The Red Pearl (1967)

20 05 2008

    Over the horizon came a long graceful yawl, and the man
there on board was strong and sea tall. He was watched for
the first time as he walked down the bank, as free as the
wind, but he looked sacrosanct. “Very strange,” people
thought as he looked neither way, but they felt from his
presence he was enjoying the day. Then a woodworker stopped
for a rest and a smoke, while all ears were turned as his
voice softly spoke. “Please could you tell me a room with a
bed, for I’ve traveled some time, and I feel nearly dead.” A
clear, steady gaze from ocean blue eyes made the carpenter
wonder as he swept off the flies, “Just go up those stairs and
turn to the right, and there see a man with hair of salt
white. And he’ll give you a bed and a place for the night.”

    Thanks were then given, and the man made the lease, and
he said he was there for some “quiet and peace.” But the
people of there didn’t care for his sake, there were tourists
around and money to make, and hotels to build and boats to be
rented, as if they believed that could make them contented.
So he went quite unnoticed for nearly a month, while the
people kept on and continued their hunt. Then one summer
night under cold glistening stars, he began making round of
the fisherman’s bars, asking questions in one, being silent in
others, while curiosity grew amongst townspeople and brothers.
Then some of the elders decided to go near, when he came in
the bar and ordered a beer.

    “We was just wondering what you’re all about, with that
beautiful boat and soft talk, never shout” “First let me ask
you,” said the man, wiping his mouth, “Do you know of a shell
in the sea hereabout, that’s as long as you are and blood red
inside; and it’ll take off your leg as quick as your pride,
and once that you have one you never will sell, for in order
to find it, you must live through hell?” The oldest of all
had stepped up to the front, and he said, “Listen my friend,
for I’m going to be blunt. That shell that you speak of, I
know the one; it went and it took my one only son. But I also
know it’s not the shell that you want, so why have you come
here and what do you hunt?”

    The bar was dead quiet while the man got a beer, and
everyone strained to see what they’d hear. There was a long
hesitation and he blew off the curl, then he said to the
crowd, “I’ve come for the pearl. A pearl ’bout as large as a
man’s fist and bigger, and gives peace to who finds it, be he
white man or nigger. And God is my witness that it radiates
bliss, for I’ve held one but once, and had the privilege to
kiss. But now the man’s dead, and he died of old age, and the
pearl disappeared like a burning book page. But before he
died he said where to be near, and now here I sit as I’m
drinking my beer. The pearl is all colors of green and of
gold; it’s warm like the sand when the sun has grown cold.
And it picks up vibrations from all over the land, and
transmits to the holder be it woman or man, radiations of
love, of mercy and strength, and all the secrets of life will
be yours then at length. For once you have found it, you will
always stay poor, but confusion and sorrow will be there never
more.” He finished his tale and went out with a lurch, but
they knew tomorrow he’d begin his search.

    The day came with yellow and hazed-over veils, and the
mountains were misty as up went his sails, with a slight
southern breeze as he left wing in wing, and snatches were
heard as he started to sing. And all on the beach wished he
would find his goal, and there was no sign of motion as they
prayed for his soul. With a hand on the tiller and the bow
throwing spray, the man had been sailing for all of the day.
The sky now was claret into deep purple blue; there was the
landmark that in his memory he knew, so he let away anchor
with the ship set to keep, and went down to his hammock for a
restless night’s sleep.

    The sun came up red and glaring and mean, with rolling
swells coming, but his senses were keen. Then he ate a small
bite and prepared his gear, and wondered how long he’d be
there. “Well it could be a year, or maybe I’ll die here, but
I’m feeling brave. What better place than the sea as your
grave. That’s where we all started with lightning and storm,
then tossed on the rocks just a small shapeless form, to begin
crawling and walking and flying out free, with not much
progress made as far as I see.” Then all was prepared, and he
made his first dive, and the shock of cold water made him feel
well alive. The numbness had passed in seconds so few, a
cacophony of bubbles surrounded his view, then sank a few
fathoms and the water went clear. So downward he started with
no trace of fear, while fish of all wonders departed asunder.
And the sound of his breathing was roaring like thunder, from
gray to gray green then to deep velvet blue.

    Something inside told him he’d started off true, he
stopped for a moment to think of intention, then visually sank
into another dimension. Colorless line separated the cold
from the warm, and the bottom was ninety freezing meters or
more. So onward he went with pressure increasing, adjusting
his tanks with air to be easing. He then spied partly bottom,
a world of its own, with graceful fans waving in currents
unknown, and millions of creatures just went their own way in
this deep murky gloom denied light of day. A long table reef
as if looking at night, which dropped off even more and out of
his sight, and over the drop-off was where he’d find the
shells, in eternal darkness and fish dwelling dells. All
crackling and snapping were sounds in his ears, the sounds of
continuum for thousands of years.

