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 15, 2004


(AUGH! 3000 words behind, and counting!!!!! Only 15 days left!!! *panics*)

As they passed under the wings of the angel and began to walk forward on the narrow pass, they saw that the small path soon opened onto a small ledge that ran next to the side of the mountain. Squeezing between two large boulders that lay on either side of the passage, they came out onto the ledge, and looked around. The trees were still too tall for them to really see over them, but they knew that after they had gained a few more feet in elevation, they would be able to see the entire island.

They moved forward, with the mountain wall on their right hand side. Just around the first curve, they saw that the avenue was lined with simple statues. They moved closer to the figures to study them.

The first was of a woman. The wood of the rough tree that formed the core of the statue was only visible in the face and hands of the figure, which were polished to a glowing smoothness. The rest was coated in clay, which had been molded into a flowing garment, that both concealed the figure beneath, and gave a hint to its motion. The carved hands were folded upon its breast, and the woman's head was bowed slightly, as if acquiesing to an unseen person. Down the right side of her head covering was written a phrase in Latin, "Ecce ancilla Dei." The English translation ran down the left side, "Behold the Lord's handmaiden."

Cobb, who had never been taken to church as a child, was somewhat unmoved by the statue, though he was impressed by its beauty. Dranger, however, had been taken to Sunday school and Mass as a child, and recognized the Lady the statue portrayed.

"Ok, Stanley, do you want to put Mary up on the flannelgraph?"
The young boy shifted uncomfortably on his hard metal seat, then slipped reluctantly from it and trudged up to the front of the small room to where a smiling lady sat, holding out a small figure cut out of paper and pasted on felt. Taking it from her, he quickly stuck it on the white flannel sheet that hung on a board in front of the class. He hurried back to his seat as a few girls in the front row tried to stifle their giggles.

"Alright class, quiet down. Now, what do you think Mary said when the angel came to her?"

"Who are you?"
"Why've you got wings?"

The class laughed, and the teacher smiled patiently. "No, when the angel came to her and told her that she was going to have a baby, she said 'Behold the Lord's handmaid.' A handmaid is a sort of servant. She was saying that she would do whatever God told her to do."

All the boys shifted uneasily, knowing that they were supposed to admire someone who did whatever they were told. But what kind of fun was that? The girls all sat primly, trying to show that they were good, like Mary. Stanley crossed his arms, sighed heavily, and slouched down in his chair, eyes on the clock.
Meanwhile, Cobb had moved on to the next statue; it showed the form of a young man, arms raised, dancing wildly. Far from the gently flowing garments of the other figure, he was barely clothed, his short tunic clinging closely to his legs. But the look on the sculpted face was one of complete abandonment. He looked almost drunk in his unselfconsciousness, but his face was far too knowing to be that of one drunk.

The sense of motion in the figure was somehow unsettling; one expected it to move, but it did not. However, if you turned away from it, it always seemed to be dancing at the edge of vision. Cobb could not take his eyes off the figure for long. This man, he felt, had no fear of anyone else's opinions, or of what was "proper," only that he felt such joy at something that he simply had to dance. How long had it been since he had been that uninhibited? Hadn't he once been reckless enough to show how he felt? But all that sort of thing passed away with youth, and his youth was gone beyond all recalling. Cobb shook his head in puzzlement: why did this man dance?
"So who do you think'll win?" His earnest eyes bored into Cobb's. Cobb looked around the racetrack before answering."Oh, come on Steve, everyone knows you're the best mechanic around. Unless the driver is a total bonehead, Regina will win. Relax."The other man shrugged tensely, cracking his fingers. The race was about to begin. But it was an unusual race; the drivers wore no special colors or insignia. They were not the heroes of this race. Instead, each mechnic wore colors that matched his car on the track. This was in which engineering, not driving skill, would be the edge in winning. Each man--and a few women--had built his car from scratch, finding the best materials he could for the fastest car he could create. Now they all waited at the finish line, revving their engines. The flag went down, and they were off. The race was close, but not so close that Regina's win could be challenged. Steve jumped the short fence cutting the spectators off from the track and ran up beside the car as it slowed to a halt. The driver got out and the two young men embraced violently, pounding each other on the back hard enough to crack one another's ribs. Cobb vaulted the fence and rushed onto the track to meet them. The announcer's voice crackled over the PA system: "The winner is Car 34, built by.....Steve Kurts!" Cobb reached down and grabbed his friend's wrist, and thrust his arm into the air. The crowd erupted in another wave of applause as Steve grinned sheepishly. Gathering the men around him, he helped lift Steve onto their shoulders, and began parading him around the track.

"Well, did you make enough of a fool out of yourself, or do we need to stick around a little longer?" She slouched against the concrete block walls of the stadium bathroom, eyeing him warily. He laughed and moved to put his arm around her waist. Just then, a group of young men walked by, calling out to him: "Hey man, tell Steve congrats for us, yeah?" Cobb gave a loud victory whoop, raising his arms above his head. The girl turned away, covering her face with a perfectly manicured hand.

