Voodoo Dancer
by Gustav Hasford
 
 

    A storm in Africa.  Heavy rain.  Moaning rain.  Lightning cracks the black bowl of heaven.  On a mountain of stone a naked man walks upside down, strapped into a leather harness suspended on a steel cable.  The giant strides across a cliff-face, defying gravity.  He looks up.  His beard is black and wet.  He laughs at the lightning, the threatening but beautiful broken veins of silver.  He reaches out, muscles flexing, and his big hands lock onto the jackhammer slung on his back.  He swings the heavy metal with a grunt, then stabs the mountain with it.  The jackhammer sparks and chatters; its whirring, diamond-edged drill bit digs in and cuts a blasting hole into the black rock.
    Two thousand feet below, on a green carpet, slapping limbs and flapping leaves cling to acacia trees in dark fluttering masses.  Jungle plants, rooted in frozen lava, do their wild dance on the crater floor.  Ancient trees groan and lean away from cold blasts of wind.
    Black men are singing.  When the sky drums beat, the walls of the hollow mountain dance.  The black men watch and sing while the white lion, the Master, works his magic upon the crater rim, sculpting the mountain with red sticks of dynamite.
    Upon a dancing nude woman of black stone, taller than the tallest tree, the Master works, high on the mountain, and his tough Kihuyu workmen watch with reverence and sing their magic songs.
    Boom:  the padded rolling of thunder.  Ba-BOOM.  Lightning strikes the dancer.  An explosion of silver.  The white lion falls.
 
 

VICTOR
    Uncle Rodney and Aunt Mary are late for their visit to my father's private room in the intensive-care unit of the UCLA Center for the Health Sciences.  They peek into the room, then tiptoe in.  "Now, don't you worry, Johnny," says Uncle Rodney, flashing a smile at my father.  "You're going to be well before you know it."  Uncle Rodney drops his packages onto the bed and reaches to take my father's hand.  He holds his hand out awkwardly, until he remembers that the Master's hands were amputated by a bolt of lightning.
    Uncle Rodney throws off another smile and pulls several gaudily patterned party hats form a brown paper bag.  He offers a hat to me and then to Opal, my wife.  Opal moves closer to me and takes my arm.  We shake our heads.
    Squinting through thick horn-rimmed glasses, Uncle Rodney adjusts his hat of purple cardboard.  He hands Aunt Mary a little red hat with tinfoil stars.  Aunt Mary places it on her head just so, careful not to muss her hair.  She turns it to us for approval.  Opal and I ignore her.  She dispenses a half-smile to each of us, like a queen pitching nickels to orphans.
    Uncle Rodney breaks the paper tube on a pink cardboard box, then peers over his potbelly at the birthday cake.  He lifts the cake from the box and places it on the bed.  He flicks up a dab of yellow icing with his right pinkie and sucks it off.  Uncle Rodney lights a few of the 78 candles on the cake; Aunt Mary stands by his side in her peach-velvet pants suit, as silent as a spider.
    The Master is watching us through a clear-plastic oxygen tent.  He is breathing with determination.  The doctors have given him an hour to live.
    Uncle Rodney and Aunt Mary count:  "One . . . two . . . three."  They blow out the candles together.  "Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday, dear Johnny.  Happy birthday to you."
    The night nurse, in her starched white smock, appears at the door.  Each night the fat little nurse pushes her stainless-steel cart down the green linoleum corridor, pausing at each room.  The night nurse collects the items of the dead:  wilted roses in plastic pots shrouded with gold tinfoil, half-eaten Hershey bars, yellow-green Vicks cough drops, eyeglasses and used Kleenex.  The night nurse stares at us, annoyed by the singing.  Her face is fish-belly white, acne scarred and without expression.  Her body carries a smell of strong antiseptic soap.  She jerks her stainless steel cart out of the doorway and shoves it down the corridor to the next room.
    Uncle Rodney and Aunt Mary start cutting the birthday cake.
    A 15-year-old volunteer nurse peeps into the room.  I step over to the door to tell her to please excuse us.  But I feel my father's powerful consciousness exerting a familiar hold upon my mind.  "Come in," I say.
    The little blue-eyed blonde Botticelli angel in the peppermint smock sidles up to the bed and smiles, sweet and tender.  I can feel my father's pleasure.  The girls takes her hands from behind her back and holds out a birthday card as big as a menu.  She steps closer, opens the card and holds it where the Master can see it.  The card has been signed by dozens of patients and candy stripers, and by most of the members of the hospital staff.  The girl's pretty face is strained--she is fighting tears.
    My father smiles.  The girl's face glows with recognition.  Then he starts coughing, drawing in each breath with terrible exertion.
    I can feel his power waning.  My father's mind, strong, hard and patterned like a vast black snowflake, is slowly melting.  Yet it is exerting its old bond upon my own consciousness with a desperate new intensity.
    The night nurse, without her cart, comes in and readjusts the oxygen tent over my father, and we know that it is her signal for us to leave.  She gives the candy striper a threatening glance and then struts out.
    Uncle Rodney and Aunt Mary each lift big wedges of birthday cake on pale pink napkins.  They take little bites with flawless teeth.
    The candy striper smiles, waves a little wave, says goodbye softly and slips out.  Nobody in the family says goodbye.  Perhaps we fear it might be interpreted as a final farewell.  And Uncle Rodney has insisted that my father never be told that he is dying.
    I'm the last to leave.  As I close the door behind me, I can hear my father.  A whisper.  At first I think that he is touching me with his mind.  But Opal turns and looks at me; she hears it, too.  The Master is singing:  "Happy birthday to me.  Happy birthday to me . . ."
 