    Then over the ledge and downward again, to meters that
measured at ninety and ten, the pressure was frightening as if
living in hell’s. On a mud-rippled bottom he saw the first
shells, they stuck up from the mud like monsters unknown, with
living things on them just flat ragged cones. He hated to
kill things, but lives had to sever, besides he was searching
for a treasure forever. He wrestled the first one from out of
the muck, then pried it wide open to look, search, and cluck.
Quickly he went through what must have been five, then noticed
air getting shorter and he must stay alive. Also he’d stirred
up a whole lot of mud, and the black-pink was made from the
shell’s ebbing blood.

    So he rose a few fathoms where the water was clear, and a
shadow passed over with a shiver of fear. A fear that he’d
thought of while down in the dark, with all of its menace it
was there now, a shark. Fifteen feet of fury, and not any of
it nice, the water was warm, but he’d turned to ice. All that
he had was a small twelve-inch knife, with air running out,
maybe not long his life. The shark made a pass, but high
overhead, just circling and turning, enforcing his dread.

    Suddenly a thought came: “A shark’s nose is soft. If only by
some means work my way up aloft.” The shark by then thought
that this thing was ill, so driving down hard, he came in for
the kill. But the man saw it coming and flippered up in an
arc. As the huge shape drew near, he stabbed out in the dark.
He felt the knife rasp and go in leathery skin. Then he was
slapped silly sideways by the pain-ridden fin.

    When he woke up, little waves were slapping his neck, so
he swam to the boat and fell asleep on the deck. He woke with
a fright, and reached out in the dark, then realized he was
dreaming of his fight with the shark. A drizzle had started
and he was cold to his feet, so he went down below and had
something to eat. Half a bottle of brandy made him feel warm
and better, so he drifted back to oblivion with thoughts then
unfettered. He slept then unknowing and the wind started

    The sea started rising and the rain began pouring, he
worked in the middle of a rip-roaring gale. Half drunk and
stumbling, he thought of the sail. He’d secured it right
down, but he’d best double-check. So opening the hatch, he
made aloft to the deck. The rain stung his face like a cat-
o’-nine tails, but tight battened down were all of his sails.

    The storm anchors were set and all that moved was lashed down,
including himself to the mainmast and crown. The seas were so
angry but he must stay on top until the storm had abated and
come to a stop. Twenty foot waves now knocked him around, and
wind shrieked through the guy wires with indescribable sound.
The bow rising sharply with a sixty degree list, then smashing
down in the trough like a stainless steel fist. Salt in his
eyes, and an ache in his head, he thought of the two-week long
storms with a fast growing dread. After what seemed nine
hours, so long, the storm had depleted with the coming of

    On the edge of the mountains came a grayish tinge, then
brightened to rosy hue, that made the mountains look as if
transparent gray green with a lightish blue. And the dawn
brought back a memory to an aching weary mind. The woman who
of course had been to him one of an only kind, “Caterina,
Caterina, as if heralding horns came near. What forces came
that keep us apart in pair forever and a twisting inner fear.
If only to brush your lips again and lay with hand on breast,
to release all emotions in a fiery rush and revel in the flow
of your undaunted love and search stillness in your face as
you rest. Why must happiness go like a last flicking spark,
to have you looking and wandering and groping in a horrendous
torturing dark, like a facet on a wave which the sunlight will
catch and startle your not-seeing eyes? Is it like that to be
gone in a flash when before your souls were the skies? Oh
God, or whatever, rid me of this pain. It torments me down to
the bone, but now I am here and here will I stay forever and
always alone.”

    The sun was at zenith when he broke off his train and
began to clear off his ship. He hadn’t been hurt in the storm
that night; but he’d fallen and busted his lip. So again
preparation for another long look to be made in another place,
where the shells were much bigger and the water much deeper.
He thought of a soon-ending race, but races are to be won, and
“I am the one I’m running, neck and neck with myself. And
seeing how there’s only one in this race I don’t think I need
any help.” With this bit of wit, he went over the side.

    He felt better than he had done before, and the color was
astounding, and schools of bright fish angled on with the
currents of tide, down deeper than ever, to a smooth inky
dark, where his torch shot a pale sickly beam to pick up the
shells as they stuck in the bottom, like gravestones in a
cemetery scene. Now up to the first, and it clamped strongly
shut, but his knife had just gone in the edge to cut the great
muscle that held it together, then search in the mucous like a
dredge. He’d wandered through nine while the kelp gently
fanned, then he came to the tenth to cut through the flesh,
and it silently closed on his hand.

