I need assistance, what is the reasoning for the section being...
I need assistance, what is the reasoning for the section being titled 'The Priest of the Sun?'
Here is the text for reference:
The Priest of the Sun
Los Angeles, 1952
There is a small silversided fish that is found along the coast of southern California. In the spring and summer it spawns on the beach during the first three hours after each of the three high tides following the highest tide. These fishes come by the hundreds from the sea. They hurl themselves upon the land and writhe in the light of the moon, the moon, the moon; they writhe in the light of the moon. They are among the most helpless creatures on the face of the earth. Fishermen, lovers, passers-by catch them up in their bare hands.
The Priest of the Sun lived with his disciple Cruz on the first floor of a two-story red-brick building in Los Angeles. The upstairs was maintained as a storage facility by the A. A. Kaul Office Supply Company. The basement was a kind of church. There was a signboard on the wall above the basement steps, encased in glass. In neat, movable white block letters on a black field it read:
HOLINESS PAN-INDIAN RESCUE MISSION
Rev. J. B. B. Tosamah, Pastor & Priest of the Sun Saturday 8:30 P.M.
"The Gospel According to John"
Sunday 8:30 P.M.
"The Way to Rainy Mountain"
Be kind to a white man today
The basement was cold and dreary, dimly illuminated by two 40-watt bulbs which were screwed into the side walls above the dais. This platform was made out of rough planks of various woods and dimensions, thrown together without so much as a hammer and nails; it stood seven or eight inches above the floor, and it supported the tin firebox and the crescent altar. Off to one side was a kind of lectern, decorated with red and yellow symbols of the sun and moon. In back of the dais there was a screen of purple drapery, threadbare and badly faded. On either side of the aisle which led to the altar there were chairs and crates, fashioned into pews. The walls were bare and gray and streaked with water. The only windows were small, rectangular openings near the ceiling, at ground level; the panes were covered over with a thick film of coal oil and dust, and spider webs clung to the frames or floated out like smoke across the room. The air was heavy and stale; odors of old smoke and incense lingered all around. The people had filed into the pews and were waiting silently.
Cruz, a squat, oily man with blue-black hair that stood out like spines from his head, stepped forward on the platform and raised his hands as if to ask for the quiet that already was. Everyone watched him for a moment; in the dull light his skin shone yellow with sweat. Turning slightly and extending his arm behind him, he said, "The Right Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah."
There was a ripple in the dark screen; the drapes parted and the Priest of the Sun appeared, moving shadow-like to the lectern. He was shaggy and awful-looking in the thin, naked light: big, lithe as a cat, narrow-eyed, suggesting in the whole of his look and manner both arrogance and agony. He wore black like a cleric; he had the voice of a great dog:
"'In principio erat Verbum.' Think of Genesis. Think of how it was before the world was made. There was nothing, the Bible says. 'And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.' It was dark, and there was nothing. There were no mountains, no trees, no rocks, no rivers. There was nothing. But there was darkness all around, and in the darkness something happened. Something happened! There was a single sound. Far away in the darkness there was a single sound. Nothing made it, but it was there; and there was no one to hear it, but it was there. It was there, and there was nothing else. It rose up in the darkness, little and still, almost nothing in itself—like a single soft breath, like the wind arising; yes, like the whisper of the wind rising slowly and going out into the early morning. But there was no wind. There was only the sound, little and soft. It was almost nothing in itself, the smallest seed of sound—but it took hold of the darkness and there was light; it took hold of the stillness and there was motion forever; it took hold of the silence and there was sound. It was almost nothing in itself, a single sound, a word—a word broken off at the darkest center of the night and let go in the awful void, forever and forever. And it was almost nothing in itself. It scarcely was; but it was, and everything began."
Just then a remarkable thing happened. The Priest of the Sun seemed stricken; he let go of his audience and withdrew into himself, into some strange potential of himself. His voice, which had been low and resonant, suddenly became harsh and flat; his shoulders sagged and his stomach protruded, as if he had held his breath to the limit of endurance; for a moment there was a look of amazement, then utter carelessness in his face. Conviction, caricature, callousness: the remainder of his sermon was a going back and forth among these.
"Thank you so much, Brother Cruz. Good evening, blood brothers and sisters, and welcome, welcome. Gracious me, I see lots of new faces out there tonight. Gracious me! May the Great Spirit—can we knock off that talking in the back there?—be with you always.
"'In the beginning was the Word'. I have taken as my text this evening the almighty Word itself. Now get this: 'There was a man sent from G-d, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.' Amen, brothers and sisters, Amen. And the riddle of the Word, 'In the beginning was the Word....' Now what do you suppose old John meant by that? That cat was a preacher, and, well, you know how it is with preachers; he had something big on his mind. Oh my, it was big; it was the Truth, and it was heavy, and old John hurried to set it down. And in his hurry he said too much. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.' It was the Truth, all right, but it was more than the Truth. The Truth was overgrown with fat, and the fat was G-d. The fat was John's G-d, and G-d stood between John and the Truth. Old John, see, he got up one morning and caught sight of the Truth. It must have been like a bolt of lightning, and the sight of it made him blind. And for a moment the vision burned on in the back of his eyes, and he knew what it was. In that instant he saw something he had never seen before and would never see again. That was the instant of revelation, inspiration, Truth. And old John, he must have fallen down on his knees. Man, he must have been shaking and laughing and crying and yelling and praying—all at the same time—and he must have been drunk and delirious with the Truth. You see, he had lived all his life waiting for that one moment, and it came, and it took him by surprise, and it was gone. And he said, 'In the beginning was the Word....' And, man, right then and there he should have stopped. There was nothing more to say, but he went on. He had said all there was to say, everything, but he went on. 'In the beginning was the Word....' Brothers and sisters, that was the Truth, the whole of it, the essential and eternal Truth, the bone and blood and muscle of the Truth. But he went on, old John, because he was a preacher. The perfect vision faded from his mind, and he went on. The instant passed, and then he had nothing but a memory. He was desperate and confused, and in his confusion he stumbled and went on. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.' He went on to talk about Jews and Jerusalem, Levites and Pharisees, Moses and Philip and Andrew and Peter. Don't you see? Old John had to go on. That cat had a whole lot at stake. He couldn't let the Truth alone. He couldn't see that he had come to the end of the Truth, and he went on. He tried to make it bigger and better than it was, but instead he only demeaned and encumbered it. He made it soft and big with fat. He was a preacher, and he made a complex sentence of the Truth, two sentences, three, a paragraph. He made a sermon and theology of the Truth. He imposed his idea of G-d upon the everlasting Truth. 'In the beginning was the Word....' And that is all there was, and it was enough.