    My father's last words were not loud enough to be heard.  He did not cry out.  He just stopped breathing.  He drew air in, let it out, drew it in, let it out. . . . and then he was quiet.  There was nothing noble or tragic or notable about his death--nothing to color his passing with the grandeur so often attributed to the deaths of great men.  I expected a more dramatic struggle.  I assumed that his manner of dying would be unique, like his life.
    In his final moments, in a deep coma, my father concentrated with fierce determination, as though his delirious mind were locked in some hopeless and desperate battle.
    I stand over him now, waiting for his breathing to resume.  Then, controlling myself, I ring for the night nurse.
    Minutes pass.  My breathing is the only sound.  I look out the door, suddenly afraid to be alone.
    Far down the corridor, seated inside the nurses' station, is the fat, indifferent little R.N.  She glances up from her magazine, obviously annoyed that another patient has selected her shift in which to die.
    I find my way back to the bed and try very hard not to concentrate on the squeaking of rubber wheels and the clack-clack of footsteps in the corridor.
    The night nurse is coming with her cart.
 

    The gathering of the hyenas:  dozens of newspaper reporters, wire-service agents and camera crews converge upon me, armed with tattered pocket notebooks, black-body Nikons and blue minicams.  They have come to do an autopsy in ink.
    I answer questions, unable to focus my eyes upon the floating balloons of their faces.  Yes, my mother died when I was born.  No, my father didn't work upon his masterpiece, Voodoo Dancer, for years after my mother's death.  Yes, I lived alone with my father in Tanganyika until I was ten years old, and then I came to Glendale, California, to live with my Uncle Rodney.
    Leaning against the big red coffee machine in the nurses' lounge, I remember how my father always said that being a successful celebrity required nothing more than learning the art of repeating yourself.  I spell my father's African names--Bula Matari, "rock breaker"; Simba-eupe, "the white lion"; and Peki Yaki, "the lonely one."
    I try to rephrase the old stories:  the loss of my father's left eye to a granite splinter, his glass eye, the storms, the avalanches, ribs cracked by a rock python, Kikuyu workmen buried alive beneath tons of rock, two fingers lost to premature explosions of detonator caps, scorpion stings, broken bones.  And then I retreat.
    I go home to Opal.
 