    Pain shot through his body as he struggled to pull free,
but the shell closed down even tighter and in bubbles he
silently screamed. The hand was inside just up to the wrist
and he’d felt the bones snap as it shut. So slashing the
knife in rack-shooting pains, he felt the big muscle get cut,
and the edges released their death holding grip. He changed
hands with the knife and he slashed and he ripped, not knowing
how long he did this. He finally stopped and the fever
subsided and the pain turned to throbbing and he returned to
the world on the top.

    It had been quite a job getting out of his tanks, but
setting up sail, he began to give thanks and scour the coast
in search of a town, a doctor to relieve the pain all around.
He found one at last, and stayed a few weeks, healing his arm
and repairing some leaks. Then again he was off, and back to
the spot. He knew that this time, he’d now find his lot, in
the back of his mind something was sure, a quick flash
impression, short, but yet pure.

    A drizzle had started, but the sun was still high, and a
rainbow beamed forth its arch in the sky. Raindrops dripped
from his face as he stared, enhanced by the colors, it seemed
that they cared, cared to be seen, to be felt and believed.
If only by one man alone on the sea, but one man is all men,
and what is the sum? To love and let live or go cry in your
rum, to love and let live is by far the best. “Before the
next dive I’d best get some rest.” The sea was dead calm with
nary a chafe, and the tanks had been filled and checked out
and safe. Over the port side and into the brine, and
straight for the bottom he made a beeline. The fish he
encountered scattered out at a run, dancing through pale
filtered rays of the sun. Angling on down and following a
ray, he came to the realm of deep dark and no day.

    Little blind things scuttled out of his path, as if he
were a predator exerting his wrath. These little blind fish
without any sight, how are they content in this eternal night?
An unanswerable question and he mused, “What the hell!” And
then off to the right he saw a big shell. Nothing was there
nor in the next twelve, so on deeper down held begun to delve.
He did five or six more then had to go back, he was ravenous
hungry with his air going black. When he returned it was late
afternoon, and it was blacker than ever in this far reaching
gloom. He’d just passed the place where he’d begun to work
with the freezing sea round like an all knowing smirk. “Laugh
in my face, will you? But you are but finite, and out of your
black I’ll rob you of your secret.”

    Just as he thought that, he saw a huge shell, towering
over a cathedral-like bell. It didn’t stick up from the mud
like the rest, but lay on its side, an immense cradled nest.
And wide open it stood, as if then inviting, and he looked in
it then with his heart wildly beating, and he could not
believe what his eyes had to meet. There was an enormous
great pearl cradled there in the meat. “How can this be true?
I’ve found it at last. The future is mine and gone is the
past.” Now reaching in with great care, so the shell wouldn’t
close, he took hold of the pearl and silently rose. Getting
back to the boat, he stripped off his gear, with attacking
relief and feeling some…fear?

    Then he took the great pearl and sat by the wheel. He
sensed apprehension, and wondered “could it be real? I’ve
searched half my life for this thing in my hand, and I know it
started with one grain of sand. But how many years did it
take to grow? And the power I felt of this I must know, from
whence came this joy that surged through myself, so open and
vibrant with no trace of stealth.” He sat for a long time
with the pearl in his hand, looking first at the sea and then
at the land, then back to the pearl and waited and waited.
And nothing at all happened; he felt so defeated. “Yes, I
have found the pearl, but all I feel is relief, but where is
the happiness I felt so beneath? Could this not be the one,
could this not be the place? Oh my God, I’m confused. Have I
not finished this race? But I keep saying ‘I’ and what does
this mean? That I’m aware I’m aware with five senses so keen.
But my mind is so filled with puzzle and thought. Am I going
insane? What has all of this wrought?

    “I know now I’m nothing, not even a mar, compared with
these mountains, this sea, and that star. On velvet green
mountains, the clouds were so white, with splotches of yellow,
electric and bright, the sea ever moving like the stars and
the moon, the sun was descending and just cut in two, and long
shafts of light were thrown from the sky. The man bowed his
head and began to cry. To cry for himself and also the world,
and his sorrow reached out and let truly unfurled, then he
felt a great wind come and blow through his heart. And he was
no longer alone, with blind fish in the dark, for the sun had
gone down, but there was a light, all colors imaginable and
pulsating pure white, with the full-yawning sorrow and a great
sweeping joy. He was filled with the happiness he’d set out
to employ, but it wasn’t even in the pearl; it was there in
the man.

    And he was at one with the sea and the land, in this
magnificent moment he knew he could see the infinite and the
infinitesimal simultaneously, and crying and laughing he said
to the universe, “Absolute be you there, and you are the
first; and awoken am I, and I know I am me.” And with a
stroke of his arm returned the pearl to the sea.





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