Extract from the novel – FEAR.
“Pearl, phone call.”
Her dad’s voice carried from the small wooden farmhouse to the water-melon field where she was cutting melons. She put down her knife and hurried to the house; her dad was hold the telephone on the end of its extension lead.
She took half a blue towel from her belt and ran it across the back of her neck. Cutting melons in the heat of a fine Hawaiian day was hot work.
“What you mean to say is – Dr Pearl Fujiaka, medical doctor, with, in addition, a thesis on Jumping Genes.”
For a moment she could not place the voice, and stared into the distance at the bony figure of Jim Skinner, their only hired hand. Jim was backing up the trailer to load the melons. She would take them the following morning to the Hilo Farmer’s Market. Then it came to her.
“Professor Hounsley! What a lovely surprise.”
“Haven’t heard from my star pupil for quite a while now!”
“Well, you know how it goes, Dr Hounsley – busy, busy. And thanks again for all of that mentoring during your time in Oahu. Without you pushing me around I’d still be floundering about with that genetic project.”
“Pearl Fujiaka – floundering! Never. Stubborn as they come, I’ll give you that, but as bright as a morning over the Big Island.”
“Come on, Dr Hounsley, I wasn’t that stubborn.” She heard him laugh in his familiar chortling way.
“We’ll let it pass, Pearl, we’ll let it pass. I called to catch up on how you’re doing. Now that you’re a qualified doctor, have you taken up a post yet?”
“Not yet, Professor Hounsley. Since mum died I thought I’d stay for some time around the farm, for dad’s sake. Not that he wants pity. You know dad.”
“Pearl, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know about your mother. On the two occasions I met her she struck me as a strong lady.”
“You mean stubborn.”
“All right then, stubborn – like her daughter.” There was a pause then he said; “But things need to move on, Pearl. Your parents, both of them, sacrificed a lot to put you through Med School. The way to pay them back is to practice what you’ve studied. That job in Boston will come on stream in five months. I want you there.”
“I haven’t forgotten, Professor Hounsley, and thanks. Boston sounds exciting.”
“But that’s not what I’m calling about. Something has come up at CDC in Georgia. They’re sending a team to China. Something odd over there. Gender balance is now the rage in Atlanta. They need a lady doctor on the team. I talked to Ed Mackinteer. We go way back. I said I knew the very person. If you’re prepared to go to China, Pearl, it would fit in nicely. A bit over four months. Then the Boston job would be in the frame. What do you say?”
A long pause, then:
“I don’t know. China! Never been there. What would the job entail?”
“Something strange going on in a river in the northeast. Something is killing people in a bizarre way. Don’t know more than that. The real work will be done by epidemiologists. I’d take the job, Pearl. A step up the ladder.”
She knew he was right. These last few months working on the farm weren’t just for her dad. She had needed that space to get over her mum’s death, too. Three months on the farm was enough. Hounsley was right. It was time to shake out of it: to move on. This China thing – would she be up to it?
Then Hounsley’s voice came again:
“Two weeks training in Georgia, then China. Can I tell Mackinteer it’s a yes?”
She felt the heavy persuasion in his tone.
“Dr Hounsley, you’re still a big cuddly bear,” she said and laughed. He had been her mentor while doing her post-graduate studies under his stern direction as Visiting Professor to the Islands.
“Cuddly Bear, my ass! I heard it was Growly Bear.”
“So you knew?”
“You got it in one.” They both laughed. “So it’s a yes, Pearl?”
“It’s a yes, Dr Hounsley – I think. And thanks.”
When she put down the telephone she sat on the veranda steps and looked beyond the clump of red jade vine to Hilo Bay. In the distance two outrigger canoes were fast moving through the emerald-green water. Then the full force of what she had agreed to slammed home. Would she be up to it at all? She wondered did all newly minted medics have the same doubts when confronting their first real job? She had scant experience in water-borne infections. Indeed she had damn all real experience as a practicing doctor. She was comfortable with research, thanks to Dr Hounsley, but when it came to anything else! She should have told him she’d think about it. Now it was too late.
Her father came out of the house with a plate of diced pineapples and sat down beside her.
“That was Dr Hounsley,” he said. “I recognized the voice.”
She took a piece of pineapple. There was silence between them. She knew by the way he didn’t look at her that he knew she’d be leaving the island. He was second generation Japanese. Her mother had been born in Montana. Her dad, as was his nature, didn’t speak much, letting the silence carry meaning. Finally he said:
“Atlanta for two weeks. Then China. After that, the Boston Job. Three more days cutting melons,
“Skinner will do that. Tomorrow we’ll go visit your mother’s grave.”
They sat for a long time on the veranda, with the slopes of the enormous Mauna Loa volcano rising up behind them. A whiff of acrid smoke. Peli was by her cauldron brewing up a fresh lave lake. Then her father said:
“Wherever you travel, Pearl, remember your mother – and perhaps now and again, a little thought for your dad, too.” He did not look at her; his eyes set in the distance.
“Dad.” She squeezed his arm. “Dad.” It was all she could say.
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK – PLANET DANCING:
IN WILDERNESS IS THE WAY.