    Paul Cezanne, my father's favorite artist, fell into a terminal coma while painting a landscape of the Chateau Noir during a storm in Aix-en-Provence.  Like Cezanne, my father fell at his work, dying in the rain.  Death can never draw the color from Cezanne's completed canvases, while my father's life work has been abruptly abandoned, half-finished.
    The Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale is the world's most offensive example of nature imprisoned in unblemished rank and file.  Italian saints, sculpted by robots, stand guard in precise alignment--marble sentries protecting visitors from nasty thoughts of death.  Shrubs dissect the featureless golf course of the final slumber.  The grass is cropped close to the ground, each blade as clean and perfect as the cellophane grass in Easter baskets.
    All of the buildings at Forest Lawn look like medieval gas stations.  As Opal and I walk into the Memorial Court of Honor, I can feel the structure over me--the organized bricks, the great weight of stone.  I am seeing with my father's eyes, just as I did when he was alive.  Standing so close to death must be stimulating my imagination, for I am seeing many thing I cannot explain.  Dark corridors lit by torchlight. A panther with fangs of gold.  Melting dream colors.  Flaws in the fine marble slabs on the wall.
    They are going to seal my father's remains in a marble crypt in the wall in the Court of Honor.  A heavy bronze plaque set in stone will record:  JOHN WHITING LOCKWOOD--AMERICAN SCULPTOR 1901-1979.  The great marble hall is dominated by a vast stained-glass reproduction of da Vinci's Last Supper.  My father would have thrown a chair through it.
    Tourists, family and friends file by the coffin.  It is a white coffin, topped off with a heavy wreath of blood-red roses.  Across a broad, pale-yellow sash, black letters proclaim RODNEY AND MARY.
    Uncle Rodney and Aunt Mary greet us in the acceptably subdued fashion.  Aunt Mary clutches her new Bible, which is bound in white calfskin.
    "My father wanted to be cremated," I say.  "You know that, Uncle Rodney.  The Master thought that funerals were obscene."
    Uncle Rodney puffs his Tiparillo.  "Your father was a child, Victor.  Gifted, but a child.  Everyone always said so.  This cremation stuff is a fad.  Everybody needs a decent Christian burial.  This is a great tribute to his genius and all that.  They don't put everybody in this Court of Honor."
    I start to object more strongly, but Opal presses my arm with her fingers.  She's right.  I have never been able to stand up to Uncle Rodney the way my father could.  And this is neither the time nor the place.
 

    Suddenly I choke with fear.  I don't know what to do.  Something ugly is happening.  My thoughts are dark fragments that collide inside my head without meaning, without continuity.  I touch my father's corpse.
    I see my father dancing.  He is Mundunugu, the magician, dancing sweaty and naked.  Bantu tribesmen pound upon empty oil drums, which have been heated to increase resonance.  A bonfire of logs and cow dung throws golden shadows across the swaying multitudes.  Beautiful black women dance in circles around my father.  They are naked, their full breasts swaying.  My father dances faster as his arousal peaks.  An angry African god enters his body and possesses him, shaking him into a frenzy.  My father struggles with the dark spirit and, screaming, he rejects the unnamed god, throwing it out of his body with a violence that leaves him unconscious.
    Death.  Without warning I suddenly have a corpse's-eye view.  I seem to be swaying.  I call out for Opal.  I am falling . . .
 

    Death is like being dropped from an airplane into the Arctic Ocean, bound inside a black rubber bag.  There are no golden angels here.  The song of death is silence--a cold shit-cake of silence.  The land of the dead is an ocean of blood in which float black islands ringed by bone corrals.  In the galaxy of the dead, God is a fat white spider, and stars are beads of dew shimmering upon his hard black web.
    Here, smothering in polar darkness, I hover above the funeral ritual taking place in life.  They are shoving me into the stone crypt.  I have been decorated with the most expensive mortician's cosmetics:  dye in the embalming fluid to make me pink, eyelids cemented together.  Vaseline on my eyelashes, clear nail polish on my teeth.  My jaw has been dislocated and then wired into place to keep my mouth from opening.  My lips have been smeared with lipstick and then sewn to my gums so that I won't smile.
    In the embalming room they hoisted me up on straps, opened a vein in my neck, inserted a brown rubber tube and drained out my blood.  A hollow needle was inserted near my navel, into my abdomen, and the fluids were drawn from my torso.  An incision was made under my right arm, and another brown rubber tube was inserted.  Six gallons of formaldehyde were pumped into me to permeate my dead tissue.  My intestines were removed, dipped in embalming fluid, powdered and replaced.  With the skill and the tools of a sculptor, they massaged and molded me like pale-yellow modeling clay, filling hollow and sunken areas with injections from a hypodermic syringe, even attaching flesh-toned plaster of Paris hands to my severed wrists.
    As my corpse is sculpted residue, so is my Dancer.  Just as my life exists in action, the art in my Dancer consists of the valuable energy invested in its execution.  The stone object I have left behind is not important to me, but not even death itself can stop me from finishing what I have begun.  I must have more time.  Time is the shadow.  I see clearly now; I broke all that rock for nothing.  Death has given vision to my glass eye.
    "I regret that I am dying," said Michelangelo on his deathbed, "just as I am beginning to learn the alphabet of my profession."
    In his last piece of marble sculpture, Rondanini Pieta, Michelangelo was groping for new forms, as though all his earlier work had, in the shadow of death, become meaningless to him.  The piece, one of two intended for his own sarcophagus, was a rough fragment, destroyed partly by his own hand.  He was still struggling with it a few days before he died.  The unfinished marble depicts a cowled figure with Michelangelo's features holding the dead Christ.  The figures are half polished stone and half crude outline, as though they are struggling to be free of the stone and have been arrested in limbo.  Now I see the cruelty of an intense creative urge--just as a man starts to free himself from the stone, his time runs out.
    Victor, my good son, reaches down into my coffin and lifts me up.
    I concentrate harder--and harder.
    My son screams, "Opal!"
    And then he faints.

