The Weight of Dust by John Staughton
“Any good collection is full of ghosts.” ~ Anonymous
The sun was out when the brunette woman and the child arrived at his bedside. Her head seemed to glow in front of the window, like the old glass pictures in the church he had gone to many years before. The child was no longer a child’s size, but her face was familiar somehow.
He made no motion as they came in, nor offered any words. He had been unable to do that for months, or perhaps it was years. The days were difficult to mark in stillness. His eyes moved slowly, like they were sliding through the middle of a peanut butter sandwich, and his hands were folded on his stomach carefully, like a napkin.
There was always a dull pain in his body, but it had become as comfortable as a blanket, a new normal that was muffled by dripping drugs and the peace of his closed eyes. Visitors always made for special days, and while his happiness turned on like a flipped switch when a new face walked in the door, he had no way to show it.
The girl held a brown box carefully under her arm, mirroring the short-strap purse on her other shoulder. She set the box down hesitantly and looked at the older woman, who forced a smile.
He recognized the box. He knew that he had seen it before, or perhaps it was his. Or had been. Or still was. Despite his mind skimming through the muddled options, his gaze never wavered. It was a polished brown, with the delicate design of latitude and longitude lines long worn away near the edges, as though it had been carted around and scuffed up for years.
He was certain that he recognized the box. Even the smell of it, musty and earthen, and a bit of mildew, like a beach towel after a long weekend.
The repetitive beep of the machine beside his head remained unchanged.
“Hey there, pop,” the girl said, her eyes bright and sad at the same time.
Pop. Of course, that’s me.
She raised the lid of the box and her eyes fell into its depths. If he could only lift his head, he would be able to see inside, but he was frozen in place. If he could simply ask her to tilt it, he could peer in, but his tongue was a lump, disconnected from the frustrated pleas of his mind.
“How about this one, pop?”
She held an angular chunk of red slate torn from an English cliff before his eyes. The words “I Love You” were stenciled on it with the edge of a sharper stone.
The beeping of the monitor sped up incrementally, but it grew quieter in his ears. She lowered it out of his sight, but placed it in his folded hands. The fingers slowly crept into motion, blindly rubbing the edges, shifting so gently that you would miss it had you not been looking.
Catch the rest of this introspective story about stones, love and memory in SN11: Collect Rocks – coming out September 16th!