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Authors: Bev Jafek

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The Sacred Beasts

BOOK: The Sacred Beasts
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The Sacred Beasts

by

Bev Jafek

 

 

 

© 2016 Bev Jafek

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be

reproduced or transmitted in any means,

electronic or mechanical, without permission in

writing from the publisher.

 

978-1-943837-46-5 paperback

978-1-943837-47-2 epub

978-1-943837-92-2 mobi

 

On the cover

Huichol Indian art from the folk art collection of Bev Jafek,

photographed by Elberta Lynn Gaither, 2016.

 

Cover Design

by

 

Bink Books

a division of

Bedazzled Ink Publishing, LLC

Fairfield, California

http://www.bedazzledink.com

 

Ruth, a brilliant zoologist and geologist, has just retired with
her lover, Katia, to her family home in the southern tip of Argentinean
Patagonia. Ruth conceives a unique way of dealing with her grief over Katia’s
sudden suicide with the creation of an outdoor art garden made of cast-off
objects and garbage. Sylvie, a young French artist, is drawn to the art garden
and she and Ruth discover that they are kindred spirits. They travel to Spain’s
Costa Brava and then on to Barcelona—Ruth filtering the world through her
feminist political and zoological/environmental perspective, and Sylvie
capturing the world around her with a vivid, penetrating artist eye. Together
they discover a new concept of liberated women: sacred beasts.

 

For those who come after us,

when they ask why we did not leave them a world they could live in

and always, for Constance
.

 

I

THE END

Ruth

 

II

The Beginning

The Sacred Beasts

 

III

The Middle

Secrets and Symmetry

 

I

THE END

Ruth

 

ONE ALCOHOLICALLY BLACK night, I held my seventh glass of whisky
up to my eye, saw the walls of my living room and its amber lamps jiggling
absurdly in a horrible greenish-brown ooze that inundated the world, drowning
all but me, alone upon my ark. Then I shouted: “You want to know what killed
her?
Mediocrity
! She was meant to be a marvel, a monster, to roar at all
the idiots on this earth!” The sound of my voice shocked me back into sanity.

I was very drunk, alone, shouting the answer to the question that
had haunted me from the moment I read her maddeningly ambiguous note (“Swimming
to Cape Horn. Don’t wait. Love.”) and then found her body dead from drowning,
hypothermia or both on the ocean shore. I began shouting on the second night
after her funeral, the woman who had been my lover for nearly forty years,
Katia, the loved one I always nicknamed, simply, Bear. When the morning
light—bald, blank, insomniac—sank into my marrow, I realized that I had found a
purpose: to create an immense, outdoor sculpture revealing the omnipresence of
mediocrity, that all-powerful aspect of human beings, a work of art suggesting
both suffocation and infinity, made entirely of cast-off metal, plastic and
glass from the city dump. Nothing less would do. That was how my garbage art
garden and my unique form of psychotherapy began.

I had plenty of room for mad projects—several acres of land and an
old, roomy house in Ushuaia, the southern tip of Argentinean Patagonia, closest
city to Cape Horn and the beginning of Antarctica. My house is an international
white elephant, like everything else here, previously owned by an old Welsh
sheep rancher who styled it in the architecture of Wales and the Welsh towns
further north in Chubut Valley: thick bricks, windows sashes and the inevitable
grandfather clock stopped forever in its
tock
. Just call Ushuaia the end
of the world. All the Patagonians do. Old Pat always has plenty to say about
the beginning and end of the world. It’s only the present that so bewilders
her. But in that respect, I’ve always been different. As a retired university
professor, a zoologist, geologist, naturalist, science journalist, and a woman
on top of that, I am a total deviant who is rarely bewildered by the present.
No,
I am absolutely infuriated by it!

“So Little Bear’s shouting to herself at five am now?” The door of
my house, which I rarely lock during our December summer, opened and the
full-cheeked, beguiling Hungarian face of Mariska, my closest friend and
neighbor, looked into my living room and saw the chaotic, disgusting heap that
was myself.