 

THE MASTER
    I'm so tired.  Thirty years I worked on the crater cliff, worked harder than any of my tough Kikuyu, and I have never been tired until today.  This must be the death.  Yes, this is the death, and there is no dignity in it.  Rodney and his cardboard hats.  My brother is so proud of protecting me from my own death by telling me lies.  Rodney protects himself and his paint-by-number life.  Talking about death is uncouth, like talking about shit at the dinner table.  Do Rodney and his little wife think that they can frighten death away merely by singing Happy Birthday off-key?
    My body is already decomposing, one cell at a time, and its crumbling fossils will stain the white silk lining of this coffin forever.  This marble crypt is even smaller than the hospital room where I lay for so long, surrounded by clean things, until my heart could no longer toss the dark blood from side to side.
    Like my ugly old landlady in Paris, 50 years ago, death came to the door of my hospital room and knocked and knocked, and would not go away.  Vague forms sat beside me for comfort.  Talking clouds came and went and exchanged educated guesses.  And in the middle of the night, I could hear the sick men plea-bargaining with God.
    Last night I looked at my reflection in the dresser mirror.  My reflection was a tired old man.  My reflection was distorted by the oxygen tent over me.  My reflection was lying in bed under pale-blue sheets.  He didn't look like he was having very much fun.  His awesome strength was gone now:  all of the good things had drained out, and the hungry shadow had come to eat what was left.  All my reflection could think about was to make his escape--an escape from carrion--knowing that, even so, he would miss it very much.  Slowly, and with terrible effort, he raised one neatly bandaged stub of forearm.  He looked at me for a moment, and then he waved goodbye.
    My son is experiencing my fear of death; I feel it.  His confusion brings back the memory of my father's death.
    My father was, like most men, a failure.  I loved my father, but I never liked him.  He tried to blame me for the fact that he was a failure, probably because I was trying so hard not to be one.  The sad reality was that there was never anything that my father could teach me.
    He tried to teach me.  My first crude sculptures were miniature animals in soap--a squirrel and a moose and an eagle.  My father threw them into the kitchen sink and turned on the hot water.  He forced me to watch until the animals dissolved.
    The difference between me and my father was that I didn't care that he destroyed my dream figures.  I could always cut more beautiful animals from cheaper soap.  The dream was in the cutting, not the holding.  But my father had lost his hold upon his kind of dream somewhere, and it had done something bad to him.  It took me many years to understand that it was not his fault that my father was weak.  And it wasn't my fault, either.
    Memories from my chrysalid years are popping to the surface of my mind like bones in a swamp:  Growing up in Glendale, Paris, Athens, Rome, Amsterdam.  Dirty rooms in a dozen great cities, but always the same dirty room.  Constructing a log cabin with muscle and an ax.  The first time I saw Helen, my wife.  Helen's face in African twilight.  The black iron train in which Victor rode away from me to live with his Uncle Rodney until his education was completed.  And I remember the work, the endless work, each piece--oils, watercolors, collages, metal sculpture--all old friends long ago sold in Rodney's art gallery.  And stone.  Small pieces of stone at first, then bigger ones.  I saw things in stone and I was sure that I could get them out.
    And then came the day I wanted to kill myself.
    I was working with a large block of granite.  My subject was to be a stone reproduction of the bronze group I had so admired as a boy.  But as I poured water over the block, I discovered that the stone was worthless, with many flaws.  And I had no more money.  No money for food, and no money with which to pay my tough old landlady, who knocked and knocked while I pretended that I wasn't home, hoping she'd go away.
    My work was the only thing I had.  When I saw that the stone was worthless, it ceased to be a massive amulet protecting me from hunger and humiliation.  Work cures.  Work is the best food in the world.  You hammer and you work.  The granite sparks and hot splinters embed themselves in your face.
    To the untrained eye, a stone is an inanimate lump.  Yet the shadows within a stone are of gripping beauty, and every stone radiates a vibrant inner life.  The people and animals and flowers are forms imprisoned in living rock.  The form is waiting there inside the stone, waiting for someone to see it and release it.  First, you eyes cuts the rock.  Then come the decisions of the hand.  The stone that remains is nothing more than the crystal reproduction of the vision of the eye, the hard fossil residue of your anger.  If we could all see with the eyes of a sculptor, if we could feel the cold heartbeat of a stone, we would all know that the stone is inside us and that we are inside the stone.
    Overwhelmed by depression, I rigged up a block and tackle in my cluttered studio.  I set the flawed stone at an angle, and then grunted and grunted until it touched the ceiling.  Tying off the rope, I picked up a dirty butcher's knife and stretched out on the floor.  Beneath the stone.  This was to be my romantic death.
    The knife sawed through the rope.  The stone tilted as it fell.  Five hundred pounds of granite--I was thinking about how no dealer would exhibit my pieces, about how no human being appreciated the wonderful creatures I had liberated from stubborn rock, about how I'd never had a woman, about how sick it made me when I had to flick fat black cockroaches off my bread and cheese, about the rats that had fights under my cot at night, and particularly about the unearthly cackle my landlady always used to ridicule my work.  Soon my old landlady would be back at my door, pounding, pounding, sniffing with her big crooked nose.  Only this time she would perhaps choke on her cackle.
    As the stone fell, it tilted again, and I could see deep into the dark mess of red, deep into the granite crystals.  I saw a woman, a stone Madonna, and I was seized with a fierce hunger to attack that stone, to hammer it brutally until it broke open and released the perfect woman child I could see.  Then every man with eyes would be able to see her exactly as she had been revealed to me as the stone fell.
    I rolled to my side, thinking, I must do this one thing--then I can die.  The granite block struck the cement floor with a wall-jarring crunch and shattered into chunks.  I lay on the cold floor in the dust and the rubble, staring at the broken stone, seeking fragments of an unearthly beauty.
    I left my studio, ignoring the curses and threats of my landlady.  I hiked into the countryside outside of Paris, seeking another stone in which I might glimpse that evil angel's face.  I was in a hurry to find the perfect stone and be done with life.  I would release the nude girl and then I would use the finished piece of sculpture as a suicide weapon.
 

