I Am the Clay

I Am the Clay by Chaim Potok

Book: I Am the Clay by Chaim Potok Read Free Book Online
Authors: Chaim Potok
this place? What is it called? In the North I hunted one winter in a valley like this with my uncle and two cousins. A deep narrow river running through it and the trees down to the banks. How old was I? Fourteen? Fifteen? Long before the war between the Americans and the Japanese. Uncle shot six pheasants. And two huge boars. We came upon them burrowing for acorns in the snow. Coal black, big asbears, large tusks. One of them, wounded, charged to within nine feet of me and Uncle. Smelled him and saw his yellow eyes. Uncle gave me a piece of his liver in the hut later. Raw and warm and dripping. Cousins took a long time to stalk and shoot a goral. Uncle said I should become a hunter, not a farmer. Stay with me, I’ll teach you to hunt. You take the rich Japanese and Russians out hunting. From far off we saw leopards and even a tiger. But Uncle would never kill a tiger. A sacred animal, the tiger. Uncle said tigers protected the wild and miraculous ginseng roots. A single drink prepared from the ginseng root and a person will never shiver in the cold or suffer in the heat, Uncle said. You grow strong and immune to all illness. You live until you are eighty or ninety. But it must be the wild red ginseng root, Uncle said, not the cultivated one. What is this valley? Where are we? Have I fallen into a dream of my childhood? Thoughts caused by not enough meat? Wise to have held the raw liver of the dog until this time. Keeps fresh in the cold. Warm it just a little near the fire. Eat it tonight warm and raw. One piece for the boy. What shall I do with this boy? Is he good magic? Let him return with us to our village? But he is not of our blood.
    The old man sensed a change in the direction of the wind and felt the floor of the valley begin to climb. A faint keening accompanied the wind here, like the sound on the street in the city where he had slain the little dog. He trudged on, his shoulder muscles sore and quivering. Legs treading cautiously the icy pebbled path. Sweaty with exertion beneath the heavy cap and wadded clothes. Five days ago nearly dead, andnow, see, still alive. Where will we sleep tonight? Maybe a cave somewhere. They took away the pieces of the shack, those soldiers. Our soldiers. A knife to them!
    Entering the foothills, he saw propped up against a low boulder the badly decomposed body of a woman. Stringy black hair; empty eye sockets. She had been left in her clothes but her shoes were gone and the soles of her feet were torn to black-and-red strips from the pebbles and the ridged razorlike ice and her legs had turned black. Black too her sticklike arms and hollow face and the stubbly remnant of her nose.
    The woman saw the body and looked away. She murmured words taught her by her mother and quickly made horizontal and vertical motions with her right arm. It might be me in that cave if not for the healing spirits. Animals have been at her. No peace for her spirit. All the thousands and thousands of spirits of those slain in this war. No rest. No one to bring them offerings. Terribly lonely. As my spirit would have been had the boy and the man died. But better unburied than to lie in a wrong grave.
    The boy stared a long moment at the dead woman and turned away. Mother with her eyes wide open and frozen. Nose firm and straight and blackened with dirt. Earth in her gaping mouth. Maybe the fire did not destroy everything and I ran away too soon. Maybe I’ll stay with them in the refugee camp and return with them to their village and then go back to my village to see if anything remains. Maybe someone is alive and and Badooki returned and is waiting for me and and I should go back and and and …
    The woman left her place at the rear of the cart and went to the front and took the place of the old man, who then slipped the A-frame over his shoulders and walked off toward the trees to gather pine brushwood.
    From somewhere came the sudden chop of a helicopter echoing through the hills and advancing toward the

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