The world's largest pearl
During the 20th century, some of the greatest English-speaking storytellers were attracted to Mexico. The interest was fruitful: they wrote novels in which the Mexican landscape, exterior, and interior, is the protagonist.
Among them are Malcolm Lowry, D. H. Lawrence, and John Steinbeck. The following is an episode of Steinbeck's novel The Pearl, which takes place off the coast of Nayarit.
via La Razon
The beach was yellow sand, but when it reached the edge of the water, gravel of shells and seaweed took its place. Violinist crabs made bubbles and splashed in their sand holes, and in the shallow areas, small lobsters came in and out of their little houses in the gravel and sand. The bottom of the sea was full of things that crawled and floated and grew. Brown algae swayed in docile currents, green seagrass swayed from side to side, and seahorses nibbled at their stems. The pufferfish lived on the bottom, in the beds of seagrass, and the brightly colored crabs frolicked and swam over them.
On the beach, the hungry dogs and pigs of the village were ceaselessly searching for a fish or a dead bird that might have been washed away by the tide.
Though the morning was young, the sun's glow was high. The uncertain air that magnified some things and obstructed others floated over the Gulf so that all angles seemed unreal and the vision could not be trusted, so the sea and land had the sharp clarity and vagueness of a dream. So it might be that the people of the Gulf trusted the things of spirit and imagination, but they did not trust their eyes to show them distance or a clear contour or any optical accuracy. On the other side of the estuary, looking down from the village, a section of mangroves appeared clearly and telescopically defined, while another mangrove resembled a nebulous bundle of green-black color. Part of the distant coast disappeared into a rail that looked like water. There was no certainty in the fact of looking, no proof that what you saw was or was not there. And the people of the Gulf expected it to be the same everywhere, and it was no stranger to them. A beam of coppery light was suspended above the water, and the hot morning sun fell on it and made it vibrate blindly.
The fishermen's huts were near the beach, to the right of the village, and the canoes were secured in front of this area.
"He applied the plaster to the baby's swollen shoulder, a remedy as good as any... The cramps in the stomach had not occurred in Coyotito. Maybe Juana had extracted the poison in time".
Kino and Juana slowly approached the beach, heading for Kino's canoe, which was the only thing of value in the world. It was very old. Grandfather had brought it from Nayarit and had given it to his son, and so it had passed to Kino. It was both property and food source because a man with a boat can assure a woman that she will have what to eat. It is a bastion against hunger. And every year Kino retouched his canoe with pearly plaster, following the secret method he had learned from his father. This time he reached the canoe and touched the bow tenderly, as he always did. He arranged his diving stone and basket and the ropes that held both in the sand next to the canoe. Kino folded his blanket and placed it on the bow.
Juana placed Coyotito on the blanket and put his shawl over him so that the sun wouldn't shine on him. Now he was calm, but the swelling on his shoulder had spread to his neck and under his ear, and his face was red and feverish. Joan got into the water and shook it with her hands. She gathered seaweed and made a moist, flattened plaster with it, and applied it to the baby's swollen shoulder, a remedy as good as any and surely better than the one the doctor could have done. But the remedy did not have the authority of the doctor, because it was simple and had no cost. Stomach cramps had not occurred in Coyotito. Perhaps Joan had extracted the poison or in time, but she had not extracted the concern she felt for her firstborn. Joan had not prayed for the baby's recovery - she had prayed that they would find a pearl with which to pay for the doctor's services to cure the baby because the minds of the villagers are as illusory as the glow of the Gulf.
Kino and Juana pushed the canoe down the beach, towards the sea, and when the bow was afloat, Juana boarded the canoe, while Kino pushed the stern and swam to the side until the boat floated lightly and shivered with the incipient breaking of the waves. Side by side, Juana and Kino directed their double paddle oars out to sea, and the canoe dodged the water and whistled with speed. The other pearl fishermen had been out for a long time. A few moments passed before Kino could see them, gathered under the glow, maneuvering over the oystercatcher.
Light filtered through the surface water to illuminate the bed, where scarlet oysters with their pearls were clinging to the cracked bottom, a bottom full of broken, open shells. This was the bed that had given the King of Spain great power in Europe in times past, had helped to finance his wars and had decorated the churches for the welfare of his soul. The grey oysters with their flounces on the lips of the shells, those of barnacle crust with seaweed fringes hanging from the skirts and tiny crabs rising up for them. An accident could happen to these oysters, a grain of sand could enter the muscle folds and irritate the flesh until, to protect itself, the flesh wrapped the grain in a layer of soft tissue. But once the process had begun, the meat would continue to wrap the foreign body until it was released, released into a sudden current, or until the oyster was completely destroyed. For centuries men had dived and broken the oysters in the beds and left the shells open in search of the covered grains of sand. Shoals lived near the bed to be near the oysters discarded by the fishermen and to nibble on the shimmering interior of the shells. But the pearls were accidents and finding a pearl was a matter of luck, a slap from God, or the gods, or both, on the back.
