novella- PART TWO

PART TWO

 

            I was sitting under the slotted canopy of a big tree, gluing together bits of colored glass yesterday morning when I began to remember home. Actually, it was the image of my brother’s face—I caught a reflection of my own face in the chunks of glass and I was struck by how much I look like him now. My cheeks are so pinched and hollow. Was I just a child when I came here?

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            Manu gave me a pendant today, the first one in a long series—he’s been working on them for who knows how long. It’s a long sharp piece of amethyst attached to an old bullet casing. The whole thing has a nice sparkle and heaviness. I wonder where he found the casings. I will ask him tomorrow but I doubt he’ll be able to tell me. The lack of speaking is beginning to get to me. I opened my jaw to yawn and I think I heard it creak. My colored glass sculpture looks like crap.

_________________________

 

            I am always amazed at the silence around here. Even the kilns the potters use are silent. Everything, everyone is silent except those godawful singers wailing and stomping away. I’ll be the first to admit that they have their own kind of terrible beauty but I wonder why they always sing right outside my door. They should have moved on by now, I’ve gained all I can from their songs. Their wordless songs. What else is new. I asked Manu about those casings and he just stared at me like a dumb gorilla and pointed toward the city. I’m thinking about making a trip down there but am too afraid of what will happen. Suck it up, kid, I keep telling myself. Either way, I need more glass.

_________________________

           

Mary (is that her name? I feel it is.) left to get supplies today at dawn and she still hasn’t returned. It’s almost sundown. If I am worried, it’s only because she is the best cook out here and I don’t want to eat apples for a week again like we had to when she was sick in bed, red-eyed and raving. I think that was the first and only time I have heard her speak.

            I remember she said, “There are apples in that sack,” and pointed to a lumpy burlap sack in the corner. Her teeth were chattering and she mumbled something after that.

            I dragged the sack outside and we all divided the apples between ourselves. Then we all went back into our lean-tos and dugouts and started making things again.

            I wonder if I can survive longer without conversation or without beauty.

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            Mary returned this morning with a shopping cart filled with food. How she managed to steal all that is beyond me. She made us spicy fish cutlets with sweet berry sauce and spent the whole day salting the rest of the fish. Everyone got enough at least to quench the meowing in our stomachs. We ate hungrily, washed our own plates in the water trough, and went back to our work. Satisfaction is a silent thing. When there is nothing to demand, language doesn’t stay. My glass sculpture is finished on account of the fact that I’ve run out of glass.

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Something happened today. The whole morning was overcast and cloudy with pink wisps covering the sun. It was very dark and I was having trouble coming up with my next project on account of the heat so I went back into my cool, mud-spackled hut. I was just about to pull out the journal and start writing about how hot it was (at this point I’ll write about anything just to keep in practice) when those damn singers began their howling again. In what was probably an unprecedented decision in this forest, I stepped outside to ask them to please go sing somewhere else.

I didn’t get the chance to show my bravery because they suddenly stopped all on their own. They were staring at something behind me so I wheeled around to see the first signs of something new. A boy and a girl stood there, gaping at us. Well, it was really the girl who was gaping. The boy had a slight smile on his face, as if he knew something or he’d been here before. He was quite handsome, I remember this clearly. The girl was tall and broad and although she was much darker than him, the way their hair was cropped short and severe made them look like siblings. They were wearing long grey shirts and carrying navy woolen coats on their arms—in other words, they were from the city.

Amazing.

The dinner bell is ringing but more later.

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Dinner was salted fish. It was better than apples, at least.

Anyway, so the two kids were standing there and some of the women sewing near the edges of the trees looked up at them with their big doe eyes and then went back to work like strange people drop in on us all the time and it’s not a big deal. But it was a big deal. To the best of my knowledge I am the last person to have joined this little commune and that must have been years ago. How long does a cheek take to hollow out?

I went up to them and said hello. My mouth moved strangely and the word fell out heavily like ripe fruit. I felt a bit self-conscious for the way my jeans barely clung on to my hips. I guess I’ve lost a lot of weight; they fit me perfectly when I first got here. I don’t even remember what happened to the shirt I was wearing then. The boy smiled hello back (he had a wonderful gap between his teeth!) and the girl didn’t say anything.

Meanwhile Manu came by clutching a cluster of pendants in his hands. I have to admit, they are beautiful. It must have taken him months to salvage all those minerals—bright blue titanium quartz, silver chunky pyrite, green tourmaline, bloody citrine, metallic black bixbyite, shimmering blue kyanite, glowing purple and yellow amethysts and topaz. I remember studying these compounds a lifetime ago in chemistry and even seeing photographs of them in textbooks. But then Manu held them up, and as if on cue, the sun escaped its cloudy film and pierced fresh sunlight through the gems that refracted gorgeously, and it’s as if the shards of light dancing on the girl’s face just reminded her that she’s a human and her face broke into a smile, a genuine smile of wonder that I must have smiled once too.

We stood there with the pendants glittering and slowly rotating in the sun for a long time, maybe a lifetime. Time acts strangely in this forest.

_________________________

 

I had to stop writing last night to go see the thick blanket of fog that was descending upon the trees. But let me tell you, the fog is a prima donna; it rolls away if no one’s watching. For the first time in a long time, I closed my eyes and refused to see, refused to look at anything at all. I thought about yesterday, about the visitors.

“What does it mean?” the girl had asked. I guess she was talking about the pendants. She looked from Manu to me to the boy she was with. None of us said anything. She turned to the boy and asked him again in a faint voice, gesturing at the awning of trees around us. “What does this all mean?”

“They’re artists, Flavia,” the boy answered. He wiped away a trail of sweat running toward his mouth.

The girl Flavia turned to look into my face. Her brown eyes were tired and lovely all at once. “What are artists?” she asked.

It was Manu who answered. His voice came out in a deep croak. “Our life.” He cleared his throat and went on slowly, stumbling over his words. “Our life, it is for beauty. We find things to make things with, we find animals and trees and bones and we make beautiful things from them.”

I nodded vigorously to hide my amazement at the speech. Manu has probably been waiting to say it for years.

The boy leaned forward to whisper something into Flavia’s ear and then her face froze up and the boy smiled and smiled and then she smiled like she understood and really, it was the most beautiful thing I think I’ve ever seen, this realization of a choice.

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Meaning. I had forgotten about meaning. I suppose I still remember the concept—otherwise how do I write? But is there meaning in what I make? What does this sculpture sitting on the dirt ground in a dark corner of my room, a branchy, shattered looking thing, mean? Nothing.

Flavia had asked Manu the same question about his bullet pendants. She touched them lightly, felt their smoothness and asked him again what they meant.

He frowned. “Mean? They don’t mean anything, they are just objects.”         

She didn’t say anything after that but I knew she thought we were either crazy or stupid. I certainly thought so when I first got here. In fact, I still think so after creating a particularly bad piece of art. I wonder from time to time if it’s worth living in a circle of trees making things that no one but my silent friends will see. I sometimes recall the feeling of sticking my head from a car window and the gush of wind chapping my face or the small joy of petting a small dog on the sidewalk. I even thought seriously about leaving once. But then I remembered the dead city: the cement, the emptiness, the hollow air with nothing to touch, the lack of music and the way I felt blind there and I knew why I couldn’t leave.

 I have a massive headache. I’ve been getting them more and more often. Like an axe smashing glass it pulses behind my left eye. I need to go lie down.

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