We searched the woods and stacked our arms with brush for the kitchen stove, me up front and the boy in back, all morning gathering the kind of sad scraps to be found this late in the year. We scratched the frost-rimed hardpan and dug up muddy twigs and banged off the frozen mud and didn’t much talk and didn’t notice any lack for the missing words. Me and the boy dug and stacked and moved along. We were purposeful and steady. It used to be me and the old lady digging up sticks, then she went off on a visit and forgot to return home again. The boy couldn’t carry as much as her. So be it. The old lady had her own business to attend to somewhere else, no time anymore for sticks. She used to be here. Now she was not. So be it.
Suddenly the boy dropped his load of kindling like it was nothing and scooped up a stone from the mud. With the edge of his cuff he chipped away dirt and dead mold. He turned the stone over and over in his hand. He clutched the stone, quiet for a long while, then opened his fingers and held the stone up for me to see and spoke in a voice so quiet I imagined it to be the distant wind.
This is for you the boy said. This here stone I found, shaped in a heart. It’s sat down there since the beginning of the world and I found it. You have the stone from me and the stone feels a certain good way. How it is, you and the stone. You just look and think about me and today and the cold air and the few brown leaves left on the trees and how geese just flew past heading south where they’ll still be even if we can’t see beak nor feather.
We went back to home and fixed up a fire in the stove and made a pan of biscuits and ate our supper and went to bed. And that night and the next day. And the days to follow. And a whole year. And the boy not asking about the stone again. And me with the stone, a hard lump in the pocket and never out. And just now I did think of him–grinning wide-eyed and hair askew and face mirroring the hope available only to the young. I seen the boy clear as a dollar photo from the county fair. So damn real, hanging in my thoughts brighter than new pennies. He could have turned left on that road and not right. The truck could have had decent brakes. There and gone, him and truck, the pair them. So be it.
The dollar photo grew pale and I reached into my pocket and chucked the heart stone with all God’s at that damn thieving Dooley from next door as he sneaked again from my chicken coop, a squawking burlap bag neatly tucked under his filthy arm. . .
Photo Source: Sugar Tails