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early morning.

July 7, 2014

“Early morning is a time of magic in Cannery Row. In the gray time after the light has come, and before the sun has risen, the Row seems to hang suspended out of time in a silvery light. The streetlights go out, and the weeds are a brilliant green. The corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucence of platinum or old pewter. No automobiles are running then. The street is silent of progress and business. And the rush and drag of the waves can be heard as they splash in among the piles of the canneries. It is a time of great peace, a deserted time, a little era of rest.

Cats drip over the fences like syrup, over the ground to look for fish heads. Silent early morning dogs parade majestically picking and choosing judiciously where to pee. The seagulls  come flapping to sit on the cannery roofs to await the day of refuse. They sit on the roof peaks shoulder to shoulder. From the rocks near the Hopkins Marine Station comes the barking of sea lions like the baying of hounds.

The air is cool and fresh. In the back gardens the gophers push up the morning mounds of fresh damp earth an and they creep out and drag flowers into their holes. Very few people are about, just enough to make it seem more deserted than it is…

The cannery watchmen look out at blink at the morning light. It is the hour of the pearl – the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.

On such a morning and in such a light two soldiers and two girls strolled easily along the street. They came out of La Ida and they were very tired and very happy. The girls were hefty, big breasted and strong and their blonde hair was in slight disarray. They wore printed rayon party dresses, wrinkled now and clinging to their convexities.  And each girl wore a soldier’s cap, one far back on her head and the other with the visor down almost on her nose.

The soldier’s tunics were unbuttoned and their belts were threaded through their epaulets. The ties were pulled down a little so the shirt collars could be unbuttoned. And the soldiers wore the girls’ hats, one a tiny yellow straw boater with a bunch of daisies on the crown, the other a white knitted half-hat to which medallions of blue cellophane adhered.

They were walked holding hands, swinging rhythmically. The solider on the outside had a large brown paper bag filled with cold canned beer. They strolled softly in the pearly light. They had had a hell of a time and they felt good. They smiled delicately like weary children remembering a party. They looked at one another and smiled and they swung their hands…

Swinging their hands and scuffing their feet, they came to the end of Cannery row and turned up to the railroad track. The girls climbed up on the rails and walked along them and the soldiers put their arms around the plump waists to keep them from falling.

Then they went past the boat works and turned down into the park-like property of the Hopkins Marine station, a miniature beach between little reefs. The gentle morning waves licked up the beach and whispered softly. The fine smell of seaweed came from the exposed rocks.

As the four came to the beach a sliver of the sun broke over Tom Work’s land across the head of the bay and it gilded the water and made the rocks yellow. The girls sat formally down in the sand and straightened their skirts over their knees. One of the soldiers punched holes in four cans of beer and handed them around. And then the men lay down and put their heads in the girls’ laps and looked up into their faces. And they smiled at each other, a tired and peaceful and wonderful secret.”

from Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2014 10:46 AM

    My favourite Steinbeck book – short but such delicious words leap from the pages. A lovely extract – how I wish I could write like that!

  2. tomschronicles permalink
    July 10, 2014 1:16 PM

    I’ve only read 5 Steinbeck books so far, but this one is my favorite too. It’s an incredible book. I read it because I’ve been to the Cannery Row area a few times, and have a metal art decoration of Cannery Row (the piece was made there) hanging on my wall. Figured I should read the book. Don’t we all wish we could write like Steinbeck! He is one of the best authors I’ve read. Thanks for your comment.

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