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December 2005, vol 1 no 3

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Gary Ford

 

A Polished Stone

Old, gruff, unshaven. He stares at me with a hard look. Normally silent, he starts to talk. Startled, I worry that he's caught me staring at the scar on his neck, or watching the rhythmic movement of his hands as he plays with a small stone. Something I do every time I visit my friend's home. I can't help it.

a pocket knife
open on the table
an apple core turns brown

"Kid, a stranger once saved my life with this piece of rock." He holds a stone inches away from my face.

I nod, as if I understand what he's telling me but I don't know how a stone could save his life.

"It was April, 1916. France. Do you know where France is kid?"

I don't but I nod my head anyway because I'm too nervous to speak.

"We were in the trenches, muck everywhere, shells firing over our heads, when the order came. Charge and take out the Huns. Fool's orders! Suicide if you asked any of us."

I try to picture what he's telling me but nothing in my life comes close to what he's talking about. I nod to show I'm paying attention.

"Well, soldiers can't stop and debate when orders come. Just have to do it, and we did. I'm not ashamed to say that I was scared as hell. Leapt out of that ditch and ran as fast as I could. Figured it was the only way to dodge what was coming at us."

Silence as he stares into the ceiling for so long I wonder if he's finished talking to me. I nervously shift from foot to foot thinking I should leave.

a polished stone
momentary reflections
bring memories to the surface

A heavy intake of breath and a long sigh. "I was just lying there, on my back, looking up at the grey sky, trying to figure out what happened when a shadow loomed overhead. I looked into his eyes–the eyes of a stranger from another corp. He cussed foul, said 'You're hit bad. You'll bleed to death if that isn't stoppered up.' I couldn't speak, move my head or nothin." Tears slowly roll down his cheeks.

That surprises me–this tough old guy crying. I don't know what to do. But that doesn't matter because he just keeps on talking as if the words had to be said and it didn't matter who, or if anyone was there to hear.

"Then he did it. This guy reached into the mud, grabbed this here stone, stuck it in his mouth, swirled it around to get the mud off, and with his thumb, as if in slow motion, he stuck that rock in this damn hole in my neck. He mumbled 'Good luck to you mate' then he just kept on moving, moving forward into the chaos, with bullets whizzing all around us."

I can't imagine how a rock could be stuck in his neck or how this would make a difference. I want to ask him, but he seems to be talking to himself.

"You know, it was ghost like. I just lay there... in my own pocket of silence, even as all of the noise surrounded me,... waiting to die..." Again a tear slowly slides through the hairs on his face, as he stares at me without blinking, without seeing me. "This plain old stone stopped the bleeding. A medic found me hours later, carried me out. Surgery made this mess you see now. I never saw the stranger again. I have no idea what happened to him. But I have this!"

oatmeal porridge
in a chipped bowl –
a prayer of thanks

 

 

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