"Now, brothers and sisters, old John was a white man, and the white man has his ways. Oh gracious me, he has his ways. He talks about the Word. He talks through it and around it. He builds upon it with syllables, with prefixes and suffixes and hyphens and accents. He adds and divides and multiplies the Word. And in all of this he subtracts the Truth. And, brothers and sisters, you have come here to live in the white man's world. Now the white man deals in words, and he deals easily, with grace and sleight of hand. And in his presence, here on his own ground, you are as children, mere babes in the woods. You must not mind, for in this you have a certain advantage. A child can listen and learn. The Word is sacred to a child.
"My grandmother was a storyteller; she knew her way around words. She never learned to read and write, but somehow she knew the good of reading and writing; she had learned how to listen and delight. She had learned that in words and in language, and there only, she could have whole and consummate being. She told me stories, and she taught me how to listen. I was a child and I listened. She could neither read nor write, you see, but she taught me how to live among her words, how to listen and delight. 'Storytelling; to utter and to hear...' And the simple act of listening is crucial to the concept of language, more crucial even than reading and writing, and language in turn is crucial to human society. There is proof of that, I think, in all the histories and prehistories of human experience. When that old Kiowa woman told me stories, I listened with only one ear. I was a child, and I took the words for granted. I did not know what all of them meant, but somehow I held on to them; I remembered them, and I remember them now. The stories were old and dear; they meant a great deal to my grandmother. It was not until she died that I knew how much they meant to her. I began to think about it, and then I knew. When she told me those old stories, something strange and good and powerful was going on. I was a child, and that old woman was asking me to come directly into the presence of her mind and spirit; she was taking hold of my imagination, giving me to share in the great fortune of her wonder and delight. She was asking me to go with her to the confrontation of something that was sacred and eternal. It was a timeless, timeless thing; nothing of her old age or of my childhood came between us.
"Children have a greater sense of the power and beauty of words than have the rest of us in general. And if that is so, it is because there occurs—or reoccurs—in the mind of every child something like a reflection of all human experience. I have heard that the human fetus corresponds in its development, stage by stage, to the scale of evolution. Surely it is no less reasonable to suppose that the waking mind of a child corresponds in the same way to the whole evolution of human thought and perception.
"In the white man's world, language, too—and the way in which the white man thinks of it—has undergone a process of change. The white man takes such things as words and literatures for granted, as indeed he must, for nothing in his world is so commonplace. On every side of him there are words by the millions, an unending succession of pamphlets and papers, letters and books, bills and bulletins, commentaries and conversations. He has diluted and multiplied the Word, and words have begun to close in upon him. He is sated and insensitive; his regard for language—for the Word itself—as an instrument of creation has diminished nearly to the point of no return. It may be that he will perish by the Word.
"But it was not always so with him, and it is not so with you. Consider for a moment that old Kiowa woman, my grandmother, whose use of language was confined to speech. And be assured that her regard for words was always keen in proportion as she depended upon them. You see, for her words were medicine; they were magic and invisible. They came from nothing into sound and meaning. They were beyond price; they could neither be bought nor sold. And she never threw words away.
"My grandmother used to tell me the story of Tai-me, of how Tai-me came to the Kiowas. The Kiowas were a sun dance culture, and Tai-me was their sun dance doll, their most sacred fetish; no medicine was ever more powerful. There is a story about the coming of Tai-me. This is what my grandmother told me:
Long ago there were bad times. The Kiowas were hungry and there was no food. There was a man who heard his children cry from hunger, and he began to search for food. He walked four days and became very weak. On the fourth day he came to a great canyon. Suddenly there was thunder and lightning. A Voice spoke to him and said, "Why are you following me? What do you want?" The man was afraid. The thing standing before him had the feet of a deer, and its body was covered with feathers. The man answered that the Kiowas were hungry. "Take me with you," the Voice said, "and I will give you whatever you want." From that day Tai-me has belonged to the Kiowas.
"Do you see? There, far off in the darkness, something happened. Do you see? Far, far away in the nothingness something happened. There was a voice, a sound, a word—and everything began. The story of the coming of Tai-me has existed for hundreds of years by word of mouth. It represents the oldest and best idea that man has of himself. It represents a very rich literature, which, because it was never written down, was always but one generation from extinction. But for the same reason it was cherished and revered. I could see that reverence in my grandmother's eyes, and I could hear it in her voice. It was that, I think, that old Saint John had in mind when he said, 'In the beginning was the Word....' But he went on. He went on to lay a scheme about the Word. He could find no satisfaction in the simple fact that the Word was; he had to account for it, not in terms of that sudden and profound insight, which must have devastated him at once, but in terms of the moment afterward, which was irrelevant and remote; not in terms of his imagination, but only in terms of his prejudice.
"Say this: 'In the beginning was the Word....' There was nothing. There was nothing! Darkness. There was darkness, and there was no end to it. You look up sometimes in the night and there are stars; you can see all the way to the stars. And you begin to know the universe, how awful and great it is. The stars lie out against the sky and do not fill it. A single star, flickering out in the universe, is enough to fill the mind, but it is nothing in the night sky. The darkness looms around it. The darkness flows among the stars, and beyond them forever. In the beginning that is how it was, but there were no stars. There was only the dark infinity in which nothing was. And something happened. At the distance of a star something happened, and everything began. The Word did not come into being, but it was. It did not break upon the silence, but it was older than the silence and the silence was made of it.
"Old John caught sight of something terrible. The thing standing before him said, 'Why are you following me? What do you want?' And from that day the Word has belonged to us, who have heard it for what it is, who have lived in fear and awe of it. In the Word was the beginning; 'In the beginning was the Word....'"
The Priest of the Sun appeared to have spent himself. He stepped back from the lectern and hung his head, smiling. In his mind the earth was spinning and the stars rattled around in the heavens. The sun shone, and the moon. Smiling in a kind of transport, the Priest of the Sun stood silent for a time while the congregation waited to be dismissed.
