I have been working for some time on a story about Pauley, a man as tall as a tree. When we encounter Pauley in this selection he has come through a terrible ship wreck and has been washed ashore near a tribe of people living near that seashore. They bring him back to health and then he feels the need to return home.
I am finding that in writing this novel I have a desire to express color the way that Willa Cather did, particularly in Death Comes for the Archbishop. I am a visual artist so color fills my mind, but I rarely try to express in words the sensation of color. So my first attempt is to work at this in a more deliberate way through Pauley's story. My apologies to all the color-blind readers whose attention may be lost in such renderings.
Selection from Saint Pauley
The children were carefully lined up with their faces washed. The sad women stood behind them with their hands on the children's shoulders. The men circled around Pauley. A deep hum emanated from their throats, undulating in peculiar and communal rhythms. Suddenly as one, the entire tribe took a step to the left, their shoulders swaying from the movement. The chief clicked his tongue rapidly and the tribe took two steps again to the left. The chief signaled again and they took three steps to the left. On the third signal one of the women began to sing a soft song. Pauley could not understand the words for they were in an ancient tongue. Voice by voice tribe members added to their song and it swelled gently. He was mesmerized. The chief broke the circle and stepped in front of the man next to him. Each tribe member followed the other as the chief circled ever closer to Pauley as he stepped around the inside of the human circle. It was not long that a human spiral sang and swayed quietly around him.
Pauley was overcome with peace and a profound sense of belonging. The circle of song gently curled more tightly around him. Pauley closed his eyes absorbing the vibration of voices and movement. He opened his eyes again only when he felt a brush on his arm. His eyes fluttered open to a pale, violet light touching everyone from above. He looked into the faces of those circled around him and their eyes were alive with joy. Their teeth flashed in brilliant smiles. All sorrow was gone. The chief pointed to the sky and Pauley lifted his head. A thousand shining angel wings circled above their heads, flashing in brilliance and beauty. The opalescent orchid, sky magenta, indigo violet and purple were laced with silver threads of light. Polly blinked twice, closed his eyes could feel the brush of wings against his face. When he opened his eyes again all was changed back to its earthly nature. The tribe, however, still had joy on their faces. The chief clicked his tongue three times. The whole tribe took a breath as if one and whispered a corporate and heartfelt word into the air. Pauley leaned over and asked the chief in a low whisper, "What does that mean?"
"It means ‘Thank you’,” whispered the chief. Pauley's jaw hung open. The tribe started to disperse, some moving back toward their huts, others walking out onto the sand, some stood where they were. The children clung to the women, afraid and overwhelmed by the new wonder they had just experienced.
The chief tapped Pauley on the arm. "They come to us when we need them the most."
Pauley experienced a new and strange resolve, a resolve born of joy and shot through with courage. He looked down at the chief. "I will go now. But you will see me again."
"Yes, our Pauley. We hope to see you again."
"No, chief, I will see you again."
Pauley picked up his bag, which had been carefully prepared by the tribe, swung it on to his shoulder and launched out through the vegetation toward home.
Copyright M.R. Hyde 2012