    Ten years went by quickly--ten years of wandering and fighting and stale bread and jeers and arrests and a marriage to Helen, my most gifted protégé.  Then came recognition, success, fame, wild adulation.  I developed a passion for the study of primitive art.  Helen and I journeyed to Tanganyika in the summer of 1923.  There, without warning, I saw the girl I had seen in my studio in Paris.  She was a beautiful shadow trapped inside a high cliff on the inner rim of the world's largest volcanic caldera.
    Today, as I am swallowed by darkness, I am back in Africa, standing on the crater's rim, holding Helen's hand, pausing to gasp at the spectacle--the unending rim, the crater floor stretching out beyond our vision, a green carpet peppered with wild animals.  And then, laughing with joy at having found a home, Helen and I led our safari down the steep animal track into the vast and awesome beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater. . . .
 

OPAL
    As I stand beside Victor at the Master's funeral, I can see the moments only as black-and-white snapshots.  Still-shot:  the Master, powdered and immaculate, a brawny doll in a black tux sinking into the silky white lining of his coffin, the once-powerful body a morbid parody of the living man.
    Black dresses, black tears.  Frilly silk handkerchief's patting powdered noses.  Hundreds and hundreds of flower wreaths mounted on Styrofoam, displayed on stands of green wire.  Captions:  selecting the honorary pallbearers, greeting distinguished visitors.  Uncle Rodney holds up Aunt Mary, who has been heavily sedated, he says.  Aunt Mary nods to sympathetic tourists, as though she were the humble central character of the occasion.  Then Aunt Mary makes a great production of selecting only that music she is sure the Master would have liked.
    Looking at the Master for the last time, I am stunned and ashamed to admit that my primary reaction, aside from grief, is deep sexual arousal.
    The lion is down, and I can only watch helplessly as the jackals circle nearer and nearer.  The few who are crying real tears are crying for their own deaths, now made more immediate.
    A tall, bespeckled minister reads a eulogy composed by Uncle Rodney.  The the minister worships death in his quiet way.  He tells us about how we are dust and about how much like a retirement community Heaven is, and tries with an almost comic sincerity to construct the Pearly Gates and make them real.  But in the end his Heaven remains an edifice of shadows, sprinkled with dime-store stardust.
    Victor leans down and kisses his father's forehead.  Then he leans over and puts his arms around the corpse and lifts it up,hugging it.  He hugs the remains harder and harder.  At a glance from me, two of the pallbearers step up and gently but firmly pull Victor away.  The corpse sinks back into the white silk.
    Eyes crooked with terror, Victor glares into the coffin.  He opens his mouth and makes a terrible sound.  "Opal!"
    Victor faints and falls to the floor.
 