"Good night," he said, at last, "and get yours."
Why should Abel think of the fishes? He could not understand the sea; it was not of his world. It was an enchanted thing, too, for it lay under the spell of the moon. It bent to the moon, and the moon made a bright, shimmering course upon it, a broad track breaking apart and yet forever whole and infinite, undulating, melting away into furtive islands of light in the great gray, black, and silver sea. "Beautyway," "Bright Path," "Path of Pollen"—his friend Benally talked of these things. But Ben could not have been thinking of the moonlit sea. No, not the sea, not this. The sea...and small silversided fishes spawned mindlessly in correlation to the phase of the moon and the rise and fall of the tides. The thought of it made him sad, filled him with sad, unnamable longing and wonder.
It was cold. It was dark and cold and damp, and he could not open his eyes. He was in pain. He had fallen down; that was it. He was lying face down on the ground, and it was cold and there was a roaring of the sea in his brain and there was a fog rolling in from the sea. The pain was very great, and his body throbbed with it; his mind rattled and shook, wobbling now out of a spin, and he could not place the center of the pain. And he could not see. He could not open his eyes to see. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. When he awoke, he tried to move; he was numb with cold, but the effort to move brought new pain, sharp, then massive pain. It was so great that he fainted, and the next time he knew better than to move suddenly. The effect of the alcohol was wearing off. In another moment he began to retch, his whole body contracting, quaking involuntarily, and again the pain mounted and his mind was slipping away. He wanted to die. An hour passed in which he lay still and mindless in the cold. Beyond the steady crashing of the sea there were sounds of the city at night, ticking on like a clock toward the dawn. He could hear foghorns away in the distance, and he did not know what they were. Out in the immense gray silence of the sea, ships were steaming in from the Orient.
After a while he could open one of his eyes a little, enough to see. He was lying in a shallow depression in which there were weeds and small white stones and tufts of long gray grass. There was a fence on the bank before him; at his back there was a broad rocky beach, tilting to the sea. The fence was made of heavy wire mesh, and on the other side there were tractors and trailers, the long line of a roof. There were trademarks and lines of letters on the trailers—and on some of the cabs as well—but he could not make out the words. The yard was dark except for a single light on the wall of the warehouse, above the loading dock; but the light was across the yard, and it was dim and fuzzy in the fog. There were cans and bits of paper and broken glass against the fence; he was close to the fence; he could almost touch it. He raised himself to reach for the fence and the pain struck him again. He slumped, his body stiffening and folding over the pain, as if to crush it out. But the pain was too great, and the contraction only made it worse. Gradually he relaxed, and the pain ran to his hands. It concentrated there. His hands were broken, and he could not move them. Some of his fingers were stuck together with blood, and the blood was dry and black. The sight of his hands made him sick. His mind boggled and withdrew...and it came around again to the fishes.
He had loved his body. It had been hard and quick and beautiful; it had been useful, quickly and surely responsive to his mind and will. He was thick in the chest and shoulders, not so powerful as his grandfather, but longer of reach and more agile. And his hands were slender and strong. His legs were lean and tapered, long-muscled, too thin for a white man's legs: the legs of an Indian. Once he could have run all day, really run, not jogging but moving fast over distances, without ruining his feet or burning himself out. He had never been sick until he was sick with alcohol. The disease which killed his mother and Vidal never even touched him, as far as he knew. But once he had fallen from a horse, and for days afterward there was a sharp, recurrent pain in the small of his back. Francisco chanted and prayed; the old man applied herbs and powders and potions and salves, and nothing worked. And at last Abel went to fat Josie. She was getting on in years by then—and he was almost a grown man—but she picked him up from behind as if he were a sack full of straw and drew him close against her so that he was sitting on the great hump of her belly, and her mighty arms tightened under his ribs until he could not breathe. And then she shook him—not much, gently—until he was loose in his arms and legs. She put him down with a wink and a grunt, and he was all right again. Fat Josie. His body was mangled and racked with pain. His body, like his mind, had turned on him; it was his enemy.
Angela put her white hands to his body.
Abel put his hands to her white body.
Forever is the sea. Away in the fog there was a crashing of the sea. He thought of the trial, six years before. After six years he could remember the white man's body, how it lay limp and lifeless in the night rain, bright like phosphorus almost; the angle of the body and its limb; the white shining hand, open and obscene. But he could remember very little about the trial. There were charges, questions, and answers; it was ceremonial, orderly, civilized, and it had almost nothing to do with him.
"I mean," said Father Olguin, "that in his own mind it was not a man he killed. It was something else."
"An evil spirit."
"Something like that, yes."
"Can you be more precise, Father?"
The priest wanted to affect great humility and say, "Ah no, my son," but instead he said: "We are dealing with a psychology about which we know very little. I see the manifestations of it every day, but I have no real sense of it—not any longer. I relinquished my claim to the psychology of witchcraft when I left home and became a priest. Anyway, there is no way to be objective or precise about such a thing. What shall I say? I believe that this man was moved to do what he did by an act of the imagination so compelling as to be inconceivable to us."
"Yes, yes, yes. But these are the facts: he killed a man—took the life of another human being. He did so of his own volition—he has admitted that—he was armed for no other reason. He committed a brutal and premeditated act which we have no choice but to call by its right name."
"Homicide is a legal term, but the law is not my context; and certainly it isn't his—"
"Murder is a moral term. Death is a universal human term."
When he had told his story once, simply, Abel refused to speak. He sat like a rock in his chair, and after a while no one expected or even wanted him to speak. That was good, for he should not have known what more to say. Word by word by word these men were disposing of him in language, their language, and they were making a bad job of it. They were strangely uneasy, full of hesitation, reluctance. He wanted to help them. He could understand, however imperfectly, what they were doing to him, but he could not understand what they were doing to each other. When it was finished, he took the hand which was held out to him. There was such pain in the priest's eyes that he could not bear to look into them. He was embarrassed, humiliated; he hated the priest for suffering so.
He had killed the white man. It was not a complicated thing, after all; it was very simple. It was the most natural thing in the world. Surely they could see that, these men who meant to dispose of him in words. They must know that he would kill the white man again, if he had the chance, that there could be no hesitation whatsoever. For he would know what the white man was, and he would kill him if he could. A man kills such an enemy if he can.
