Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by aj.Cummings

The Rocks

There was a small hole in the left pocket of my old jeans reminding me to put rocks without edges into them.  Nineteen years ago, I had stopped my car to pick up just any rock at the side of the street before I reached the wood gate of the cemetery where my father had been buried.  I remember being in such a hurry, going shopping or meeting someone, don’t quite remember, and then the sharp rock. I had not given much thought to my choice, a rock was a rock, or so I thought.

After that first year there have been no more random choices.  I give great thought to the type of rocks that I leave as the weight of my calling, gathering only egg shaped rocks for my father, for he was definitely an egg shaped kind of father.

He had no hard edges about him; edges that might tear a pocket in my jeans like that rock. He was careful to take the edges off his words like some cut the crust off bread. He read me poetry when I was young, melodic rhyming words without edges. So the tear in my jeans became a reminder.  I was thirty-five when my father died, and I am certain the groundskeeper, whoever he may be, feels like he is gathering the remains of an Easter egg hunt on the days I come to visit. I have only today wondered what he has done with so many.

Today is my fifty-fifth birthday, twenty years of gathering rocks have come and gone and I am in the same jeans I wore that first time with the small hole that I can now put my fist through.  I keep the egg shaped rocks in a pouch now.

I was remembering when I bought the jeans, someone else’s jeans, worn-in old Levi’s from the used clothing store.  It was a strange thought before coming to the cemetery, a distracting discussion I often had with myself.  I was twenty-five when I bought them and they remind me of my youth every time I button them up, but no longer immortality as I finger the rocks.

Over the years, I have developed a certain reliable relationship with the rocks that accompany me to the cemetery. They are my compasses, and when they are with me there is only one destination. South on the highway that parallels the ocean’s shore to Overland Drive, stop in the left turn lane that stays red so long that I am always tempted not to wait for the green, but I always do. Then glance in at the used clothing store where I bought the jeans always thinking that I should stop, but I never do. The light turns green as I take Overland Drive up to the hilly expanse of eternity, where at its end is the beginning of the cemetery. Ron’s Handyman & Wood Gates has a truck blocking the entrance.

Today there is a sign that reads, “Repairs to the wood gate, Please leave your car outside and walk in.” Of all days, when my pockets were heavier than any other, rocks for my father, brother and now for my mother.  It would be a long steep walk up the hill especially now, using a cane for balance.  I thought of turning around but the drive was much too long, and the day was very specific.

I waived down the groundskeeper and he spun around in his little truck.

“Thank you,” I said.

“The Jewish side, right,” he offered as if he knew me. Quickly we were there and he waited as I said my peace and prayer.

After a respectable time he spoke. “I have all the rocks in a garden behind the office.”

I was without words as the tears welled up.

“I was eighteen when you buried your father, I dug the grave like I always do, but I remembered yours so clearly cause the funeral was different then most, only four people, you, the Rabbi, your mother and brother.  I felt sorry for you having to bury them all, always one less person to say good-bye until it was only you. So I began to keep all the egg-shaped rocks, you know, just in case.”

I let that comment go, knowing it had only come from kindness, offering to leave rocks for me.

He drove me by the rock garden. They were indeed all there, all the rocks I had brought over the years, silent and wrapped in the Lord’s Prayer.  I pulled another one out of my pouch, one that had yet to know such a purpose, “for me then, young man, for me.”  

The setting sun seemed to bury itself beneath the ground where all but one now lay as I exhaled a final lament, “What hope have we, when even the sun dies?” The groundskeeper only smiled.  At the entrance the gate laid wide open, my car waited only a short distance beyond and I thought to ask, but he spoke his ready apology.  “I’m so sorry, Anne, but you see, I never leave these grounds.”   And so quickly, he had my door open and I was planting my cane back on the ground.. 

He was gone up the hill before I could ask how he had known my name and why it was that he never left the grounds, and then I thought of how a shepherd never leaves his flock and I had no more questions.

The wood gate was being painted as I walked through it and back into life, “What color is that?” I asked the painter who was spreading a soft shimmering white onto the wood. It was indeed beautiful, as if pearls had broken loose from their string. “Pearly white,” he offered with a kind smile, and he chuckled, “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

"Pearly white,” I said, “of course.”

BIO:  Anne Cominsky, writing as aj.Cummings, hopes to write stories that live long after her.