Our artisans have been crafting wooden statues for as long as we have had access to wood. Formerly, they would sit all day in the dirt outside of their indefensible houses, scraping for centuries with stone, and then later with knives. Everyone in the village would take a figurine and leave a week’s cornmeal or a side of beef. To have a figurine was to be a paying part of the village: reliable, accountable.
In the more recent years the artisans have set up tables and chairs, have pocket knives that fold into hard handles, have wood stacked in their sturdier houses ready for use. The tourists have done this to them. With hard currency, value has gotten out of kilter. What to us was once enough to keep a man and his thinning family alive for a week is now three or four pieces of paper, themselves then exchanged for provisions and the labor of another man to keep the roof together and the walls plastered.
Each man will sit in his chair, leaning his elbows on the table, often smoking one of the cigarettes the government exchange officers will leave as payment in kind for a go with one of the village free girls; and which the carvers get in exchange for a wooden carving of a snarling turtle, or a mime-toothed comb shaped like the face of an owl. The carvers will shave away larger pieces of wood than they would have discarded in the past, proving to themselves how deeply their art lies in the natural world, how much human effort it takes to get it out. Waste is always proof of plenty. As long as the tourist mill pointedly about, the artisans will carve. And they will carve anything.
Of late, the fancy has been especially large animals, or especially frightful ones. Or fertility symbols: renditions of reedy women with huge breasts that, if arrayed on a real woman, a man could curl his whole body around. These are what the tourists understand: busts of women, with nipples that shoot out like an invitation to hunt. Wooden imitations of natively naked women, with the curve of bottomless production in their bellies. Shuffling along in their traveling clothes, visitors will spill out paper and flat metal pieces, and those artisans who can count, count, and argue, and point to the tourist’s hand with the most paper, seeking more whether they need more or not, or whether the work of a morning is worth more or not.
It is our belief that the big animals will not make it through the rift between orders of lives. Only the small will manage to crawl to the next plane. In our houses, we have carvings of spiders and frogs and turtles and marmosets. And we have practical fertility charms of both the man and the woman. Some of these are ugly: women with small breast, where a man would have to squeeze both together to get a stiffening handful; and men whose prongs are high and cautious, and whose testicles could not contain the sputtering serum to cure any woman’s fever. But this is what we know there is within all of us, and this is what there will be to work with when worlds change and our village unconsciously renews.
You would not know that, from what our artisans craft these days. Their art looks out, not ahead. A thousand indecent women, only a handful of spear pronged men, and not a blanket to provide imagination for any. The artisans’ own clothes are getting better with the ability to trade at outside commercial markets, using sloshing boxes of tourist currency; and from their art’s marketability to the world, what they carve looks less like us, less like the world that sings sympathy to us all day, and more like the most extreme of us with tourist faces.
But then the quietly expected event comes to pass: one of our girls gives birth to a child with an extreme of body, parts out of our proportion, fit only for a modern artisan’s model, and the face of a tourist. The girl does not deny the act that all know produced the child, thick with the smell of tourist sweat and static electricity. She nurses the half alien thing at a breast that some local man should have blessed with a nearly flat palm during a more natural conception. She embraces the resounding intricacy of the stain that she has no husband. She expects to be the first of many.
From then on we ask: what did the carvers know, and what vengeful visions had they spit at us without our knowing? Were they singing guilelessly our best interests all along? Or are they both blameless and unknowing, mere artisans, and their art no more than what we see in wood that has been disenchanted?
The sound of the monster child’s crying can be heard across half the village, rattling with a rhythm that seems to settle in the round corners of our history. Some say it is a laugh. Some say it is the dreary music of want without wanting. All say it is not a sound of community. I say it is nothing but the sound of more. And more is going to have its way with us all.
A longtime friend of the Macabre, Ken Poyner writes from Virginia. http://www.kpoyner.com
Constant Animals, 42 unruly fictions
Victims of a Failed Civics, speculative poetry
The Book of Robot, speculative poetry
Avenging Cartography, 55 bizarre fictions
Available at http://www.barkingmoosepress.com,