Kino had two strings, one tied to a heavy stone and the other to a basket. He took off his shirt and pants and left his hat at the bottom of the canoe. The water was slightly oily. With one hand he grabbed the stone and with the other the basket, and slid his feet overboard and the rock carried him to the bottom. The bubbles rose to one side until the water cleared and he could see. Above, the surface of the water was an undulating mirror made of glitter, and he could see the keels of the canoes fixed through it.
Kino maneuvered carefully to prevent the water from darkening with mud or sand. He threaded his foot into the knot of his rock and his hands worked skillfully, releasing the oysters, some loose, others in clusters. He put them in his basket. At some points the oysters were glued together, so they came out in piles.
By then, the people of Kino had sung everything that had been or existed. They had composed songs for the fish, for the rough sea and the calm sea, for the light and the dark, for the sun and the moon, and all the songs were in Kino and his village - every song that would have been composed, even those forgotten. And as he filled his basket the song was in Kino, and the rhythm of the song was his beating heart as he fed on the oxygen contained in his breath, and the melody of the song was the greenish-grey water and the small elusive animals and the piles of fish that passed quickly and left. But in the song, there was a little internal secret song, barely audible, but it was always there, sweet, secret and persistent, almost hidden in the counter-melody, and this was the Song of the Pearl that could be because each shell in the basket could contain a pearl. Chance was against it, but fortune and gods might be in favor. And in the canoe above him, Kino knew that Juana was praying a magic prayer, her face unmovable and her muscles tense to force the fortune, to propitiate that the fortune was detached from the hands of the gods because she needed the fortune on her side to heal the inflamed shoulder of Coyotito. And because the need and desire were great, the small, secret melody of the pearl that might be resounded louder that morning. Entire phrases of it were heard clearly and softly in the Song of the Deep Sea.
Kino, because of his pride, youth, and strength, could stay down for about two minutes without forcing himself, so he worked at will, selecting the larger shells. As they were disturbed, the oyster shells were tightly closed. To his right was a mound of distraught rock, covered with young oysters that were not yet ready for harvest. Kino moved close to the mound, and then, on one side, beneath a small ledge, he saw a very large oyster that was alone, on the fringe of its attached sisters. The shell was partially open, because the ledge protected this old oyster, and on the lip, Kino saw a ghostly flash, and then the oyster closed. Her heartbeat at a strong rate and the melody of the pearl that could be resounded loudly in her ears. Little by little he released the oyster and held it tight against his chest. He kicked his foot out of the rock loop, and his body rose to the surface and his black hair shone in the sunlight. He reached the edge of the canoe and deposited the oyster in the bottom.
"Kino knew that Joan was praying a magical prayer, THE INCONMOVIBLE FACE, AND her tense muscles to force Fortune... She needed it on her side to heal Coyotito's shoulder.
Joan balanced the boat as he climbed up. Her eyes were lit with excitement, but calmly she pulled the rock, and then pulled the oyster basket and put it next to him. Juana sensed his excitement and pretended not to notice. It is not good to want one thing too much. Sometimes this drives away good fortune. You must want it just enough, and you must have a lot of tact with God or the gods. But Joan's breath was held. Kino resolutely drew his short knife. He looked at the basket expectantly. Perhaps it would be better to open the oyster at the end. He took a small oyster from the basket, cut the muscle, searched the folds of the flesh and threw it into the water. Then, it was like seeing the big oyster for the first time. He squatted at the bottom of the canoe, picked up the oyster and examined it. The folds had a glow ranging from black to brown, and only a few small barnacles were attached to the shell. Now Kino was reluctant to open it. What he saw at the bottom of the sea, he knew, could have been a reflection, a piece of shell that would have floated there, or a mere illusion. In this gulf of uncertain light, there were more illusions than realities.
But Joan's eyes were on him and he couldn't wait any longer. He placed his hand on the head covered with Coyotito.
-Open it," he said softly.
Kino skillfully slid his knife over the edge of the shell. Through the knife, he could feel the muscle hardening. He tilted the blade with skill, the muscle opened and the shell split. The lip became unshapen and eventually gave way. Kino lifted the flesh, and there it was, the great pearl, perfect as the moon. The pearl captured the light, assimilated it and returned it in silver incandescence. It was as big as a seagull's egg. It was the largest pearl in the world.
Joan held her breath and groaned a little. And for Kino, the secret melody of the pearl that could be burst forth clear and beautiful, rich, warm and adorable, brilliant, exultant and victorious. On the surface of the great pearl, he could see dreamlike shapes. He took the pearl from the dying flesh and held it in the palm of his hand, turned it over and saw that its curve was perfect. Joan approached to admire it in her hand, and it was the hand that had crushed against the doctor's door, and the bruised flesh of the knuckles had turned greyish white by the seawater. Instinctively, Joan went to where Coyotito lay, in her father's blanket. She lifted the seaweed plaster and saw the shoulder.
-Kino! he shouted in a high-pitched voice.
Kino removed his eyes from the pearl and saw that the swelling was disappearing from the baby's shoulder, the poison was withdrawing from his body. Kino's fist clenched over the pearl and his emotion erupted into it. Kino threw his head back and howled. His eyes spun and he screamed, and his body was stiff. The men from the other canoes looked at him, remained thoughtful and then sunk their oars into the sea and hurried to Kino's canoe.