    Victor and I were married in Westwood, and then flew to East Africa for our honeymoon.  All of my friends were stunned that Victor Lockwood, husky UCLA Bruins fullback, tall and strong and handsome and the son of a household word, would marry me, a mediocre photography student.  I'm not beautiful.  I'm not witty.  The UCLA campus is overpopulated with tall, slender, blue-eyed blondes with big chests and something witty to say every minute.  I was a freshman, only 17.  We met in the library.  Victor would bring me study problems he couldn't solve, and I always helped him.  Victor needs me very much.  And, at first, I needed him.  I had so much desire, so much energy--I needed a focal point.  I thought that with Victor I would be safe and that he and I could become valuable people together.
    Africa.  The janitor in the Nairobi airport sang tribal songs and smiled as he shoved his broom.  We rented a zebra-striped Landrover and drove the hundred miles through storybook countryside where signs read:  ELEPHANTS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY.  We drank well water and joked with playful yet dignified Masai moran, admiring their scarlet robes and long-bladed spears.
    The Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera in the world, was nine miles in diameter.  The emerald-green floor of the crater is a surprisingly peaceful and idyllic homeland for 40,000 wild animals--rhinos, giraffes, lions, elephants, wildebeests, Thomson's gazelles, and dozens of other species.  It is an unblemished natural zoo, the last stronghold for these animals in Africa.  Standing in the gentle sunlight on the crater's rim, high above the Master's hut in the Laianai Forest, I took a deep breath and fell in love with Africa.
    My first meeting with my husband's world-famous father did not go as I had expected.  The Master ignored Victor's attempts to introduce me and said, "Victor, I will need dynamite.  A truckload of dynamite.  And a work crew."
    Then he looked me square in the face and said, "You--hand me that chisel."
    I handed him the chisel.  The work on his Voodoo Dancer--in limbo for 18 years--started once again, and I was a part of it.  The Master treated me as though I had always been a member of the family.  He spoke to Victor, who had been in America for years, as though Victor had only just come back from a two-day safari.
    Victor and I never returned to UCLA.  We worked at the Master's side for almost a year.  Until the accident.
    The Master's Voodoo Dancer was a thousand feet tall.  With very little imagination, it was possible to see what the Master was striving to bring into focus in frozen black lava.  Half-completed, the dancer was a childlike black woman--nude, with braided hair, full lips, full breasts, muscular thighs--caught up in the ecstasy of the dance, giving birth to a skull.  The Master's ebony sorceress was lost in a trance, spastic, sinews taut, sweat glistening, the jungle drums pounding inside her heart, her desirable body inhabited, for that instant, by some obscene African deity.  The Voodoo Dancer was mother to Death itself--dancing, moaning, straining to give the skull within her to the world.
    In high school, my classmates and I were once assigned to write compositions giving opinion on why John Lockwood, the world's greatest sculptor, had abandoned his masterpiece.  My own paper argued that Mr. Lockwood could no longer work because of the loss of his eye, aggravated by all of the other physical injuries he had sustained during the construction of his monumental work.  And while I got a B-plus on that paper, I was wrong.  The real reason the world's greatest sculptor could not complete his life's work was revealed to me a few weeks after Victor and I arrived at Ngorongoro.  The Master recruited a crew of Kikuyu laborers and began to drive them on and on.  The Master's energy and determination were electric, and his will vibrated through all who knew him.  He worked hard and was happy.
    Within a month he had put my face on the Dancer.