He awoke coughing; there was blood in his throat and mouth. He was shuddering with cold and pain. He had been moaning softly until he choked; now he was gasping for breath. There was a faint vibration under him. Be quiet! He had to be quiet; something was going on. He peered into the night: all around the black land against the star-bright, moon-bright sky. So far had his vision reached that the owl, when he saw it, seemed to fly in his face and break apart, torrential, ghostly, silent as a dream. He was delirious now and gasping for breath; he hurried on in his mind, holding the owl away in the corner of his eye. The owl watched him without meaning, and something was going on. There was the faintest tremor at his feet. The night was infinite and serene, and there was an owl in the darkness and a tremor in the earth. He got down on his knees and put his ear to the ground. Men were running toward him. He left the road and hid away in the brush, and soon he could see them in the distance, the old men running after evil, their white leggings holding in motion like smoke above the ground. They passed in the night, full of tranquillity, certitude. There was no sound of breathing or sign of effort about them. They ran as water runs.
There was a burning at his eyes.
The runners after evil ran as water runs, deep in the channel, in the way of least resistance, no resistance. His skin crawled with excitement; he was overcome with longing and loneliness, for suddenly he saw the crucial sense in their going, of old men in white leggings running after evil in the night. They were whole and indispensable in what they did; everything in creation referred to them. Because of them, perspective, proportion, design in the universe. Meaning because of them. They ran with great dignity and calm, not in the hope of anything, but hopelessly; neither in fear nor hatred nor despair of evil, but simply in recognition and with respect. Evil was. Evil was abroad in the night; they must venture out to the confrontation; they must reckon dues and divide the world.
Now, here, the world was open at his back. He had lost his place. He had been long ago at the center, had known where he was, had lost his way, had wandered to the end of the earth, was even now reeling on the edge of the void. The sea reached and leaned, licked after him and withdrew, falling off forever in the abyss. And the fishes...
Age and date of birth:
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The walls of his cell were white, or perhaps they were gray or green; he could not remember. After a while he could not imagine anything beyond the walls except the yard outside, the lavatory and the dining hall—or even the walls, really. They were abstractions beyond the reach of his understanding, not in themselves confinement but symbols of confinement. The essential character of the walls consisted not in their substance but in their appearance, the bare one-dimensional surface that was white, perhaps, or gray, or green.
Do you prefer the company of men or of women?
Do you drink alcoholic beverages to excess often, occasionally, not at all?
Which would you prefer to watch, a tennis match or a bullfight?
Do you consider yourself of superior, above average, average, below average intelligence?
He tried to think where the trouble had begun, what the trouble was. There was trouble; he could admit that to himself, but he had no real insight into his own situation. Maybe, certainly, that was the trouble; but he had no way of knowing. He wanted a drink; he wanted to be drunk. The bus leaned and creaked; he felt the surge of motion and the violent shudder of the whole machine on the gravel road. The motion and the sound seized upon him. Then suddenly he was overcome with a desperate loneliness, and he wanted to cry out. He looked toward the fields, but a low rise of the land lay before them. The town had settled away into the earth.
There was a curve and the bus pitched and swung. It made him giddy, and he wanted to laugh. He was wearing a pair of brown-and-white shoes which fat Josie had given to him. They had belonged to a man for whom fat Josie's daughter had worked as a housekeeper in the city. The man died and his widow gave away his clothes. The shoes were beautiful, almost new, thinsoled, sharply pointed, with angles and whorls of perforation. There were metal taps on the heels, and the leather creaked. They were too large for Abel, but he wore them anyway, had waited a long time for the occasion to wear them. And now and then in the bus he looked at them, would slide the instep and toe of one and then the other along the backs of his legs to remove the dust and bring out the shine, would flex the soles to hear them squeak.
But the shoes were brown and white. They were new, almost, and shiny and beautiful; and they squeaked when he walked. In the only frame of reference he had ever known, they called attention to themselves, simply, honestly. They were brown and white; they were finely crafted and therefore admirable in the way that the work of a good potter or painter or silversmith is admirable: the object is beautiful in itself, worthy of appreciation as a whole and for its own sake. But now and beyond his former frame of reference, the shoes called attention to Abel. They were brown and white; they were conspicuously new and too large; they shone; they clattered and creaked. And they were nailed to his feet. There were enemies all around, and he knew that he was ridiculous in their eyes.
Please complete each of the following in one or two words. (It is important that you complete this section as quickly as possible, filling in each of the blanks with the first response that comes to mind.)
I would like _____.
I am not _____.
Rich people are _____.
I am afraid of _____.
It is important that I _____.
I believe strongly in _____.
The thing I remember most clearly is _____.
As a child I enjoyed _____.
Someday I shall _____.
People who laugh loudly are _____.
"No test is completely valid," she said. "Some are more valid than others."
But Milly believed in tests, questions and answers, words on paper. She was a lot like Ben. She believed in Honor, Industry, the Second Chance, the Brotherhood of Man, the American Dream, and him—Abel; she believed in him. After a while he began to suspect as much, and...
That night—he could not remember how it came about; he had got a little drunk—he made love to her. He had been watching her. She was always coming around when he and Ben were at home. There was no shyness in her. She had looked him squarely in the eye, had spoken up and laughed—she was always laughing—from the very first. Easy laughter was wrong in a woman, dangerous and wrong. She was plain in the face; her eyes were too small and her mouth too large. But she had yellow hair and her body was supple and ripe. He had watched her, how she walked away, her feet close together and her steps swinging not from the knees but from the hips, slowly, easily; and her hips were full and rolling. She had big breasts.
She was talking to him and laughing, and her laughter was real and ringing. But he was sullen. He was not listening to her but wanting her, thinking of how to have her. And she knew what he was thinking, and her voice and laughter grew sudden and a little too thin and she began to play with her hands. It was a long time since she had given herself to a man. She had nearly forgotten what to think about, worry about, dwell upon. And it was all right: she was big and plain and breathing hard, but she felt small and beautiful and dear among her things. The flat where she lived was dingy and cheaply done, but she said to herself that it was charming and quaint and tastefully arranged. Her bedroom was colorless and cluttered with brassy trinkets and smelled of stale and sour air, but, no, she said, there was a kind of warmth and character to it, milk glass and marble and brownish photographs in antique oval frames; there was a fragrance of clean, fresh linen and lilac water. They were sitting on the side of her bed.