She grabbed his hand, and began walking briskly towards the parking lot, pulling him after her. He stumbled a bit, trying to regain his footing, then matched her stride. "What was that all about?" he grinned. She set her face forward, and continued walking. He reached out to take her arm, but she pulled it away. "What?" She reached her car and whirled to face him. "'What'? 'What'? You're acting like an idiot, Ray! Get a grip! It's not like your friend was even driving! He just put the damn thing together, ok? Everyone laughs at people who act like you do. So play it cool, ok?" He gave her a bewildered look, and ran his hands through his hair. "Why would I care if they laugh? Dude, Steve built that car, and it's fast. Didn't you see it go? I mean, this is a big deal for him, why wouldn't I be excited?" "I don't care if you're excited. Just don't go all nutso on me, ok? Good grief, anyone would've thought you were thirteen years old!" She fished her keys out of her purse, got into the car and drove away. Cobb stood there in the parking lot, puzzled.
He looked at the statue again, something long buried stirring faintly again. He smirked slightly, thinking of the cliche that one should always "dance like no-one's watching." But wasn't there some truth to that? The point of dancing was to dance, not to be seen. To be excited for a friend was not to be seen playing it cool, but to share in the joy of a job well done, even if done by someone else.
Gently and lovingly, he smoothed the clay with hands long since gone rough from the daily work of transforming the mountain. He tore another chunk of clay off of the large block that stood on the makeshift sledge. It had taken him a few days to figure out the best way to bring clay to the parts of the mountain that were furthest from the river. Finally, he had decided to cut large blocks of clay from the river bed, and drag them by sledge to the location where they were needed. Molding the lump of clay, he pressed it onto the rounded wood that was the head of his work. Dipping his hands into a bowl of murky water, he began smoothing the clay, inducing it to fold and flow in ways that would mimic the cloth that it represented. He stole another glance at the face of the statue. It seemed to look at him knowingly, and he smiled slightly. He could see her face there, just as he had carved it, but in certain shades of light, he could almost see her face, just for a moment. It didn't happen often, and not for long, but it did happen. Every so often, the light would take on a shade of golder even deeper than usual, at sunset, and the very air would shift, and then he could see her, just for a moment. but she was always gone too soon. But then, she always wanted others to see, not to see her.
"Hey, congratulations, man!" The young man's head snapped up, and, seeing the well-wisher, smiled brightly and waved. "Hey, thanks!" "Good stuff, man. You thinking about being a writer?" "Yeah, maybe. Depends on how many people I can get to buy my stuff. Gotta do something to pay the bills while working on my masterpiece of literary acheivement that the critics will love, teachers will assign in lit classes, and no student will ever read." The other man laughed. "Hey, that's pretty good, man. I know how that goes. Well, good writing, and I'll catch you later." As the other moved off, Arthur reached into his bag. He couldn't help looking at it one more time. He pulled out a rather rumpled copy of a magazine. It was already open to the desired page. White Elephant Gift, by...He shivered with delight, once more reading his own name in the byline. And in one of the most widely-read magazines, too. He shifted his gaze to the magazines that lay on the coffee table in the lobby. The school kept a few subscriptions for the use of students in the department, and left them on the coffee table for perusal. He looked around, then walked over to the table, and flipped one of the magazines open to the desired page. He positioned it carefully, as if it had been set down as someone left the room.
"The great artist at work?" asked a gentle voice behind him. He turned, and saw Rachel standing there, smiling. He blushed, suddenly rather embarassed, and backed away from the table. She took his hand, and squeezed it. "Congratulations, Arthur. This is really wonderful." He squeezed her hand back, in silent gratitude. As they walked down the hallway, another student appeared.
"Hey, Arthur, great work! Really liked the ending!" Arthur laughed, running his hands through his hair, making it stand slightly on end. "You think so? I was afraid that no-one would read it."
"Nah, man, this is great. You should write a whole book though."
"I'm thinking about it. But I gotta write little stuff in the meantime, pay bills and all that. But I'm hoping to get a job that'll let me write some in my spare time. Something that'll let me work on my masterpiece of literary acheivement that the critics will love, teachers will assign in lit classes, and no student will ever read." The student guffawed rather loudly, and walked down the hallway, congratulating Arthur again.
As they began walking down the hallway again, he noticed that Rachel was oddly silent, and her face a little less bright than usual. "What's the matter, Rachel? Anything I can help with?" She continued in her silence for a moment, then asked "How many times have you rehearsed that line?" He fell silent, suddenly feeling slightly sulky. "What makes you think I rehearsed it?"
He sighed. "Yeah, ok. I guess it's obvious. I just really like it when people like my work."
She slipped her arm through his. "I know. You would be a little odd if you didn't." She smiled, which lifted his heart a bit. "I gave a few copies to some of my teachers today. So far, the ones who have read it have all liked it, though one thought he'd read it a little more closely, and give you some critique on it, if you don't mind." She looked up at him. "Do you mind?"
