Instructor: Faina Polt
Pearls Where You Lay
Pearls Where You Lay
How did you get down here?
To the bottom of the ocean, I mean?
I just wanted to go for a quick swim, that was all.
And you ended up here?
Yeah, I guess.
Just sorta closed my eyes, and next thing I know, here I am.
The waves were rough, they must've carried me.
Well, was this what you were expecting it to look like?
I wasn't expecting much of anything, really.
I never dreamed of waking up in a place like this.
Now that I think about it, I guess I'm missing the wedding.
It was supposed to be tomorrow—or is that today?
Well, it was my sister's, anyway.
Boy, she was really excited.
She must miss you.
Well, I don't know about that.
I was always kind of a Nowhere Man.
You know, The Beatles—well, of course you don't know.
Anyway, we haven't spoken in a while, my sister and I.
But maybe if I find a way out I can still catch it.
(wait wait wait.)
Is there a way out of here?
Of course there is.
There always is a way to get out.
Eventually, the pressure will get to you.
And you really only have a few minutes before you drown.
And even if that doesn't work, the beasts are all waking up soon.
Down here, we take what we can get.
Nothing ever lasts too long here.
That's a lot to take in.
Don't worry, it will be quick.
Say, what are you, anyway?
I can't see a damn thing down here.
It's all dark.
I don't know what I am.
Well—I know, I suppose, but I could not tell you.
Men, they've all got their own ways of naming things.
What you call a bird is just a thing that flies.
What you call the ocean is just "home" to us.
I am just a thing that lives down here.
I do what all the beasts do.
I eat, I swim, I sleep, I talk.
I listen to music, too.
I do not think you can hear it, though, with a man's ears.
Almost everything, men can barely hear, see, taste.
Is it not awful, being a man?
I used to think it was awful being anything but.
Are you going to miss it up there?
A long time ago, I might've.
But it wears on you, after a while.
The sun, it still looks the same day after day.
What's it like?
It's so bright you couldn't possibly see a thing.
Everyone there's made of skin, and it sags and wrinkles.
It's not pretty.
We've got lungs to breathe, and sometimes we hardly can.
It's hard to walk up there, too, not like here.
You don't float, you push.
It's like you have to fight the air to move.
I always heard it was beautiful.
I might've said the same thing, you know.
A long time ago.
Are there trees up there?
I have always dreamt of seeing one.
Don't they get sad, stuck in one place all their lives?
And—and the cities.
I hear they make towers out of the ground, the dirt.
They cook food out of the dirt, too.
Not like us.
We rip, we shred, we cut.
I tire of the taste of blood.
Oh, don't bother.
There's plenty enough blood up there too.
What're we gonna do while we wait?
Wait for what?
For me to die.
We can talk, I suppose.
Tell me about the weddings.
What are they like?
I don't know.
I've never been.
We didn't have much money up there, to be honest.
But I hear they were pretty nice.
My parents have a photo on the wall, from their wedding.
My mother was twenty-four.
My father was thirty-something.
She was wearing a white dress that looked like sea foam.
He was wearing a suit as black as the water all around us.
I wanted to get married someday.
And actually, I had a girl up there, at home.
I haven't seen her for a while, so I forgot.
Everything's a little hard to remember when you wake up one day at the bottom of the ocean.
But gosh, I guess she's still my girl.
I guess she'll be my girl until she gets the phone call.
And that phone call's gonna say:
"We regret to inform you that the man you haven't seen in three months's gone missing.
I know you told him not to go on that trip to Greece.
I know you told him we couldn't afford that sort of thing.
I know you told him that you were gonna marry him someday.
And really, he shouldn't have ever gone.
But now he's really gone and he probably won't ever come back.
Do you miss her?
We weren't doing so hot, to be honest.
She loved me, I think.
I didn't love anything.
There wasn't much worth loving up there.
It's hard, you know, loving nothing.
So you went to Greece?
Because you thought you could love it?
I hoped I would.
I liked it enough.
I was so sick of home I couldn't stand it.
Me, I would have gone to Japan.
I want to see the towers clustered together like schools of fish.
It was the nearest flight I could get.
Nearest farthest flight, I mean.
Not Canada, you know, or Mexico.
They were too close to home.
You are a strange man.
You think so?
I think the pressure's getting to me now.
What a shame.
I wish I could talk longer.
I could talk to you forever.
I wish I could've gone to that wedding.
Don't be sad.
I will bury you in the sand and the seaweed.
I will scatter pearls where you lay.
It's better than the dirt, isn't it?
Man, I've been a fool, haven't I?
I wish I could've gone to that wedding.
Could've seen my sister in her white dress.
And my mother would cry, like the mothers always do.
She'd cry 'cause her little girl's all grown up.
