Let me speak of madness that surpasses description. He addressed the pebbles he collected with the utmost respect. He gave them names and whispered in their ears, though I could not tell which parts pertained to their sense of hearing. They looked too smooth to me to have any distinct features. One thing I was sure about: they did not talk back, but perhaps they did through the heat they emanated to his palm when they lay basking for hours in his hands. His favorite ones were Fifi, Jo, Clyd, Mili, and Sid. They spent most of their time in his hands or pockets. Only at night, they were deposited in a tiny crib that lay in a corner on his bed. If he wanted to dote on one of them, and they took turns, he placed each beneath his very thin pillow and claimed that they colored his dreams. I had heard of poets who placed stones below their pillows, writers who had interest in the occult, but Mr. Peters needed no mediums or knowledge to commune with his friends. He claimed that he was born with the gift of understanding them, but what tongues could pebbles have? I pondered for hours. People warned me to keep away from the pebble-lunatic, an epithet conferred upon him, but I was drawn to the things he said and I wanted to explore his world, a mental health issue that was bound to evoke interest.
The last time I visited him, he was preparing for a picnic with them. I asked if I could be part of their company and he readily consented. When we sat by the river, where other pebbles filled the bank, I ventured to ask with some seriousness: “What if they miss their home and friends, water lapping over them”.
“They opted to live with me,” he calmly said.
“But why?” I asked.
“To be protected,” he responded.
“From what!” I inquired.
“Shoes, boots, dirt – they do not mind bare-footedness. It’s the filth people leave behind,” he readily explained.
“Is this your opinion or theirs?” I asked.
“You do not believe that it is possible to communicate with them or you would not have asked this question,” he stated while bathing Fifi in a wind-agitated ripple. Sunbathing was bound to follow for he would not place them wet in his pockets, the tidiest man I had ever met. I looked at Fifi and tried to endow it with a face but simply could not. It was a mere pebble to me despite everything he claimed. I wanted to know more but he kept his peace for the remainder of the picnic and before I parted with him, he told me that he would arrange for their adoption before his death. I was sure the perturbation that prowled upon the typography of my face was quite visible to him, so with a forced smile I bid him goodbye. I was in a trance the whole evening and decided it was best to keep away from him. Years glided but one day I received a parcel with five pebbles in it and a scribble from a solicitor explaining that they were bequeathed to me by the owner with a large sum of money. I sat staring at them, astonished at being the object of his trust. I opened the lowest drawer in my desk and laid the five pebbles to rest. I spent the next weeks grappling with insomnia and a few nightmares in which pebbles wept. I decided to visit their homeland and drown them in the river and thus put an end to my psychological unrest. Sid was the first to emerge from my pocket. I grabbed him with all my might and prepared to hurl him into the river’s bed, but my hand refused to throw Mr. Peters’ friend. There were no tears on Sid’s face and I heard no pleas but I could not get rid of him.
I went home and decided to salve my conscience by making a little crib to accommodate them in a corner on my bed. This legacy would do me no harm and who is to expose me to my friends, who would have thought that Mr. Peters had passed his madness to me through pebbles? I took them occasionally to the bathroom to have a dip in my tub. I never entertained any thoughts about reciprocating affection with objects but they became an integral part of my daily routine. When I held them, their smoothness soothed my blood. I never believed they added color to my dreams with their proximity to my head, but the whiteness of Fifi, the emerald of Mili, the ruby of Sid, the blueness of Clyd, and the yellow of Jo were my rainbow for more than two decades. With the decline of my health, a new worry plagued my mind: who is going to adopt them? I had to modify my will. My lawyer, a family friend, was surprised to receive me in his antique office. He had seen to every legal aspect after my parents’ death and my will was shaped to accommodate my every whim. I did not know where to start or how to introduce the topic.
“The matter concerns five pebbles …,” I paused not knowing what to say next.
“Pebbles!” he repeated with utter astonishment and examined my face with apparent concern.
I knew that my sanity would be under question so I narrated my story from the very beginning.
“I want to see to the adoption of five pebbles and I will bequeath the money left to me by their owner to whoever is interested,” I concluded.
He kept silent for a while and with a faltering voice he promised to fulfill my wish.
“Mr. McClease, please do not think I have lost my wits. Think of it as a way of showing respect for the dead,” I said as I shook hands with him.
Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde with a Ph.D. on the work of D.H. Lawrence. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in multiple venues including Down in the Dirt, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Inspired Magazine, The Opiate, Mad Swirl, The Blue Nib, The Poetry Village, Blue Unicorn, A New Ulster, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Ink Pantry, the Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine.