I tell my sorrows to the stones

Pet rocks are back! Or did they ever disappear? I remember seeing them in the 1970ies when I lived in the city and saw them crouching on windowsills of storefronts, or peeping out from beneath stormwater street grates… Okay, maybe they weren’t actually the pet ones; I always found the boundaries a bit nebulous. I mean, how could you really tell the tame ones? People put stones on windowsills and drop them down storm drains all the time. Rocks are rocks, and unless they’re heading for you, they’re not particularly noteworthy.

Still, the why of domesticating rocks intrigued me. My friends assured me that this particular iteration of stones was just a passing fad for children seeking to shed the bonds of parental restrictions and trying to establish meaningful agency in their own worlds… And children eventually grow up and get bored with rocks. Of course I always thought the explanation was a bit contrived. But perhaps not. Perhaps the subjugated rocks had merely disappeared like caterpillars in the spring only to emerge with renewed energy as something else more beautiful and appealing. How else to explain the grinning faces in the woods lately?

That would be a change, even for tame rocks, though. I’m pretty sure the original pets were faceless -polished and shapely, perhaps, but at least initially devoid of anything akin to personalities; I don’t remember them being facially judgemental in the old days. The enslaved rocks were just, well, there; they existed like door handles, or fence posts do: not quite liminal, but certainly not ostentatious -more like punctuation: accepted, but not showy.

Before the initial fad dissolved into folklore there were several subsequent mutations, including big eyes and occasional decorations, but these only detracted from the original purity; although Sartre suggested that ‘existence precedes essence’ I think they got it the wrong way around. At any rate, even tarted up, they seemed only notable in their absence… well, in my world, at any rate. Of course, now that I’m retired, I get out more, and I notice things; there is no ‘background’ anymore, either -just ‘backdrops’: settings against which everything -even Nature- is enhanced.

But things change; history repeats itself with endless permutations and combinations; it seems to me there’s now a fifth column hiding in the woods where I walk. I hesitate to attribute any malevolent intent to these New Age stones, and yet nowadays there seem to be things carved on the grinning tablets that peek out from bushes along the trail: lips that laugh quietly from the bases of selected tree trunks as if they’d caught me adjusting my underwear, or checking my fly when I thought I was alone. Stuff like that is unnerving when you’re old.

Even worse, however, were the sneering hard-to-read messages written beneath the lips, and the unstated accusations in the eyes. A little mocking stony face emerging suddenly from a bush is terrifying. And even if it only it features tiny hieroglyphics viewed through blurred elder-eyes, it is totally unreadable unless examined at close quarters, and with complaining knees.

At first, I imagined they might have been intentionally placed by sharp-eyed young children who left them as Inukshuks to guide their parents, or perhaps by the more metaphorically gifted, as if they were lost teeth placed under a pillow of leaves in hopes of a reward from the stone fairy… or is that a different fairy? Anyway, bereft of appropriate socially mediated analogies, and compelled to work with long-ago Sunday school teachings in which I was encouraged by King James to put away childish things when I became a pensioner, it was all wasted on me. I usually just leave my teeth in a jar by the bed with no message on them, so what would I know of the TikTok pranks of today’s young?

I recently passed several of these little cuneiform runes that begged for inspection before curiosity eventually won me over. My knees were upset with my capitulation, however, and in my inept attempt at closing the visual gap, I somehow managed to land on the rock with an painful patellar groan. The rock, of course, was unscathed, but my temper was not. Especially when the hieroglyphs were only a poorly printed invitation to ‘have a nise day’.

The supervising parent had obviously been too proud of their offspring’s message to offer even the most basic editing before submitting it for posting at the foot of the tree. I, however, was not similarly constrained and after rescuing the unrepentantly sharp rock from under my knee, proceeded to throw it as far into the waiting forest as I could manage. Unfortunately, in my haste to absolve myself from my ill-timed curiosity, I neglected to check if anybody was watching. That became all too apparent when an ear-splitting scream ripped the air around me.

“Mommy, mommy,” it shrieked, “That man threw away my rock…”

The next thing I knew, I heard two sets of feet approaching -one set running, and the other stomping and sighing angrily.

A little girl stopped a few feet from me and pointed an accusing finger in my face. Then the be-jeaned knees of a rather intimidating figure with gritted teeth stopped almost in my face. The teeth were so tightly clenched, it could barely enunciate it’s words.

“That was a very unkind thing to do, sir!” The words escaped through several of the teeth without any lip involvement. “My daughter worked all morning painting the rock.”

I managed to convince my ankles to lift me to the level of her chin, but no further -she was a tall lady. I have to admit that I blushed with guilt, and raised my eyes so I could see hers -it must have looked to her like an attempt at abject supplication for my sin and so I tried not to disappoint. “I’m sorry,” I said to complete the image, and then lowered my eyes and bent over to address myself to the little girl, who by then was smiling at me. “I just fell on your rock when I tried to read it…” I said in a quiet voice.

The little girl, dressed just like her mother in red running shoes, blue jeans and a grey, baggy sweatshirt, turned to her and whispered. “It’s okay mommy. He was having trouble reading my rock, and fell on it when he got too close.” She shrugged like a teenager, shook her head, and glared accusingly at her mother. “I told you there was no ‘e’ in hav,” she added, obviously peeved.

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