He drew her to him carefully and placed his mouth very lightly on her arm. His hand rose along her arm, and her arm grew taut. She had stopped talking. She was responsive and soft and yielding in his arms. He kissed her and stroked her hair. He unfastened her dress and laid it open and drew it down from her shoulders; her shoulders were round and freckled and smooth. He unhooked her brassiere and it fell away from her breasts, which were white and brown-tipped and good-smelling. He fondled one of her breasts. Her mouth was open and working slowly under his own, like a small animal, and she arched her back and thrust her breasts out to him. He kissed her mouth and her eyes and her hair and her throat and her shoulders. She closed her eyes and lay back, still and seemingly relaxed, save that her skin sprang to his touch, until he kissed her nipples. He held one of her breasts with the tips of his fingers, so lightly and carefully that it might have been a bead of rain, and sucked it for a long time. She moaned a little, cradling his head, and her legs stirred against him. In another moment she turned on her side and drew her dress and her half slip and her panties down over one hip, and he slid his hand down from her breast and along the slope of her side. She was wide in the hips and the twist of her body so, with her shoulders forward and her breasts outthrust against him, accentuated the curve and width of her hips, and they were smooth and round and white. He moved his hand slowly to the top of the curve of her hip, over, and down to her buttocks. She set her feet on the floor and arched her body so that her buttocks closed together and were tight and he worked her clothing down to her ankles and she got free of it. He kissed her on the mouth again and returned his hand to the full white lumps of her buttocks, which were relaxed and loose and heavy now, and glazed with sweat, to the deep cleavage between the long dark tufts of hair, damp and fine and crinkled. And her own hands were gentle, touched him gently. He waited, keening to her, but her excitement never made her wild. At the height of her desire he held her away for an instant; she was openmouthed and moaning. Her eyes rolled under their lids and her whole body trembled, and her body was full and white and glowing and glistening. His nostrils flared to the odor of her body, and he was brutal with her.
The sea crashed and roared. There was a slow, terrible burning at his eyes, and he could not move his hands. His whole body was breaking open to the roar of the sea.
Tosamah, orator, physician, Priest of the Sun, son of Hummingbird, spoke:
"'Peyote is a small, spineless, carrot-shaped cactus growing in the Rio Grande Valley and southward. It contains nine narcotic alkaloids of the isoquinoline series, some of them strychnine-like in physiological action, the rest morphine-like. Physiologically, the salient characteristic of peyote is its production of visual hallucinations or color visions, as well as kinesthetic, olfactory, and auditory derangements.' Or, to put it another way, that little old woolly booger turns you on like a light, man. Daddy peyote is the vegetal representation of the sun."
The Priest of the Sun was going to conduct a prayer meeting, and he had painted himself for it. The part in his hair was a bright yellow line; there were vertical red lines on either side of his face; and there were yellow half moons under his eyes. He was a holy, sinister sight. Everything was ready. He stepped upon the platform with a gourd rattle and staff in one hand and the paraphernalia satchel in the other. One by one the celebrants followed and sat down in a circle. Cristóbal Cruz was the fireman, Napoleon Kills-in-the-Timber the drummer.
The fire blazed in a pan at the center of the circle. The Priest of the Sun sat west of the fire, between the fireman and the drummer. Before him was the low earthen altar in the shape of a crescent, horns to the east. It rose from either end to the center, where there was a small flat space, a kind of cradle for the father peyote. There was a fine groove which ran the length of the altar; the groove symbolized the life of man from birth, ascending from the southern tip to the crest of power and wisdom at the center, and thence in descent through old age to death at the northern tip. When everyone was seated in place, the Priest of the Sun laid a bunch of sage sprigs on the altar, and there he placed the fetish.
The drum was a potbellied, cast-iron, three-legged No. 6 trade kettle with the bail ears filed off, half filled with water in which live coals and herbs were dropped. The buckskin head was made taut, and the sound of the drum was mellow and low like distant thunder. The Priest of the Sun spread a clean white cloth before him on the floor, and on this he placed the things which he removed from the paraphernalia satchel:
A fine fan of fancy pheasant feathers.
A slender beaded drumstick.
A packet of brown cigarette papers.
A bundle of sage sprigs.
A smokestick bearing the sacred water-bird symbol.
A pouch of powdered cedar incense.
An eagle-bone whistle.
A paper bag containing forty-four peyote buttons.
The first ceremony was begun. The Priest of the Sun made a cigarette out of Bull Durham and brown paper, then passed the makings to his left. When everyone had made a cigarette, Cruz took up a burning stick and handed it to Tosamah. The Priest of the Sun lit his cigarette and passed the stick to his left. When all were smoking, he prayed, saying, "Be with us tonight." Then he held his cigarette out to the fetish, that it also might smoke. Others prayed.
The incense-blessing ceremony followed. The Priest of the Sun sprinkled dry rubbed cedar on the fire, then made four circular motions toward the flames, holding in his hand the bag of peyote buttons. Having done this, he removed four of the buttons and passed the remainder to his left. Kneeling, he bruised a tuft of sage between his palms, inhaling deeply of the scent, and rubbed his hands on his head and chest, shoulders and arms and thighs. The others imitated him, first holding out their hands to receive the blessing of the incense, then rubbing themselves.
