.
As the sun began to set, he got up and went to the river again, soaking his hands in the cool clean water. He then ate a simple meal of fruit and boiled roots, while watching the sun set.
As the rays of the sun began to lay flat across the horizon, he turned his eyes to the clearing around him; the low angle of the light brought out every tiny hill and deepened the shadows in the smallest hollows until the whole land seemed to be rippling. The evening light was a pure and vibrant gold, turning everything it touched into a flaming image of itself. The water down by the sea turned a deep blue as it lapped against the shores, while the sand turned a heraldic red-gold, as its dunes mimiced the motion of the waves.And in a final flash of green light, it was over. The sea was dull blue-green again, and the sand began to look grey in the twilight. Arthur sighed, and turned back to the clearing. Layng down amongst the grass, he began to drift off.
"I think that this is the gold that the leprechauns hide for us." Her smile was almost as mischevious as that of the mythical little men. He looked around. "What gold, Rachel?" "You preoccupied little twit, this gold!" She flung her arms out, indicating the entire grassy lawn. He looked around at the campus buildings, seeing no gold. She must have caught the bewildered look on his face. Her smile dimmed slightly, but also grew more gentle. "Here." She grabbed his hand and sank onto the grass, forcing him to sit also. She put her hands on either side of his face, and turned it so that he saw nothing but the grass. "Silly boy, you can accept an old dead Greek's idea of a wine-dark sea, but can't see it when the suns pours gold over everything?" He blushed, smiling slightly. "Here, boy, close your eyes." She placed her cool hands over his eyes, shutting out the light. "Now, listen: When you open your eyes, you will be in Fairyland, where the grass glows golden. The trees will talk to you. And you will find a princess, if you know where to look." He heard her tinkling laugh, and felt her remove her hands from his eyes. He opened his eyes. The first thing to meet them was a gleam of gold and white. There she sat, her skirt spread upon the grass, her bare arms shining like rods of gold. Her skin gleamed in the late afternoon light, casting light on all about her, so it seemed to him. Hardly daring to do so, he raised his eyes to her face. The light of the sun danced in her eyes, and dusted itself aross her face. Her cheeks glowed like white-hot coals, and her brow was as clear and lovely as gilded porcelain. The light of the sun was tangled in her rich brown hair, a diadem with which no crown jewels could compare. She laughed again, and turned his head back to face the landscape. He saw the grass, glowing as though lit with an inward flame, and the trees whispering secrets in the wind. "Never forget," she whispered in his ears, "to see."
He smiled in memory of the girl who had been a princess while the sun was setting. Unnoticed, a tear slipped down his face, shining like a diamond in the first light from the stars.
copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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