“Don’t call me that ridiculous name again, or I’ll throttle you
against the wall!” I shouted. At least, I was now shouting at someone else.
Some of our friends observed the ridiculous custom of calling us Big and Little
Bear, which revolted me. Katia was unique, another species, as astonishing as
the giant marsupial monsters that lived in ancient Patagonia. More than legend,
they had lumbered over the steppes and deserts during the Neolithic and been
made extinct by early humans. Now enormous, awkward limbs stretched and shook
the ground before my eyes: the elephant-sized mylodon sloth covered with
vividly orange fur, an herbivore so gentle it was brutally penned in caves by
humans until it died for the sole reason that such cruelty met no obstacle. The
equally immense glyptodon armadillo, whose amazing skin was a cross between
armor and fur, reduced to roofing over huts in which fires perpetually burned
and vicious human eyes pooled orange and red demonically before them. Thus the
name of our largest island of archipelagos, Tierra del Fuego, Land of Fire,
courtesy of Magellan who, like all the exploiters, merely feared he might have
found creatures so magically powerful he could not kill them. My species, my
fellows, even then capable of such exorbitant, uncanny greed and destruction
for the sole imperative of fools: that they
could
do it!

How I would love to have shown Bear the sweet, shy monsters,
gentle as doves. What could they have told us of the consequences of being
larger than life? I can nearly see Bear walking beside them in the sunlight,
caressing the sloth’s long orange fur. Could they have saved her?

For I could not. No, I am no smaller, mirror image of Katia. She
was intrinsically
other
: greater and truer than life, like all the women
I have loved. She was a literature professor and a brilliant writer of fiction
and poetry, and we lived in the U.S. for most of our time together. We had only
been in Ushuaia, the home of my childhood, for a year in our mutual retirement.
We left the States in 2004 because we could not bear what the country had
become: a greed and corruption-tainted, dictatorial corporation of the wealthy,
united to steal from the middle and lower classes; a war machine attacking
pathetically weak nations to sell business contracts to millionaires; an
oblivious killer and defiler of the planet; led by the least intelligent and
competent, most immoral government the country had ever known. We felt a
visceral disgust and horror of our nation, but I was the lucky one, citizen of
two lands and, since we were retiring, I brought her to my ancient home. I
thought it would be perfect for her—a wind, snow and light-leavened, open-air
cathedral for worship of nature’s extremity, and the land, flora and fauna that
so perfectly embodied its spiritual value. We had spent months traveling over
the regions I visited many times in my professional life as an expert in the
zoology and geology of Patagonia. I thought she loved it as I did: how fatally
wrong.

My mind turned inevitably to the last moments of her life. This imaginary
scene had been playing in my thoughts, over and over, for two days. Knowing her
so well, I thought I saw the only way she could have ended her life. She was
one who could never stop fighting; she had the perfect hair-trigger response to
enshrined human injustice and blindness. So, she would have picked a place she
could never reach, that ugly black rock, Cape Horn. She entered the churning
sea and began swimming toward it. Then she fought and swam and fought the
water, the cold, the inevitability as the day, the light, fled the sky and
still she went on fighting and drowning in the dark of her own exhaustion,
escaping at last the fierce, demanding purity of her life, becoming the body
that had washed back on the shore where I found it. The tears I myself was
fighting began to fall uncontrollably from her dead eyes, which were closed.
The camera only rewound itself. It would play again.

“I suppose I’ll just pretend I’m not here,” said Mariska, who had
been sitting for some time on the sofa opposite me, greeted by nothing but my
black silence, her still-startling blue eyes, short, whitish-blonde hair and
lovely smile a reminder of normalcy.

“Do that. I’ll help,” I said, my hands with sudden, inexplicable
need covering my face.

“Ruth, you can’t help anyone now,” she said, her voice very
tender.

“I couldn’t help
her
. That’s what matters.”

“No, now
you
matter. A great deal to me,” she said, again
very softly. What a gentle, lovely thing she seemed. I wanted terribly to be
less coarse and brutal but somehow, I could not, though my hands came down to
rest on my lap.

Looking away, I said, “Just tell me this: Do you think there’s a
chance it was anything but suicide? Could it have been . . . any other thing at
all? I thought I knew everything about her.”

Now I could look her in the face, however naked my weakness and
agony were. She held me with the piercing clarity of her blue eyes. “Yes,” she
said at last, “she might actually have believed she could do it. She was like
that. The words
impossible
and
dangerous
were not in her
vocabulary.”

“Oh my god!” I said and slumped over again. “I knew that! I’ve
been thinking it all along and just letting it go. I told her the water could
freeze even in summer down here. I told her the waves reached fifty feet . . .”
Mariska was silent, though I looked at her in great agitation.

“It could surely have been suicide, of course,” she said
reasonably and in a carefully measured tone.
“But . . .”

Again I slumped into my sorrow. “But she could have decided that
such things only applied to others, not to her. Yes, then I knew her. At least
I have that.”

We were silent for a long time, though now we looked freely at one
another. “She was wonderful and terrible,” I said. “I lived with it and loved
it every moment, even when I also hated it.”