Then all the celebrants ate of the peyote buttons, spitting out the woolly centers. From then on until dawn there were songs, prayers, the sound of the rattle and the drum. The fire leaped upward from the pan in a single flame, and the flame wavered and danced. Everyone was looking at it, and after a while there was a terrible restlessness, a sheer wave of exhilaration in the room. There was no center to it; it was everywhere at once. Everyone felt himself young and whole and powerful. No one was sick or weary. Everyone wanted to run and jump and laugh and breathe deeply of the air. Everyone wanted to shout that he was hale and playful and everlastingly alive, but no one said anything; they waited. And directly the fire stood still, and everyone grew sad. There was a great falling down of the spirit, and everyone rocked back and forth in misery and despair. The flames gave off wisps of black smoke, and an awful sense of grief rose up in the room. Everyone thought of death, and the thought was overwhelming in itself. Everyone was caught up in the throes of a deadly depression. There was general nausea, and the dullest pain of the mind. And slowly, slowly the flame hardened and grew bright. It receded to a point at the depth of vision; there was a pale aura all about it, and in this there began to radiate splinters of light, white and red and yellow. And the process of radiation quickened and grew. At last there was nothing in the world but a single point of light, brilliant, radiant to infinity; and from it there arose in the radiance wave upon wave of purest color, rose and red and scarlet and carmine and wine. And to these was added a sudden burst of yellow: butter and rust and gold and saffron. And final fire—the one essence of all fires from the beginning of time, there in the most beautiful brilliant bead of light. And flares of blue and green emerged from the bead and burst, and it was not the blue and green of turquoise and emeralds, or of water and grass, but far more intensely beautiful than these, crystalline and infused with the glare and glitter of the sun. And there was sound. The gourd danced in Tosamah's hand, and there was a rushing and rolling of rain on the roof, a rockslide rumbling, roaring. And beneath and beyond, transcendent, was the drum. The drumbeats gathered in the room and the flame quivered to the beat of the drum and thunder rolled in the somewhere hills. The sound was building, building. The first and last beats of the drum were together in the room and the gulf between was growing tight with sound and the sound was terrible and deep, shivering like the pale, essential flame. And then the sound did not diminish but backed away to the walls, and everyone waited. And at the center of the circle, rising and holding over the fetish and the flame, there were voices, one after another:
"Be with us tonight. Come to us now in bright colors and sweet smoke. Help us to make our way. Give us laughter and good feelings always. Listen, I want to honor you with my prayer. I want to give something, these words. Listen."
"Well, I jes' want to say thanks to all my good frens here tonight for givin' me this here honor, to be fireman an' all. This here shore is a good meetin', huh? I know we all been seein' them good visions an' all, an' there's a whole lot of frenhood an' good will aroun' here, huh? I jes' want to pray out loud for prosper'ty an' worl' peace an' brotherly love. In Jesus' name. Amen."
"Great Spirit be with us. We gone crazy for you to be with us poor Indi'ns. We been bad long time 'go, just raise it hell an' kill each others all the time. An' that's why you 'bandon us, turn you back on us. Now we pray to you for help. Help us! We been suffer like hell some time now. Long, long time 'go we throw it in the towel. Gee whiz, we want be frens with white mans. Now I talk to you, Great Spirit. Come back to us! Hear me what I'm say tonight. I am sad because we die. The ol' people they gone now...oh, oh. They tol' us to do it this way, sing an' smoke an' pray.... [Here Kills-in-the-Timber began to wail, and his body quaked with weeping. No one was ashamed, and after a time he regained possession of himself and went on.] Our childrens are need your help pretty damn bad, Great Spirit. They don' have no respec' no more, you know? They are become lazy, no-good-for-nothing drunkerts. Thank you."
"Look! Look! There are blue and purple horses...a house made of dawn...."
At midnight there was a lull in the sound and motion of the world. The fire was going out, and the circle of men swayed in and out very slowly to the small, pulsating flame. And from every angle of vision, there at the point of the flame was the fetish; it seemed to swell and contract in the silence, and the odor of sage became so heavy in the room that it burned in the nostrils. The Priest of the Sun arose and went out. Far off a juke box began to fill one corner of the night with brassy music, and there were occasional sounds of traffic in the streets. Then in the agony of stasis they heard it, one shrill, piercing note and then another, and another, and another: four blasts of the eagle-bone whistle. In the four directions did the Priest of the Sun, standing painted in the street, serve notice that something holy was going on in the universe.
Abel's face was cut and broken, and there was a burning at his eyes, a terrible irritation at the corners of his eyes, and he wanted to bring his hands to them. The pain jarred him wide awake. One of his eyes opened a little, and through the slit he could see his hands; they were twisted and mangled, the thumbs splayed back and broken at the joints. He could remember that each of his thumbs had been slowly, almost gently, twisted inward to the palms until the bone above the first knuckle was screwed tight into the joint and at last the ball of the bone was sprung from the socket with a loud popping sound. His hands were black with blood and huge with swelling, like rubber gloves. The fog thickened about him until he could no longer see even his hands. He had the sense that his whole body was shaking violently, tossing and whipping, flopping like a fish. Then he realized that beyond the pain of his broken body he was cold, colder than he had ever been before. He tried to cry out, but only a hoarse rattle and wheezing came from his throat.
Sometimes he would go to fat Josie after his mother died, and fat Josie would speak kindly to him or give him sweet things to eat. And when no one else was there she would make faces and carry on like an idiot, trying to make him laugh. He was a child who did not laugh, and fat Josie had no children of her own, only the daughter who was grown and lived away in the city. Francisco clicked his tongue and said that his grandsons ought to be left alone, but fat Josie just lifted her leg and broke wind, sneering the old man away. And the children huddled against her and laid their heads on her great brown arms. And the week after Vidal was buried, Abel went to her for the last time as a child, and Francisco never knew. She crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue and danced around the kitchen on her huge bare feet, snorting and breaking wind like a horse. She carried her enormous breasts in her hands, and they spilled over and bobbed and swung about like water bags, and her great haunches quivered and heaved, straining against her ancient, greasy dress, and her broad shining face was cracked in a wonderfully stupid, fourteeth-missing grin, and all the while tears were streaming from her eyes.
He was afraid. He heard the sea breaking, saw shadowy shapes in the swirling fog, and he was afraid. He had always been afraid. Forever at the margin of his mind there was something to be afraid of, something to fear. He did not know what it was, but it was always there, real, imminent, unimaginable.
"He was not afraid, no, sir," Bowker said. Abel was listening to him, self-conscious, growing angry and confused that this white man should talk about him, account for him, as if he were not there.