He laughed, and shook his head. "No, not at all. I'd appreciate it, actually. It'll make it better."
She smiled, and pressed her cheek into his shoulder. "I thought so."
He fell into silent thought at the memory. He had never had a more ardent admirer, nor a harsher critic. She had driven him to work on his writing, even when he knew he could throw together one that would sell in a matter of minutes. She had read everything thouroughly, accustoming herself to all the characters, and calling his attention to any passage in which they acted out of charcter, even for a moment. One story had sparked off their worst fight.
"But can't you see, I can't change that part!"
"Why not? Harrison would never sacrifice his life like this. He simply wouldn't, and you know it."
"Yes, dammit, but if that doesn't happen, the entire plot falls to bits. " He leaned on the back of a chair, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
"Maybe the plot should fall apart. Maybe you should start over."
"Why? It's fine as it is. No-one will notice or care. And the simple fact is, it's good enough to get into the magazines that we're selling it to, so what does it matter?"
"You'll care. You'll be ashamed of this story in two years' time."
He slammed his fist onto the chair, and roared in frustration. "There's no time to change it! And it will get by fine without the change!"
She did not respond, and he looked over at her. She sat on the sofa, legs curled underneath her. Her eyes glistened brightly in the firelight, and he saw her blink back what looked like tears. He sighed, and bowed his head. Without speaking, he turned and grabbed his coat, then walked out into the night.
He had never spent so sleepless a night in his life. At two in the morning, he could take it no longer. He got out of bed, and headed back into his computer room. At five o'clock, he emerged. He put his coat back on, wrapped a scarf about his neck, and set off towards her dormitory. Fortunately, she lived alone in her room; he could wake her at any time of the night without worrying about facing the wrath of an awakened roommate. He picked up the campus phone that hung on the outer wall of the dorm, and dialed her number. She answered almost immediately, and he knew that she had not been sleeping either. She punched the button that unlocked the door; at the sound of the buzzer, he opened it and went upstairs to her room. She opened the door, and beckoned him inside. She was wearing a burgundy robe, and her hair was pulled back into a loose braid. She offered him coffee, and when he refused, sat down on the couch, and looked up at him. Sensing that she was waiting for him to speak, he reached into his coat pocket and drew out a sheaf of papers, and handed them to her without speaking. She looked at the first page, and read the words, "Chapter One. Version Two."
"You were right. Harrison can't do that. I've got to start all over again."
Rachel set the papers down on the couch, and moved to embrace him. "Did you do it for me?" Her voice was somewhat wary, waiting for an answer.
"I did it because Harrison wouldn't act that way, and it's got to be fixed. I did it because it needed it."
She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. "Good."
He embraced her, and began to cry. "Rachel...I didn't mean to hurt you, I swear...You only told me the truth, and I didn't want to hear. Don't ever let me do that again..."
She held him for a moment, then got up and went over to her bookshelf. She stood on her tiptoes, unaware of how cute Arthur thought it made her look, and brought down a small leather book. She seated herself again on the couch, and opened the book.
"Thomas Brown, poet.
IF thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say—' This is not dead,'—
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says :—' This is enow
Unto itself—’Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.' "
She closed the book, and leaned against his shoulder. "Someone gave me that one when I was becoming insufferable. I'd just won a big contest, and then gotten a huge disappointment. I thought that my life was ruined, and pouted for days. Finally, a friend showed me this poem, and made me see myself in it." She sighed,and then gently kissed his cheek. "Don't worry so much. I think the only hurt is to your pride, and that can only be hurt if you think someone is watching you." She laughed quietly then, and he saw the firelight illumine her hair and eyes, turning her white throat to a pillar of fire in the night.
He had seen her once, in the fall before they fell in love, dancing by moonlight. He had taken the back way to his dormitory, stumbling over the junk that always accumulates in the backways of universities. He had suddenly seen a glimmer of white in the pale light of the moon, and gone over to investigate. He'd seen her then, wearing a grey dress that turned to silver in the moonlight. Her arms gleamed white, and she danced so beautifully that his heart was overwhelmed. He briefly considered walking down to dance with her, as often happens in fairy tales. But he knew that she would never dance so beautifully and freely if she thought anyone was watching. So he sat and watched her as long as she danced, the moon providing the delicate spotlight for her performance.
Unconsciously, he had risen to his feet, and begun to dance. His feet landed heavily on the soft grass, but there was no-one to hear. In the morning light, he moved for the sheer joy of moving, and danced with only the sun to see him.

(this marks 20, 521 words.)
copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


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