We are all of us born with a collection of stones. Perhaps this is not how it has always been, but this is how it is now. Little, perfect, smooth stones and jagged pieces of granite that live in the pockets of our jackets and jean pants. These stones range in size from miniscule pebbles to fist-sized mounds. A handful of basalt. A scatter of swirling gneiss.
Some of these stones are treasures for us. We put our hands in our pockets, take some of these stones, and hold them close to our chest. They are treasures, and we are constantly looking to give them to others in moments of kindness or malice. We give these little pieces away, constantly. We are engaged in a constant shuffle of these lumps of hard earth–I give some to you, and you, and you. The cashier at the grocery store hands off a pretty pebble to me; I visit my mother and she unwillingly scatters sharp green slate across the table covered in our glasses of G&Ts. We throw these pebbles at strangers, or they slip effortlessly from our hands, only to be caught by the person closest to us. We give these little pieces away, and save these gifts from others. The blessing and curse of crumbled earth.
At the end of each day, we scrupulously remove these stones, reaching in the corners of our clothes to delicately remove the easy to grasp ones, and place them on our mantles and nightstands. We fastidiously put them near us, so they are never far away from us, even as we slumber.
These stones are occasionally buried deep within these pockets, and we do not realize they are there, until maybe one day, at the end of a long day, we are going through our clothes, removing these stones to place carefully beside us. We remove the ones we can easily grasp, and perhaps we dig a little too deep in our pockets and take out a stone we are not ready to hold in our hands or put on our nightstands. We gasp from the pain, our hands sensitive to the sharp edges.
At the beginning of each day, we put on our clothes and meticulously put our pebbles and boulders back in our pockets. We put them back, close to our bodies, to hold with care. Perhaps to give them away to others. Many of them are not our own but the rocks that others have given us. But we put them back in our pockets, and go on to greet the day.
For the rest of our time on this earth, we carry others’ stones in our pockets, and they weigh us down and lift us up. If we are very lucky, the stones that lift us and weigh us down are equal, and we are perfectly balanced. But very few of us are so lucky. Sometimes the pebbles are so light we can barely feel them, but other times the pieces of earth are too big, and we are weighed down too much by them. Our legs buckle under the weight of these pieces of granite materials. The only solution to this is for each of us to be very brave, and take out these stones, piece by piece, on our bedroom floors and examine them. And maybe, just maybe, we can take the hard, fist-sized and spiky pieces that hurt and one day leave them behind. In the old apartment you never liked. Inside an envelope that I sent six weeks too late.
I meet you in your bed and you pull your collection out from beneath it for me to see. There is no order to this accumulation. Flat, small, perfect rock-skipping stones are mixed with chipped pieces of quartz. I see the ones that were once my own amongst the rubble. We hold them together, with sheets bunched around our legs and your hair fanned out on a pillow.
I have given many of these conglomerates of sediment away in my time. It is the tiny and sharp pieces, the ones that slice open hands as they are held, these are the stones that are my specialty. I gave them away without thinking, scattering them behind me for anyone to pick up, or decorating others without consent or much forethought. And I have asked for them back–but just as I cannot give away what others have bestowed upon me, others cannot easily unburden themselves from what I have given to them. Of all my flaws, my graciousness in giving these fragments away could be the greatest.
Notes from Guest Reader Elaine Chiew
I chose ‘Geology’ because through our love of rocks, the author evoked a feel of our entire civilisational history; her sentences revealed meta-layers of geologic depth, and the spaces in between opened out onto a sense of non-containment and the mystery of existence. I was even more chuffed to learn this will be her first published flash fiction piece. Brava!