Ukulele not all joy — Jack London’s fiction

A story by Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild, appeared in The Evening Post (New Zealand) on Saturday, 22 June 1912, page 10. The story was called “Koolau the Leper”, and it’s not an overly happy one.

“Life is short, and the days are filled with pain,” said Koolau. “Let us drink and dance and be happy as we can.”

From one of the rocky lairs calabashes were produced and passed around. The calabashes were filled with the fierce distillation of the root of the ti-plant; and as the liquid fire coursed through them and mounted to their brains they thought themselves men and women once more. The woman who wept scalding tears from open eye-pits was indeed a woman apulse [sic] with life as she plucked the strings of an ukulele and lifted her voice in a barbaric love-call such as might have come from the dark forest depths of the primeval world. The air tingled with her cry, softly imperious and seductive. Upon a mat, timing his rhythm to the woman’s song, Kiloliana danced. It was unmistakable. Love danced in all his movements, and next, dancing with him on the mat, was a woman, whose heavy hips and generous breast gave the lie to her diseased-corroded face. It was a dance of the living dead, for in their disintegrating bodies life still loved and longed. Ever the woman whose sightless eyes ran scalding tears chanted her love-cry, ever the dancers danced of love in the warm night, and ever the calabashes went around till in all their brains were maggots crawling of memory and desire.


Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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