He came alone. I might ‘a been a little girl, but I remember what I saw. T’was a bright summer’s morning down at the shore. The haze had burned off hours ago, t’weren’t a bit fogged over as the tellers now say. An’ he din’na come walking on the water neither. His craft were simple, his clothes plain, an’ his head bare. For all Katie an’ I could tell, there weren’t two bones special about him. The Wisdom Giver was just a man. Or the idea of a man. Not a thing more to him.
An’ so we paid him no mind. He simply became part of the village. Plucked apples in the fall, planted seed in the spring, put the sickle in come autumn. Perfectly normal; abnormally quiet. Wouldn’t whistle, wouldn’t sing, wouldn’t laugh—an’, ay, din’na talk hardly at all. We waited to hear his voice for nigh two years. T’was almost like our ears got thirsty for it, simply for lack of ever knowing it. But when he finally spoke, I found I couldn’na listen. “A voice of gold!” some said. Not I. Oh, it was a rich voice, full of texture and depth as though his chest were a great cave the ocean rolled into and his mind the crag where the water gushed out. But his words, his speech, were brass to my soul.
“T’is a dim day,” he said that second spring. He said this while standing in the dead center of town, his head lifted up at the midday sun, his hand shielding his eyes as though his body din’na quite agree with his mouth. The ladies passing heard him talk as though talking to himself, and they were so startled as to hear him speak that not one of them questioned what he said. Katie an’ I heard the rumor that he’d spoke as we left the school house, but his words made no sense to us for it had been the sunniest day we could’a hoped for in springtime. All the flowers were open as witness. The man’s head had to be cracked.
Time passed, an’ he said nothing more but those four words. Once a month or so he’d stop—same place, same time of day—and speak those four words into the air ‘round the square. He did this with no one questioning him, and on the clearest, most beautiful of days. No one heard him say any different ’til one day one of the men said, “Ay, t’is.” Perhaps agreeing with him was thought of as an act of kindness, a way of engaging the stranger in conversation to make him feel welcome. I never asked. Even though it seemed foolish to me, I din’na challenge what was said to the stranger. An’ that’ll be why I blame myself for what happened to Katie.
As the years passed, the townsfolk simply started saying ay to the man.
T’is a dim day.
Ay, t’is now.
The light is not so strong. The sun has hid himself behind those clouds.
Ay, he’ll do that every so often.
Katie an’ I and the boys thought it all were a joke. Surely, people must be laughing behind the man’s back for the talk would run such without there being a stretch of cloud in the sky. Then maybe, we thought, it were a private joke of his own and the joke were on us. But he appeared so sincere, so they responded in kind. An’ when he stopped staring heavenward while speaking, they did too. He’d rub his eyes and stare, as though wishing to see more clearly, and most of the adults joined him, as well as their younger children. The small ones became his greatest mimickers. On the most brilliant of days, when the sun sparkled up off the sand and splashed up off the waves and warmed Katie and my skin to dry in minutes after a swim, the townsfolk blinked and stared as though it were the blackest of nights.
And then he caught her. Down by the well, in broad daylight, he caught hold a Katie and did what shouldn’a be done to one still so young. Katie screamed and people came running. But he kept on. So strong had his influence become that when the shouts began and men went to lay hands on him he merely said, “There is no sun today,” an’ everybody stopped as though they couldn’a see no more. I ran forward to beat him with my fists, but I was held back an’ told by my elders, “There is no sun today.” I wept and kicked at them, and the boys did too. I saw them cry out in anger and thrash against the crowd of adults because my eyes were open. I’d never said ay, them boy’s had never said ay, but now we were being forced to. Forced to not see what we could so plainly see. We could see when he dropped Katie’s body to the ground. We could see when he threw her baby in the well. We could feel the heat on our skin when he said there weren’t no sun, weren’t never a sun, never would be a sun. And when he took the moon away from them, we still saw by its glow. “The moon cannot reflect the sun, for there is no sun,” he spoke as though teacher, and the people echoed back his lesson. But we knew, the few of us knew. While the town walked around in their darkness, carrying the little snubs of wisdom candles he provided, we had the full light of day to hide in. We guarded Katie. He never got her again. We carried rocks to throw at him, and he learned to leave us alone. But the younger ones, the ones who mimicked him, never had a chance to run. Never acted like they knew who was doing it to them. Never acted like they understood what’d been done. Girls. Boys. Not one scream was heard against him except our own. We tried guarding every child, but the man had made friends: our own townsmen who’d learned to do the same. Men who corralled children together and taught them to accept it, to be deaf to our voices while they called it “good” and “peace.” Men who asked children to stand an’ watch, to guard them from us an’ our rocks while they took turns. Men who taught the boys to do it, and taught the girls to do it too. Men whose wives gave birth to children born in the sun only to be drown in the well. Ay, the women played a part.
We lost our own mothers and fathers to the Wisdom Giver. Our town became a constant trap. Katie an’ I an’ the few boys we’d grown up with—those of us who still acknowledged the sun and moon and stars and knew the world to be round and the grass to be green—had no choice but to abandon our families and our homes in order to survive. We took as many children with us as we could and hid in the orchard until fall. We tried un-educating those who’d grown up without a sun. We’d bring them out to the honeysuckle fields an’ we’d talk to them about how the light warmed our faces and tell them that it were the flowers around us that gave off a fragrance. We tried explaining to them the wandering patterns that bees flew, hoping they’d hear the buzz of a wing or the birds calling to one another in the early morning sky. A few of the children began to see. Many snuck back home in the night while we slept.
We soon knew the expanse of our island. We debated building boats, but none of us had journeyed the sea before, and without another bit of land in sight and winter coming fast upon us, we reckoned we needed to make shelter and stockpile supplies. We all hoped the man would die so we could return. We talked a’ killing him ourselves, but there weren’t enough of us an’ besides, what hope would we have for ourselves if we became like him to be rid of him?
So we settled for a winter, which became two, and then three. Katie never did marry, but I did. She died the summer you were born, hence your name. I couldn’a live without a Katie in my life, for Katie means pure, which is my hope for you, dear love. May your heart and vision grow pure and may you love your children with all your being. For the sun still hangs in the sky, bright upon the eye.