"Mitch—I mean Corporal Rate—and me were dug in on the side of thirteen, and we could see south along the ridge. The shelling had stopped a little while before and Corporal Rate and Private Marshall and me were the only ones to get out—except for him, I mean—and, hell, we didn't even know he was still alive. He must have been knocked out. Well, sir, Marshall, he got ahead of Mitch and me. He went on over the top of thirteen, and Mitch—Corporal Rate—and me dug in when we heard the tank coming up. We could see both sides of the ridge, sir. That tank was just zigzagging up to the ridge slow and easy, just cleaning up, sir. Reconnaissance. I had the glasses on it. Well, I was studying that mother pretty hard, and pretty soon Mitch, he punched me and pointed down the hill. It was him, sir, the chief, and he was moving around. He had raised up and was looking at the ridge, looking for that tank, sir. Jesus, that's the first we knew of him being alive. Everybody else was dead, see, and that tank was just cleaning up, making sure. Anyway, he was just coming to, I guess, and that tank was at the ridge. Jesus, sir. Well, he put his head down at the last minute and played dead. We didn't know if they had seen him or not, and, Jesus, that tank hitched over and it was coming right down on him, it looked like. But they hadn't seen him, and it went on by, about as close as it could without running over him. Jesus! Mitch—Corporal Rate—he swore and I was holding my breath. And that's when the chief here got up, sir. Oh Jesus, he just all of a sudden got up and started jumping around and yelling at that G-ddam tank, and it was maybe thirty, forty yards is all down the hill. Oh Jesus, sir. He was giving it the finger and whooping it up and doing a G-ddam war dance, sir. Me and Mitch, we just groaned. We couldn't believe what was going on. And here he was, hopping around with his finger up in the air and giving it to that tank in Sioux or Algonquin or something, for crissake. And he didn't have no weapon or helmet even. And, sir, that G-ddam tank all of a sudden crunched down and bounced—yes, sir, bounced, actually bounced to a stop—and they all started shooting at him, pop, pop, ping, ping, pow! Jesus, we could see the leaves kicking up all around him, and him whooping it up like a—like a—I don't know what, sir. Yes, sir, clapping whoops from his mouth just like in the movies—and all the time that finger was up theirs, sir. Then finally he took off through the trees kind of crazy and casual like, dancing! He would kind of dodge around, then let out a whoop and do a G-ddam two-step or something and light out again, giving it to them behind and underhand, and them G-ddam bullets going pop, pop, ping, ping, pow. Oh Jesus, sir. Jesus!"
Oh G-d, his hands hurt.
There was a black hole in the fog, and for a moment the light above the loading dock receded and became a point, sharp and minute and far away; and then the swirling fog closed over it again and it drew close like the moon and began to throb.
And they were getting close to the river, and a cloud drew across the face of the moon and the center of the cloud was lead gray and full of dark patches like smoke and they also moved across the moon, and the edge of the cloud was silver and sharp and billowing even as it moved across the throbbing November moon. And other, elongated clouds hung out against the sky, the near ones moving like drift on the water, and the dunes were glowing faintly, almost vibrating with low light. He crept along behind his brother, bending low and weaving after him through the brush-covered dunes, going silently on the cold ripples of sand. And Vidal took smaller, higher steps as they approached the water and held the gleaming shotgun ready, perfectly balanced and slightly away from his body. Downriver, in an angle of the black land, Abel could see the moonlight glistening on the broad curve of the river and hear beyond the rise of the dunes the lapping of the water. Then Vidal, without looking around, motioned for him to be still; he crouched and waited. They were at the base of a long drift, the opposite side of which sloped gently down to the riverbank. Vidal got down on his stomach and crawled on his elbows and knees to the top of the drift. He motioned again, and Abel followed. From the top of the drift they could see a good stretch of the river; at the far reaches it gleamed and glittered like crumpled foil, but directly below it was black and invisible, for there was a long thicket of willows and tamarack on the opposite bank. There were narrows upstream, where the river branched around a bar of rocks and reeds. And just beyond, where the streams converged, there was the faintest quiver on the moonlit water, a dance of lights against the black hills in the distance. Then Abel held his breath. The gleam of metal caught his eye, and he saw Vidal taking aim into the darkness. He flinched in anticipation of the shot and searched the river below. He could see nothing at first. But even before the gun roared, the black water shattered and crawled. The gray geese, twenty-four of them, broke from the river, lowly, steadily on the rise of sound, straining to take hold on the air. Their effort was so great that they seemed for a time to hang beating in the willows, helplessly huge and frantic. But one after another they rose southward on their great thrashing wings, trailing bright beads of water in their wake. Then they were away, and he had seen how they craned their long slender necks to the moon, ascending slowly into the far reaches of the winter night. They made a dark angle of the sky, acute, perfect; and for one moment they lay out like an omen on the bright fringe of a cloud.
Did you see? Oh, they were beautiful! Oh Vidal, Oh my brother, did you see?
An awful stillness returned on the water, and without looking away Vidal pointed. Abel could barely see it then, the dark shape floating away in the blackness. And when he waded after it, the current was slow and steady and there was no sound on the river. The bird held still in the cold black water, watching him. He was afraid, but the bird made no move, no sound. He took it up in his hands and it was heavy and warm and the feathers about its keel were hot and sticky with blood. He carried it out into the moonlight, and its bright black eyes, in which no terror was, were wide of him, wide of the river and the land, level and hard upon the ring of the moon in the southern sky.
The moon and the water bird.
What, honey? What is it?
Oh Milly oh G-d the pain my hands my hands are broken.
He tried to open the other eye, both eyes wide, but he could not. He stared into the blackness that pressed upon and within him. The backs of his eyelids were black and murky like the fog; microscopic shapes, motes and bits of living thread floated obliquely down, were buoyed up again, and vanished in the great gulf of his blindness. He did not know how to tell of his pain; it was beyond his power to name and assimilate.
Oh Milly the water birds were beautiful I wish you could have seen them I wanted my brother to see them they were flying high and far away in the night sky and there was a full white moon and a ring around the moon and the clouds were long and bright and moving fast and my brother was alive and the water birds were so far away in the south and I wanted him to see them they were beautiful and please I said please did you see them how they pointed with their heads to the moon and flew through the ring of the moon....
"Did you like it, Milly? It was good again, wasn't it, Milly?"
"Oh honey, I liked it."
"I'm going out tomorrow, Milly. I'm going to look for a job."
"You bet. You'll find a good job if you keep looking. Sometimes it's hard."
"I'm going to find one tomorrow, Milly. You'll see."
