Juana’s Pearl

This story is from John Steinbeck’s novel – The Pearl. I chose to write it from Juana’s perspective while maintaining a third person narrative. Kino was the clear protagonist in the novel.

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He asked Juana to throw it away. She gazed at it, a brief hypnotic trance, then deciding this was something Kino needed to do, for his sake, their sake. It needed to be done to restore some semblance of sanity to their lives, even if it was just a facade.

She thrust the pearl in his hand as he shirked away, flinching, refusing to touch or even glance at it. But she was determined. It had to be done and Kino had to do it.

Pearls fascinated Juana. She came from a long line of pearl-divers, their boats were their most prized material possession and pearls, that helped line the King of Spain’s coffers, were what kept their small town clothed, fed and one step ahead of hunger and starvation. As a little girl she accompanied her Dad on pearl-diving trips, eagerly awaiting his emergence from the depths, bearing the haul of the day. She gazed for hours at the lustrous sheen, mesmerized by the distorted reflections she saw on the glistening surfaces, they seemed to be teasing her, tantalizing her. He explained to her the pearl’s essence, its origins as an irritant, an intruder that changed the oyster forever. She wondered why he never let her keep them, selling every single one to scrape together a living, a harmonious existence amongst gentle people whose lives moved with the serene music within their sensitive souls.

Now as they stood by the shore, purged of all joy, she remembered her Dad’s fears, his wariness of these shimmering manifestations of evil beauty. Her life with Kino had been a song, the earth’s melody sung in three simple notes until the day it all changed, forever.

That morning she had stood watching dawn’s first light playfully dancing on Kino’s back. Turning to Coyotito, asleep in his hammock, she had given silent thanks for her bliss. Humming a tune, she went about her chores and Kino came up from behind to plant a kiss on her neck. Then she saw it, out of the corner of her eye, a scorpion, crawling down the rope that suspended the hammock from the beams above. Screaming, she pointed as Kino glided across the room. Suddenly awake, Coyotito burst out laughing at the sight of his parents, shaking the rope. The scorpion fell on him and stung the split second before Kino could get there to pulverize and grind it to dust. The damage was done, she had witnessed the most horror-filled moment of her life. The neighbors heard of the tragedy and trickled in, standing paralyzed as they watched her lips on his wound, sucking and spitting out the poison. She yelled for a doctor and saw them exchanging sad glances, for the doctor would never attend to them.

At Juana’s insistence they set out for the stone and plaster city where the doctor lived. A servant was handed three small pearls as payment but returned, apologizing, shaking his head, indicating the doctor was unmoved. Juana had heard them inside, the doctor screaming in amazement at their audacious expectation of cure for an Indian child! She heard him remark he was a doctor, not a veterinarian.

They walked back, dejected and angry. Juana prayed the doctor would relent, seeking his help in her prayers rather than God’s, while Coyotito’s wound swelled underneath her seaweed poultices. They set out in their little boat the next morning, Kino wound tight as a whip, ready to strike. She sensed his anger and shame, felt his determination. She watched him dive knowing it was different this time. He stayed submerged for an eternity before emerging victorious with the biggest pearl she had ever seen, beaming with pride. They rejoiced, their prayers were answered.

Word spread, generating palpable excitement as everyone celebrated their good fortune, talking about the sum its sale could fetch, praying sudden luck wouldn’t change them. Juana was swept away in Kino’s excitement as he planned their future and dreamt of making Coyotito a man of letters, of bidding farewell to penury.

The doctor appeared at their door the next day bearing medicine for the child, postponing his fees pending the sale of the pearl. The priest who had refused them a church-wedding now came a-calling, expressing hopes of charitable donations.

Juana noted Kino’s gradual transformation from their protector to fierce defender of the pearl. She saw him dig a hole by the fireplace to hide it, saw him take to wearing his knife on his person, no signs of sleep in his watchful eyes. The burglary attempts on their home and her own sleeplessness had amplified the discordant notes, reverberating, filling her head until she couldn’t stand it anymore. She asked him to return the pearl to the ocean, calling it evil but he refused to listen, assuring her they would sell it, casting off evil and holding on to the good.

The tough negotiations at the market, as they pit their wits against the pearl buyers’ collusive powers yielded a miserable offer of 1000 pesos. An infuriated Kino had refused to sell for a pittance, threatening to go elsewhere, leaving them gaping after him. That night someone tried to steal from them again hurting Kino in the scuffle that ensued. Juana’s mind was made up. She extracted the pearl from its hiding place and crept out of the house while Kino slept, to return the pearl to its evil depths. As she raised her arm she turned to see a menacing looking Kino looming behind her, enraged. He snatched the pearl away from her and struck her with a force that sent her crashing against the rocks. He left her there and walked away. Battered and bruised, she walked back to see Kino struggling with a man. By the time she walked up to them, someone had died. Kino stood, staggering, attempting to steady himself, at his feet lay a murdered man. Juana had to think fast. Leaving Kino there, she dragged the man to the nearest bushes and hid him. Fugitives now, they needed to leave town, the murdered man would soon be found and trackers set on the trail of the murderer.

They set out in the wilderness, Coyotito in her arms and walked for miles, hiding whenever they spotted the trackers, climbing up mountains, evading them as best they could. Seeking shelter for the night, they found a cave by the lake. The trackers closed in and they hid, knowing it was but a matter of time. Kino’s restlessness grew. She knew he felt cornered, itching to confront his pursuers and force an end. He asked Juana to wait in the cave and left. She saw him attack the trackers like a man possessed, with vengeance and fury she hadn’t known he possessed. He shot at them while she crouched within and then the music stopped forever. Kino’s stray bullet had blown away Coyotito’s head.

Their monstrous irritant had left them tainted, altered beyond recognition. She wanted nothing more than to see Kino cast the evil back to the darkest depths from which it had emerged as she stood there rocking a blood-soaked bundle in her arms.

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