Talking to a Stone

The house was newly dusty when they entered, lugging the trunks and boxes and suitcases and shopping bags full of odds and ends. The floor was covered with the fine sawdust like a soft thin carpet. Their shoes left shapes engraved into it as they walked. Colin complained, “Think they could have swept or vacuumed. Jeez.”

Zoe rolled her eyes at him, twisting around to make the face and hauling a box after her. It skidded in the sawdust, leaving a clean patch of floor behind it. Colin wandered away, tipping his face up to look at the moldings and the light that touched the walls. “It’s bigger than I remembered,” his voice echoed back at her. “Wait, look, they left a cabinet thing. A night table, maybe? Come in here and see.”

Zoe let the box-end drop with a whisper of dust scurrying away from the thud. There was a little wooden set of drawer with a table-top in front of Colin, and he was staring at it quizzically. He didn’t turn his head when she came into the room, just said, “Seems odd they’d leave it, doesn’t it? It’s not like it could’ve been from the last people who lived here, and I can’t think the builders would need it for anything, right?” Zoe shrugged, and opened the first drawer. There was nothing in it but a pebble, the size of a quarter, so dark as to be almost black and bumpy, like it had been craggy until it spent half of eternity in a riverbed.

Zoe leaned down and picked up the stone. It sat in her palm while they both stared, brow-furrowed, at this thing so out of place in their dusty new home. Then it moved. They both started a bit, and looked at each other. Colin said, “Did you see–” and Zoe nodded. The pebble wiggled again, shook itself as though it had been sleepy and was waking up. It kept moving, back and forth and side to side. Perhaps, Zoe thought in a dazy dreamlike way, it was dancing. She held out her hand to Colin, as if to ask him to take it, and he shook his head, his hands fluttering in the air. “No,” he said, “I don’t want the thing. Put it down.”

“No,” said Zoe. “What if it runs away?”

“Runs away? It’s a rock. What’s it going to do, escape into the wild?”

“Maybe,” she said. “How is it even moving?”

Colin hunched his shoulders up to his ears. “I don’t know. God. Let it escape then. What’re we going to do with it?”

“You look like a turtle,” Zoe said. Colin scowled at her instead of relaxing. “We’re going to keep it. For now. Why not? I’m going to put it back.”

The drawer was still open. When Zoe stretched her arm toward it, ready to place the pebble on the wood, it began to tremble. It wiggled and shook until the thing was practically vibrating, buzzing on Zoe’s palm. She drew her hand back, startled, and curled her fingers around it. “I guess not,” she said. “I’ll keep it with me, then.” She slid it gently into the pocket of her jeans and patted the lump it made in the denim, stretched over her thigh. Its shiver slowed and stopped. “We should move in more stuff, and we can look at it later. I don’t know. Let’s just get this done.”

Colin nodded, and they went back to the truck to keep unloading. When they were both bent and grumpy with the ache of moving and their faces were gleaming with sweat, they stopped. Zoe set to assembling their new bed and Colin made oatmeal on their new stove. The pebble in her pocket thrummed while she moved, until it was shaking hard again. She plucked it from her pocket and held it between her fingers, before her face. “Listen,” she said, “This isn’t going to work if you’re just quivering all the time, okay? It’s distracting and I’m going to put you down.”

-Yes,- said the stone. -But. Listen.-

Zoe jumped and almost dropped it. Its voice in her head screeched. “Sorry,” she said to it. “Uh. Sorry. What in heaven’s name are you?”

-I’m a stone,- said the stone. -Can’t you tell?-

“Well, yes,” said Zoe. “Most stones can’t talk, and the normal non-sentient kinds are just all over the place. You know. Outside. Not in a drawer that is mysteriously in the living room of our new house.”

-Those are the boring kind of rock,- the stone said. -I’m the interesting kind. I used to be a boulder, you know. Great hulking thing. Long time ago. You know what you don’t want to happen to you when you’re a boulder? Have a bloody evil sorceress stub her sodding toe on you and curse you into consciousness.-

“You’re being funny,” she said, suspicious. “That isn’t it.”

-Not exactly,- the stone admitted. -Listen. I’ll tell you a story, alright? A true one.-

When Colin came to find Zoe a half hour later with a bowl of oatmeal and a bent spoon, he found her sitting on the half-made bed, talking to a pebble.

Familiar Shifts

Kate was uncomfortable as she walked over to meet her father. Her new shoes were rubbing blisters around her heels and she could see the skin already reddening. He was waiting when she got to the cafe, his coffee already half empty.

He looked up, and gave her a flat grim smile. “Hello, sweetheart.”

“Hi Dad,” she said, sliding herself into the seat opposite him. “Joey’s all unpacked.”

He scowled at once. “I was hoping we could have some nice conversation before we started fighting about this, Kate.”

She pushed out her lower lip. “Well, we can’t,” she said, using her best firm-but-clear voice. “I’m not going to change my mind, so you just have to get used to it. You should just talk to him already, this is dumb.”

“No,” her father said. He leaned onto the table, folding his arms over each other and looking straight at her. “He comes to his senses, or we don’t talk to him. You know that’s how that is, and I’m surprised at you that you’d go against us like this.”

“Really?” She felt suddenly upset, heat flushing up her face. “You’re surprised I’m doing something that you didn’t tell me to do first? God, Dad, he is my brother and he is your son whether you’re mad at him or not. And you’re mad at him, I’m not.”

“We’re not angry with him, Kate, but he needs to change before we’re willing to talk to him again.”

Kate folded her arms back at him. The anger built in her chest, boiling and overflowing until she spit it out at him. “You can stop talking to me too then. I’m done with you.” She said it and watched his face drop into sadness, and then she left.

She started home earlier than she’d expected. She had to help her brother settle in, after all.

Moving Out/On

She was a leftover sort of beautiful that morning. Her makeup was in dark clouds about her eyes and her hair was straggling down in wisps from a hasty bun. When she rang the doorbell and I opened my door, she was standing still and the sight of her sent a cold shock to my skin. It had just occurred to me that she wasn’t coming back at all.

I stood back and let her pass, and she walked in, just the way she had last week. Everything was piled in the living room, and she stopped short to see the stacks. I stood, silent, trying to notice if there was a perceptible smell of must from the kitchen. She stooped to pick up the biggest box at the bottom, swaying a bit as she stood to keep the two on top of it balanced.

I opened the door again, letting it grind long and squeaky on the hinges as it swung. She hefted the boxes in her arms again, and didn’t look at me. Neither of us spoke, and the quiet crackled.

She struggled with the boxes as she fit herself through the door, clutching the cardboard as it wobbled and tipped, threatening to fall. I didn’t offer to help. I just watched her go.