"I know it, honey."
"Listen, I'm going to get a good job, and Saturday or Sunday you and me and Ben, let's go to the beach, O.K.?"
"Oh yes, I hope so."
"It was good again, Milly."
"It was lovely. I love you."
They made love in the afternoons when she came home early from work. Sometimes he wasn't there when she came in, and she knew that he was drunk again, sick, in trouble maybe. Then she kept still and waited for the night, and when it came she listened to music or ironed clothes or went to the movies. And afterward she undressed and got into bed and lay very still in the dark, listening. And at such times she was very lonely and afraid, and she wanted to cry. But she did not cry.
And somewhere beyond the cold and the fog and the pain there was the black and infinite sea, bending to the moon, and there was the cold white track of the moon on the water. And far out in the night where nothing else was, the fishes lay out in the black waters, holding still against all the force and motion of the sea; or close to the surface, darting and rolling and spinning like lures, they played in the track of the moon. And far away inland there were great gray migrant geese riding under the moon.
She had been in Los Angeles four years, and in all that time she had not talked to anyone. There were people all around; she knew them, worked with them—sometimes they would not leave her alone—but she did not talk to them, tell them anything that mattered in the least. She greeted them and joked with them and wished them well, and then she withdrew and lived her life. No one knew what she thought or felt or who she was.
And one day he was there by her door, waiting for her. It was a hot, humid afternoon and the streets were full of people when she walked home. And he was waiting for her. They had not known each other very long, and he was still full of shyness. He was waiting for her, glad just to see her, and she knew it. He was saying something, trying to tell her why he had come; and suddenly she realized how lonely they both were, how unspeakably lonely. She began to shake her head and bite her lip, and the tears rolled down her cheeks and she made no sound except that now and then she had to catch her breath, crying as an old person cries. And through her tears she saw all his confusion and alarm, how pitifully funny he was, and she had to let go of all the sobbing laughter that was in her—and later on, when their desire was spent, a little of the pain.
I was a dirty child with yellow hair and thin little arms and legs that were big at the joints. I didn't wear shoes, and the soles of my feet were hard and cracked and black with dirt. I could run like a rabbit. Once, when Daddy was fencing off a lot behind the barn, I ran into a strand of barbed wire and cut myself deep across the chest. Here, give me your hand. These are the scars, almost invisible now—the skin is shinier and a little lighter in color, that's all—and if you lift or squeeze me there so that the skin is relaxed, tiny ridges form in the scars. There are little blue and purple veins beneath the scars, blue mostly. Isn't it funny how the veins go here and there, back and forth, all over, all over?
The earth where we lived was hard and dry and brick red, and Daddy plowed and planted and watered the land, but in the end there was only a little yield. And it was the same year after year after year; it was always the same, and at last Daddy began to hate the land, began to think of it as some kind of enemy, his own very personal and deadly enemy. I remember he came in from the fields at evening, having been beaten by the land, and he said nothing. He never said anything; he just sat down and thought about his enemy. And sometimes his eyes grew wide and his mouth fell open in disbelief, as if all at once he knew, knew that he had tried everything and failed, and there was nothing left to do but sit there in wonder of his enemy's strength. And every day before dawn he went to the fields without hope, and I watched him, sometimes saw him at sunrise, far away in the empty land, very small on the skyline, turning to stone even as he moved up and down the rows.
Daddy loved me; it wasn't anything that he could put into words or deeds beyond the simple act of turning each day against the land, but I knew it. It was a deep, desperate kind of love; there was no laughter to it at all. "Listen," he said, "you've got to get away," and his eyes were almost wild with the thought of it. He gave me the money that he had been saving against that moment for seventeen years, and together we walked to Fletcher's farm, and Daley Fletcher drove us to the railroad in his father's truck. The train came and Daddy handed me the suitcase, and when I took it I touched his big, scarred, sunburned hand, and it was hard and gnarled like a root and good to smell like deep, dark earth that has just been turned, and I said, "Bye, Daddy—Daddy, goodbye."
And I never saw him again, and I remember still how he looked at the railroad station in his overalls and striped coat and the shiny black shoes that I saw him wear only two or three times in all those years. And after a while the money he had given to me was gone, but I was big and strong and I knew how to work and I worked as a waitress after school and got up before daylight to read and study. And in my last year at school I fell in love with Matt and married Matt. We were happy and nothing bad happened to us for a while. We had a baby; she was soft and beautiful and we named her Carrie. And when Matt went away and did not come back, I gave all of my love to Carrie; it was all right because of her, because of Carrie. I found a job and someone to stay with Carrie, and on weekends I played with Carrie and sang Carrie to sleep and in the afternoons if the weather was good I took Carrie to the playground and pushed her in the swing and Carrie held on tight with her little hands and laughed and laughed, Carrie laughed.
And Carrie was four. She was crying and I went into her room and she was burning up with fever, and in the night she had gone sallow and pale and weak. Her voice was strange and thin, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She seemed very small and delicate and beautiful. I went downstairs and called the doctor from the drugstore on the corner. And as I was leaving, Mr. Hitchcock spoke to me—hello, I guess, or can I help you—and I looked at him and his mouth fell open and I saw all my fear and helplessness in his face. And for no reason at all he laughed; the sound of it seemed to horrify him.
The doctor came and took Carrie away in an ambulance. She seemed to know what was happening to her, and at the hospital she lay very still, looking at the ceiling. She seemed not afraid but curious, strangely thoughtful and wise. To me that was the most unreasonable, terrifying thing of all: that my child should be so calm in the face of death. She seemed to come of age, to live out a whole lifetime in those few hours, and at last there was a look of infinite wisdom and old age on her little face. And sometime in the night she asked me if she was going to die. And do you see how it was? There was no time for deceit, and I didn't even have the right to look away. "Yes," I said. And she asked me what it was like to die, and I answered, "I don't know." "I love you, Milly," she said; she had never called me by my name before. In a little while she looked very hard at the ceiling, and her eyes blazed for a moment. Then she turned her head a little and closed her eyes. She seemed very tired. "I love you so much," she whispered, and she did not wake up again.
He had to get up. He would die of exposure unless he got up. His legs were all right; at least his legs were not broken. He brought one of his knees forward, then the other, and he ma
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