These are the stories that O.Palna liked very much indeed, even to the point of translating them into her mother tongue.

The Wave


The Wave, Vision
(©) Pete Townshend, Donald Pass (2003)
(©) Sirotenko Olga Pavlovna (2003)

The Wave (Привет)

    The man with the red hair and green eyes looked out at the crowd. His gaze was returned by empty faces looking up at him. The executioner shifted from foot to foot, his own face hidden under a black hood with a long pennant of cloth hanging before him that dipped, in some strange vanity, down to his waist. He held the lever for the trap door firmly back against its stop, as if it would matter that the condemned man died a few moments sooner than intended. The bailiff was late. The red-haired man scanned the faces in the crowd, searching for any sign of emotion: sympathy, hatred or love. But there would be no expression from the people until the very moment of his death approached.
    Suddenly, his sweeping gaze fell on a ghoulish couple with Quaker-like head-dresses. Their eyes were not on him. They seemed to be praying silently, perhaps for the salvation of his soul? Between them, clutching as if for support to their long, black robes, someone stood, small, of an age that was hard to determine, with red hair like his own. He could not tell whether the person was male or female. Nor could he tell whether the person was a child, or someone much older, but small in frame, with an ageless and unwrinkled face as some white witches were said to have. He decided the person might be a woman. The curious, untroubled eyes fixed his, perused him as an equal. The welcome and distracting spell those eyes cast on him was broken by the thundering of approaching horses: the bailiff had arrived with the warrant for his death.
    In a few moments the crowd sensed the awful show was beginning and the first buzz of anxious and excited chatter rippled into the morning air. When the noose was placed around his neck, the ripple became a roar, the surge of blood-anticipation causing some of the spectators to laugh and bellow meaninglessly, or to shout inanities. Most of the crowd knew nothing of the huge man on the gallows. Offered a hood of his own he proudly declined and looked down again at the gloomy Quaker couple who had now looked up at him, their prayers complete, their eyes full of tears.
    A moment before the trap-door opened, the little red-haired person - who still stood partly hidden between the folds of the strange couple's robes - pushed a smiling, shining face forward and smiled at him. Having done so the person looked down shyly, breaking the communication in a manner that suggested this was just another morning, just another day. He could not bring himself to smile back but kept his eyes on the face, comforted by the happening in some way. Then, the person - for a moment looking most of all like he had once done as a child himself, when he was bonny and unsullied by life, bright, innocent and with a shock of flaming red hair - looked back at him and waved. With a very small movement of the hand, palm facing him, moving the fingers from side to side in an almost imperceptible action. Not a goodbye, it felt to him like a hello, not of great consequence. And then his life was over.

    'So what is the point of the shot of the little guy waving?' The film producer dropped his head and reproduced the little wave himself, with a silly face.
    'It's in the book,' said the film director. 'It's important, but unimportant. It's a floating moment, indicating life goes on, death goes on.'
    'Yeah. But how does it advance the story? What does it add?'
    'It adds poignancy'.
    'Who's the little guy supposed to be? What sex?'
    'We don't know. This is just someone in the crowd who smiles and waves at a man on the gallows about to die. He is a man the small person knows nothing about, doesn't care whether he was a great man or an evil one. They have the same red hair, and the little person in the crowd waves up at him'.
    'But the film is already twelve minutes too long,' the producer was now striding importantly back and forth in front of the small projection screen in the viewing theatre. 'People will see this shiny-face, and wonder why it is there. Who is it? Why have the film¬makers put it there? As the film rolls they will be expecting the person to reappear, to be significant in some way. Nothing happens in a modern movie by accident. Even Tarkosvky didn't have unnecessary clips in his films and some of 'em ran for four fucking hours!'
    'The person is representative of the crowd, but also the passing inconsequentialities of daily life, the life he must leave behind. People smile at strangers. It means nothing.'
    'If it means nothing - cut it.'
    'It means something that it is without deep meaning.'
    'It will confuse people.'
    'But every day little things like this happen to people, small things that are of hardly any real significance, but they can change the entire course of our lives.'
    'This guy is about to die. There is no course to change. All we care about is why the director and writer of the movie want to include a shot of some little ginger nut who we will never see again - not in this movie. Cut it.'

    The smile, and the wave were cut. By a strange extrapolation of affairs the film on the cutting room floor came into the possession of the director's girlfriend, a video artist who exhibited at various international galleries. Transformed into a never-ending loop of film it formed the basis for an installation at the Serpentine Gallery the following summer. Art critics slammed the result, members of the public found it confounding and irritating.
    'People wanna know who the person is behind the flaming haired face, what it's there for, why does it keep going round and round - the little smile, the little wave. We fucking paid for it!' The film producer loved to tell this story. He ate another piece of pasta with truffles and laughed with the certain good humour of a man who knows what the public really want from movies and art galleries.

    The hanged man fell into darkness, and as he ascended to heaven, a long trip that took several weeks, he saw again and again the flaming-haired face of the person who had almost imperceptibly waved. He saw the wave, a modest gesture, a tiny movement, repeated and repeated until the blinding light of his first confrontation with God obliterated the image.

    The pint-sized film extra hadn't meant to smile at the huge film star up oh the wooden stage. Told to keep still and stay quiet, the little person couldn't contain any emotion: they both had the same red hair. The massive actor and the little extra could have been related. The little one felt a bit sorry for the big one because he had been standing up there waiting for the director to start shooting, waiting - as had they all - for a very long time.

    The little flaming-haired person waved, smiled, waved, smiled, waved, and it meant nothing much to anyone. It was meant to mean nothing, or very little. It was meant to mean nothing and so it was. But when Hamish McDonald, a Catholic beater on the estate of the great lord James Fullarton of Fullarton, went to the gallows in 1662, having murdered one of Charles the Second's Protestant agents who was operating under the property restoration charter of the unprincipled Act of Oblivion, and whose enforcers tried to burn down his croft, he took the smile and wave to the very feet of God himself. And God, unlike the life-weary, art-weary critics at the Serpentine Gallery, never grew tired of sending back to Ireland, Scotland and England this red-headed angel to brighten the inconsequential moments of his dearest subjects' lives, Protestant and Catholic alike - especially to distract them for a crucial minute or two, or even just a second, as the trap-door fell open, the axe fell, or the torch was brought to the base of the pyre.

© Copyright Eel Pie Publishing 2003
Image "The Vision" by Donald Pass with kind permission of the artist, from the collection of Pete Townshend