    A few weeks before the accident the Master took me to a cave a mile from the Dancer.  The cave was a place of magic, frequented by witch doctors since time began.  Staring at the bizarre rock paintings in flickering torchlight, deep inside the cave, I wondered how much truth there might be in the legends that in the dawn of time the crater had been the magic center of the earth, and that the black lava from the earth's core was charged with great power, a power which caused the first primitive people to converge here, seeking magic emanations.  And I wondered why the Kikuyu, who worshipped mountains, were so confident that one night soon the Master's Dancer would come to life and begin to dance and then the primal core of people all over the globe would surface.
    "I would like to have been a caveman," said the Master.  "My senses would have been clean.  And perhaps my mind would have been naturally creative, like a child's."  The Master indicated a group of crude stick figures--a reindeer, a boy, a girl, and two water buffaloes--near the bottom of the cave wall.
    "These rock paintings were made by a hundred clans over a period of a hundred centuries.  The artists were priests and magicians.  You see how disrespectful one faith is of all others, how they paint over the older designs, or overlap an old design, incorporating its best features into their own particular configuration."
    The Master pointed a second time, and I squinted until I realized that a mark on the wall, next to the stick figures, was the handprint of a child, fossilized.  And overlapping was a slightly larger handprint.  Sometime, millions of years before I was born, two children had amused themselves by pressing their hands into the damp clay wall of their shelter.  Now that clay had hardened to stone, like the stone skulls of Olduvai Gorge, and suddenly my 17 years seemed like nothing.
    When I agreed to go down into the cave with the Master I was sure that he intended to make love to me.  In the months that Victor and I had worked alongside the Master, I had seen his suffering.  The Master loved me more than he could say.  He was imposing the beautiful structure of his love for me upon the mountain.
    He held my face in his powerful hands.  His callused fingers caressed my face tenderly for a long time.  Then I unbuttoned my khaki shirt, and he put his hands on my breasts.  My nipples were hard and tender.
    He turned me around and shoved down my khaki shorts and pressed me forward, gently.  I put my hands on the damp cave wall and braced myself, legs apart.  Muscular thighs pressed hard into my rear and his penis entered me and he grunted, working his body at an awkward angle, hands locked around my waist, lifting me with every thrust.
    I came almost immediately, exhaling all of the air that was in me in one desperate moan.  The Master's body pounded into me more urgently.  I clawed the damp wall with my fingernails, sobbing.
    A voice called out at the mouth of the cave.
    We froze.
    A form appeared in the jagged piece of light.  "Opal?  Opal!"
    The Master quickly withdrew from inside me and pulled up his ragged cutoffs.  I pulled up my shorts and fumbled with the buttons on my shirt.  I took a deep breath and said, "Victor?  Is that you?"
     The Master never touched me again.
    We were together more often after that, and we talked.  The Master had no secrets.  He talked of the indignity of 18 years of artistic and sexual impotence.  He joked that he had been "castrated by angels."  He told me dirty stories, like the one about how Rembrandt had pretended to fear the arrogant King Ferdinand while screwing the king's daughter every night.  But he refused to take me again.  He directed his excess energy into his work, driving his steam shovels and bulldozers (his "yellow dinosaurs"), drilling with his jackhammer, and drinking and fighting with his Kikuyu workmen.
    Victor knew that there was a special bond between me and the Master, but he said nothing.  Victor loved us; he understood.  Late at night I would walk barefoot to the Master's hut and I would lie down and sleep beside him.  Or I would lie awake and watch him sleeping.  Those were necessary hours for me.  I never felt closer to him.
    The only time I cried was the night I was walking to his hut and saw him climbing the crude path which zigzagged up the cliff to the Dancer.  I followed him.  Then, standing high on the crater rim, under the bright African moon, I saw him clinging to the rough stone, naked, rubbing himself upon it and making silent love to his Dancer until he bled, and until he was rewarded with relief, if not satisfaction.
 