But now she'll cry, she'll really cry, 'cause her only son's stuck at the bottom of the ocean.
Don't be sad.
Please, don't be sad.
It cannot be helped.
What're they gonna say to my mother?
You were buried in the sand.
You died with pearls, and you were strange.
The water was gentle with you.
You were all white and you shimmered.
You should have seen the way you shimmered down here.
It was quite touching, really.
You were the moon, sunk into the sea.
I hear they have nice pearls up North.
As I stand in the belly of the hills, my lucky white sneakers all scuffed up with dirt, I realize that Mama was right. The beasts—they're everywhere.
Once upon a time, Mama would braid my hair with ribbons and tell me not to run up the hills. I spent my childhood climbing dogwood trees and lying on my back beneath the wasteland sun, but I never ran beyond the dream-walls that caged our back lawn.
Like all forbidden things, these hilltops have always worn a certain magic to them. I used to sit on the porch and stare at them and imagine that they carried Heaven between their grassy arms; green, shining Heaven, and if you rolled down the farthest hill you'd tumble into it with your bones all broken and dirt on your tongue. Now, I don't believe in Heaven anymore. I lost religion slowly, like every last one of my baby teeth.
The morning of Mama's death I decided to run up the hills with all their secret, silent magic. And when I stood at the very crest of them, I felt the wind rustle the hem of my white dress and thought I heard Mama's ghost call out to me from the porch a couple feet away,
The beasts, Ronnie, the beasts
they're gonna get you
and they're gonna rape your soul
and I pretended not to hear her, for the first time in my life.
Now I find myself here, in green Heaven. Suddenly this lonely world—once so small I thought I could carry it between my baby-fingered hands—stretches on forever, and the clouds stare it down like gray, bloated fish in the sky. And the beasts inside of them are like clouds too, light and swollen, and they mill all around me through the grass.
The day that Mama died, I stood behind the stove and tried to fry up eggs the way she once did, with the bottoms fried black and the yolk oozing down the side, and I swear that little kitchen became her. The ticking clock was her heartbeat. The air through the windchimes was her breathing, and the life inside of her used to twinkle like stars. Even the way the oil sizzled in the pan—it sounded like the twigs cracking beneath my feet as I dragged her hollowed-out body to the lawn, to bury her. But when I went to eat my breakfast out on the porch, all the sound was sucked clean out the world, and all that was left was a silence so thick it seemed to seep into me through the cracks in my broken body, and it weighed me down till I sank into the grass and cried.
But not anymore. There is no silence anymore, because there's music in the air. The blood of these beasts sings through their veins, and it swallows me up in a swaying chrysalis of golden notes. I sink into that gold until the world and all its loneliness melts away. My feet walk me deeper into Heaven.
Slowly, I reach out a hand to touch the nearest beast, and it stares at me with black slits for eyes and bends its head forward. I touch it. My God, I touch it, and I can feel its blood pulse beneath my fingers and I know for a fact that it's alive, it's alive, and I'm standing here and feeling its life dance inside my hands. And when salt tears fall down my face, it opens its mouth out wide and cries, too. It cries right along with me.
Who are you? it asks me, staring me down with my knobbly knees and wispy limbs, my pink skin and the way the hair grows long and black from my scalp.
I tell it that I'm a beast, too.
The day stretches on and this tired old sun begins to sink into the trees. On and on I walk with them, I breathe with them, and I eat with them. I watch them bend their heads low to the grass and pluck up the white flowers and I do the same, I fall to my knees and take a flower between my teeth and soak up the sweet sap. It's soft on my tongue, and even softer in my throat. I can feel it rattle these bony ribs like a bird fluttering around in a cage, and I realize that this is living: It's the taste of sap between your teeth. It's the mangled hum of a dozen heartbeats all around you. It's the closeness of being one fleshed, breathing piece in a jigsaw puzzle world.
When night falls, I sleep in the hills. These white-flowered knolls are the walls of my new womb, and the beasts that crowd around me are the siblings I never knew. One of them stumbles over and sits beside me. Where did all the people go, Ronnie? it asks me. It's smaller than the rest, and whiter, except for the flesh around its eyes and mouth that blooms pink. There are no silver horns curling into its head.
What are people? I ask.
The people, the people. They used to dance in these hills. Pick berries from the trees. Play songs on their flutes. Where'd they go?
It crawls closer to me. I wrap my clumsy arms around it. These arms had always been sore from growing pains and tree-climbing, barely long enough to reach the cookie jar on the top shelf of the pantry, but now they wrap so seamlessly around the white beast. These arms are old enough now, I find, to hold life between them, shining, moving, unraveling.
I don't know, I say. I don't know. The last one I ever knew was buried a long, long time ago.