“She was all that,” Mariska said. “Will you come to hate Nadia and
me for being, so to speak, merely normal?”

At last, I could muster a ghost of a smile. “No, I intended for us
to be like you. We would grow very old together, and our love would deepen and
darken like amber and somehow we would find that remote island of peace or just
a small, unexpected mirror that reflects a beauty in the world. I only wish I
knew whether she intended to die or to live with abnormal magnificence.”

“They are related.”

“Yes, and tell me this: why do those who love life so intensely
happen to be those who wish for death? Katia often quoted Keats and Shelley.”
The question just hung there between us. Mariska only shrugged and shook her
head as though to say
don’t go there.

Finally I asked, “Did you know how depressed she must have been?”
I was now fascinated with her presence, as though the room now held a Voice of
Truth and not mere fruitless sorrow and rage.

“Yes,” she said, simply.

“I didn’t, dammit! It’s happened so often and this time I didn’t
even know!”

“But you did! You were always trying to convince her she was right
to come here with you.”

“Could you see that?” I whispered in astonishment.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “But has anyone changed Bear’s mind about
anything since they changed her diapers?”

I let out a long, exasperated sigh. “Oh, my god yes. You couldn’t
do anything for her. She just
was
.”

“And that’s what you loved,” she said, even more tenderly.

It was suddenly as though I had swum the course and reached the
black rock of Cape Horn myself. I could breathe again. “There’s something I
must do now,” I said. “I have to get some important things at the garbage
dump.”

“What on earth will you get there?” She looked alarmed.

“You’ll see. I don’t have the energy to explain or justify it, but
it makes sense.” She seemed convinced, more by my sudden calm and determination
than my words.

“I’ve put a beef, cheese and tomato casserole and a fruit salad in
the kitchen,” she said quickly.

“Ah, food,” I said, apathetic. “Not yet for that.”

“It’s been two days.”

“Then maybe I’ll eat. Possibly. Whatever. I can do it when I’m
back from the dump. But I must go right now. I am . . . inspired or . . . just
certain. There’s something I can do and ach, it’s better than sitting here, drinking
and shouting.”

Now there was a spark of recognition in her eyes. “Yes, do it
whatever it is,” then with a doubt, “but you really must do it at the garbage
dump?”

“Absolutely. Something about beginnings and endings. Old Pat can
tell you.”

“Old Pat? You mean the natives?”

“Yes, aren’t
we
the natives, too? So it should be perfectly
clear.” I smiled angelically and walked out the door.

Outside, I fired up my pick-up truck, a foul old dirigible that
had once clambered over all Patagonia, hauling my infrared cameras, portable
chem labs and the other scientific sensors and equipment I had used in my
studies of animals and landforms. It was a decent old barreling iron horse,
like me. I had always felt an affinity for it. We both bore our burdens well
without a trace of beauty, the sign of final, bitter maturity. The truck had
the tires of a jeep, and Bear and I had driven and camped throughout Patagonia
and the States with it.

As I drove, I looked at the ocean, hoping that my mental film reel
of Bear’s death would not begin running again. Instead, I saw beds of giant
kelp that grew in vast, burgundy tangles for miles along the coastline. No, she
didn’t enter the sea here. The wet, shining tubular arms of the kelp would have
held her back with a force like love.

Early morning in Ushuaia is a still, near-perfect calm that
extends well into the sea. The southern Darwinian range of the Andes encircles
the city, giving it some of their pristine, cold mountain air. The only sound
is that of the eternal wind, invisible spirit of the Andes, the force called
Mara
,
Broom of God that has sculpted many of Patagonia’s strangest landforms.

I do not hate the wind, as many do, for I have heard it whistle,
purr, moan, shriek, cackle, wail, and then sing like a drunken sailor on the
steppes. On our camp-outs, we saw the wind whirl through deserts not of sand or
gravel but a colorless white dust streaming off ancient saltpans and grey-green
scrub with sharp thorns and bitter odors. At night, when we disappeared into
our sleeping bags, only our eyes looking out at the moon glimmering over
fossilized shells of oysters, for the steppe was once an ancient seabed, it was
then I learned the tonalities of the wind’s voice: whirring through the thorns;
whistling through the dead grass; then in full throat shaking the tiny, dry
possessed bushes, making dervishes of them, in song! Rude, rough, barbaric song
came from those wildly heaving bushes! Bear loved it, too, and pronounced them
the crazed, curly heads of pagan warriors, shouting and singing at once in a
battle without end.

BOOK: The Sacred Beasts
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