It is common to talk of nature as though it is set aside from us, as something other than what we are. When we walk into a woodland we bring our presence with us. The woodland immediately undergoes a change by our being there. Birdsongs – Jays’, magpies’ and blackbirds’ – warn all of what has come among them. Other birds go silent and flit away. Animals, too, move back. What had, but a moment before, been an ‘atmosphere’ of woodland without humans is changed by our presence. Myriad things become more alert. Our intrusion is a felt thing that slips off through the trees.
Different forests display different comportments. Some are open and inviting, others are enfolded and enclosed. Those that are truly inviting are inspirational, like an open birch wood in springtime: a place of white bark trees and fresh green canopy, with waves following waves of bluebells pushing back into the distance, in an invitation to dance with the joy of it all. Such woodlands are more than their appearance. We take from such places an echo that there is something deeper than what we can see. If we could but sweep away what it is that hides this deeper presence from us, we would experience a birch woodland, in all its breathtaking complexity, in a way that would force us to our knees in acknowledgement of the mystery of it all.
In such a woodland everything has its place, from the century-old trees to the leaf mould on which we walk. Such a forest is not a forest of trees alone, but the breath of deer, the movement of beetles under bark, the eyes of hawks staring down, the webbing of spiders in numbers beyond count, the loose scales falling from the wings of butterflies, the snore of owls, the listening of mice, the streams of tree-life water moving up into the tallest canopy, the silence of fine snails slipping over wet grass, the hum of midwifeing insects, too numerous even to imagine. The very soil beneath our feet adjusts from one moment to the next to the movement of iron and potash, phosphorus and manganese, and other minerals, in their ceaseless upward procession to feed the swaying clouds of leaves above our heads.
The intensity of the very breeze that flows past us is less, or more, than the day before, and will differ again tomorrow because of the thickening of trees or the thinning of the woodland by the collapse of a monarch riddle with fungi. Even the strength of sunlight or rain coming down is different from one day to the next, when one more bud leafs out or two more leaves fall. And then we perceive a little, within the limits of what we can understand about such things, that no forest is identical with what it had been but a moment before. If we had eyes to comprehend it all we would truly see all forests as existing in a fog of continuous change, nothing remaining the same: a leaf less, a caterpillar more. And we too, surrounded by all of that transfiguration, are also changed. We walk from the woodland altered; and behind us, by our temporary presence within it, the woodland too has changed.
TWO SHORT STORIES HERE THAT MIGHT MAKE YOU SMILE!
1 – THE LILY-POND FROG AND THE PRINCESS
The air was particularly fragrant that morning. The scent of the lily pads across the entire pond was never finer. it was a good place to be a frog.
He sat on a half-submerged leaf with the sun full on his face. He reflected on the three lady frogs he had covered the night before. Many tadpoles would issue as a result of that profligate dalliance with those notable dainty strumpets.
His patch of sunlight suddenly darkened. A large princess, from the castle on the hill, notable for her extreme ugliness, lowered herself into a heap on the edge of the frog pond. It was clear to the frog that she intended to stay awhile, blocking his place in the sun.
He squelched around on his lily pad and said:
“If you kiss me I will turn you into a beautiful creature.”
Well, given her complete lack of graciousness, how could the princess resist such an offer? She got down on her broad knees and leaned out over the pond and kissed the frog – and was immediately turned into a beautiful butterfly.
The frog ate the butterfly and the sun shone down on the pond as before.
2 – MAN AND MOUSE
“Insurance – on that!” He pointed a lump of a hand at my house. “Would you like life insurance?” He donated a leer.
I helped him into his little car and shoved his crutch in through the window. He hit the knob of his gammy knee with the heel of his hand to make some sort of a connection between foot and clutch – and off he went tantwivy down the street.
But he was right. The place was a wreck because Mac the Mouse ran a bawdy nugging house for little grey fellows. I needed a cat.
A huge woman sold pets out of a shed up a lane.
“I want a cat please.”
She pulled a thin turtle from a tea-chest and tossed her cigarette out the window and said: “How about that?”
“It’s not a cat.”
“People.” She threw the turtle back into the tea-chest and extracted a damp cat. “How much do you want, half or the whole edifice?”
I backed away. The cat was dropped in on top of a green lizard.
All advice now led to an exclusive cat salon.
“Monsieur would like a long-haired – no?”
What monsieur wanted was a killer. She picked up, from a deep cushion, a thing with hair so long that it couldn’t see. Maybe it had glimpsed things as a child and now fed on memories.
“Something not blind.”
Mac would have enjoyed Zeitz. Mademoiselle helped him to his feet. He stood unaided all by himself. The Siamese chanced a few steps. Ata-boy Zeitz!
“Would it need . . . you know . . . special food?”
“No monsieur, the chopped rab-bit.”
“And an occasional mouse?” We both laughed at the thought.
Suddenly, behind the Siamese, a huge cat launched itself into the air and caught a fly in its paws. Two minutes later the flyer sat in the back of my car.
That night Mac led the parade out of the remains of what used to be a wall. They fanned across the room. Two heavily pregnant ladies waddled at a hobbledygee and took their ease where a go-by-the-wall grandmother already sat. To the Flyer these were his kind of mice, guys with personalities. I leaned against the remains of the grandfather clock, and waited.
The Flyer unsheathed his claws. Now we were getting somewhere. Action! Take one, take anyone – take Mac.
Launching himself into the air the cat caught a fly. Then he lay on his back, his claws hopelessly entangled with the fly within.
I stared at Mac. He stared back. Behind him the door fell off its hinges.