Sunday, December 25, 2011

Patricia Highsmith / Oona, The Jolly Cave Woman

Patricia Highsmith


She was a bit hairy, one front tooth missing, but her sex appeal was apparent at a distance of two hundred yards or more, like an odour, which perhaps it was. She was round, round-bellied, round-shouldered, roun-hipped, and always smiling, always jolly. That was why men liked her. She had always something cooking in a pot on fire. She was simple-minded and never lost her temper. She had been clubbed over the head so many times, her brain was addled. It was not necessary to club Oona to have her, but that was the custom, and Oona barely troubled to dodge to protect herself.
Oona was constantly pregnant and had never experienced the onset of puberty, her father having had at her since she was five, and after having had at her since she was five, and after him, her brothers. Her first child was born when she was seven. Even in late pregnancy she was interfered with, and men waited impatiently the half hour or so it took her to give birth before they fell on her again.
Oddly, she kept the birthrate of the tribe more or less steady, and if anything tended to decrease the population, since men neglected their own wives because of thinking of her, or occasionally were killed in fighting over her.
Oona was at last killed by a jealous woman whose husband had not touched her in many months. This man was the first to fall in love. His name was Vipo. His men friends had laughed at him for not taking some other woman, or his own wife, in the times when Oona was not available. Vipo had lost an eye fighting his rivals. He was only middle-sized man. Ha had always brought Oona the choicest things he had killed. He worked long and hard to make an ornament out of flint, so he became the first artist on his tribe. All the others used flint only for arrowheads or knives. He had given the ornament to Oona to hang around her neck by a string of leather.
When Vipo’s wife slew Oona out of jealousy, Vipo slew his wife in hatred and wrath. Then he sang a loud and tragic song. He continued to sing like a madman, as tears ran down his hairy cheeks. The tribe considered killing him, because he was mad and different from everyone else, and they were afraid. Vipo drew images of Oona in the wet sand by the sea, then pictures of her on the flat stones on the mountains near by, pictures that could be seen from a distance. He made a statue of Oona out of wood, then one of stone. Sometimes he slept with these. Out of the clumsy syllables of his language, he made a sentence which evoked Oona whenever he uttered it. He was not the only one who learned and uttered this sentence, or who had known Oona
Vipo was slain by a jealous woman whose man had not touched her for months. Her man had purchased one of Vipo’s statues of Oona for a great price – a vast piece of leather made of several bison hides. Vipo made a beautiful watertight house of it, and had enough left over for clothing for himself. He created more sentences about Oona. Some men had admired him, others had hated him, and all the women had hated him because he had looked at them as if he did not see them. Many men were sad when Vipo was dead.
But in general people were relieved when Vipo was gone. He had been a strange one, disturbing some people’s sleep at night.

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