    The day after the Master's funeral Victor and I return to East Africa.  We live in Nairobi for a while, but Victor insists that we return to the Dancer.  Uncle Rodney's engineers greet us; Uncle Rodney is planning to promote the Dancer as a major tourist attraction.  We will try to make a life here, but we don't know what to do.  We both feel a great loss, a chilling emptiness.
    Victor and I are having gruesome nightmares.  I see myself dead in the earth.  My hair has grown longer and longer and longer and has entered the earth like roots, and now my body is decomposing and is being absorbed into the moist soil and is sucked up by the roots of a tree and then the bones of my fingers grow out of a bare branch and hang against a moonlit sky, cold and white.
    Victor is going insane.  He sleeps with a cocked Smith & Wesson revolver.  He is convinced that he is being stalked by a panther.  He is afraid to go to sleep because of the dreams in which a panther tears out his throat and laps up every drop of his blood.  The panther then licks the bloodless flesh from his bones.  Victor raves that the panther in his nightmare is the Master.  In those ten long years of living together, Victor and the Master had developed some form of extrasensory communication, I know.  Perhaps when the Master died, part of Victor's mind died with him.
    Unless I can divert Victor's attention from these ugly delusions, we will soon both be insane.
 

    We go for a Sunday picnic on the bank of the Munge River on the crater floor.  It is a pearl of a morning.
    The clean African sunlight warms us as we sit on a red-checkered tablecloth and watch the vast flock of pink flamingos feeding in the shallow soda lake nearby.  I eat sandwiches I have made from roasted antelope and mayonnaise.  I drink English beer.  I watch lion cubs practicing future kills with playful mock attacks.
    "Victor?"
    He does not reply.  He's watching something in the river.  Perhaps a bird on a floating log.  Or a hippo's snout.  He keeps his eyes on the river and won't look at me.
    "Victor?"
    "Goodbye, Opal," he says with a terrible finality.
    "You're not eating," I say, forcing a facsimile of good humor into my voice.  I try to hand him a sandwich.  "You haven't eaten all day."
    Victor looks at me and smiles.  It is not a happy smile.  It's as though I made a joke without knowing it.
    Victor hits himself in the face.
    I'm not surprised.  I just want to cry.
    I don't know what to do.  The silence between us is expanding.  So I watch the object in the river, too.  It is soon carried out of sight.
    Victor stands up.  He squints, staring downriver.  Without a word he jogs down the riverbank and plunges into the muddy water.
    I run after him.  I can't see him anymore.  I run along the riverbank until I stumble into an elephant wallow and fall.  Pulling myself out of the sucking black mud, I see Victor.  He's tearing off his clothes.  Naked, he dives down into the dark water and swims into the mainstream.  A powerful current catches him.  His hands clutch his throat.  I catch my breath.  The current is carrying him away.
    Victor struggles, goes under.
    I stumble into the river and I swim, as hard as I can.
    The current is too strong for me.  I sink into liquid darkness.  I feel the cold tug of the deep and I know that I am drowning.
 
 

MY FATHER/MY SON
    Swimming back toward the riverbank, I am strong.  I have awakened to the brighter senses of a healthy young body.
    I see Opal go under.  I swim hard and I dive straight down.  The water is too swift and dirty to see, but something is flung into my thigh.  I grab it--Opal's arm--and pull her up.  I tow her back to shallow water.
    We stand upon wobbling legs, coughing up dirty water.  We stagger up the riverbank and collapse upon soft yellow grass.
    We lie sprawled upon the grass, breathing hard, happy to be alive.  Then I look at her for the first time.  She tries to speak.  I unbutton her khaki shorts and I pull them down, slowly, and then I'm on her, grunting.
    She's crying.  After the groans and the touching and the teeth marks across her nipples, she's feeling the pain of loss and she cries.  She sobs and moans like a ghost wailing to be understood, and she pounds her forehead into my shoulder until her anger is exhausted.  Then we are quiet, sharing the pain.  Life is cruel, but art is without mercy.
    "I'll go to Nairobi for the dynamite," I say.  "You assemble the men.  We've got work to do."
    Opal stops crying.  A whisper:  "Yes."  I hold her.  I kiss her bright eyes, her undefeated face.
 
 
 

Gustav Hasford, author of the novel "Short-Timers" (Harper and Row), ventured to Africa to research this story.  As he stood high on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, he swears he saw the Voodoo Dancer.
 

 
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