Skipping Stones (Part One), a short story by S Francis

A girl, age 12, approached a man with grey hair bent over picking up smooth, flat stones on the beach. The moon had joined him early in the evening, half of a navel orange. He greeted it with an imaginary cup in his hand and wished upon the first star he could reach up and dip that cup in the waxing bowl and fill it with the tangy juice he thought it held. As the girl drew closer, a small basket of wild strawberries in her hand, the bay stilled as if to listen to the words she was preparing to say to the stranger. The surf made a gentle rhythm for the poetry in her heart.

“What are you doing, sir?” She asked.

“Hello, young lady. I am collecting skipping stones.”

“Skipping stones? Why are you collecting skipping stones?”

“Someday I will give them to my children.”

“What will your children do with them?”

“When I die, I want them to take their basket of stones I have collected to the beach and skip them back into the sea.”

“Why do you want them to do that?”

“Because with each skip, I want them to remember one memory of me and return it to the ocean where it will join the many others awaiting it on the bottom.”

“That sounds very sad to me.”

“Maybe it is sad, young lady, but maybe it is not. Can you imagine how many stones are on the ocean floor?”

“No, I do not think I can.”

“Well, then, look at the sand all around us can you count the grains?”

“No, sir, I certainly cannot!”

“Neither can I, but look closely at the grains and you will see skipping stones that have released all their good and bad back into the water to give it the flavor you taste when you swim.”

“I am not sure I understand.”

“In your hand, alone, you will hold countless memories of men and women, boys and girls who came to this very spot and returned their memories into the sea and now they make up the ground we stand on as we talk.”

“So if I built a sand castle right here with you, we would be building a home for memories?”

“Yes, little girl, I do believe we would. Would you like to do that with me?”

“I would. Do you like wild strawberries?”

“They are the sweetest kind, especially when picked under a half-orange moon. Look!” He pointed up to the moon, now larger and an even brighter orange than when it first joined him.

“I see. Do you think it could be a peach or maybe an apricot?”

“Perhaps. I thought it might be a bowl of orange juice and when the first bright star shined, I wished I could dip this cup in it and fill it.” He held up his hand, fingers wrapped around an invisible glass.

“It does look very tasty, it does.”

“Try some with me, can you reach the moon?”

“Maybe you could pick me up so I could reach it?”

He did so and when she pulled down her cup the orange juice it contained glowed. They both looked inside and their mouths opened in awe. “Where did that cup come from?” He asked.

“The same place yours did, sir.” She pointed to the hand that had held the invisible glass and in it he saw a cup much like hers, it, too, containing the same glowing orange juice. “Shall we taste it?”

“Yes, I think we shall. Cheers!” They each took a sip. “Now, that there is some good juice. What do you think?”

“The best juice ever.” With that, she picked up a stone and held it out for him to inspect, “what do you think of this stone.”

“I think that will do just fine.”

“Would you mind if I skipped it, now? I want all those memories down there to remember these cups of juice, it tastes too good to forget.”

“Well that is as good a reason as any. Guess how many times it will skip before you do. Don’t tell me though, and I will guess too and we shall see who was right.”

“Okay.” She closed her eyes. He closed his eyes. When opened again, she hooked her finger around the rock and whipped her arm in perfect form.

1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9…

“Yay! Nine!” She jumped up with excitement at the accuracy of her guess, and maybe because she had never gotten more than 5.

“Well done. I thought for sure we’d only get 8, but your perfect form and the stillness of the bay just invited your stone out a little deeper. Do you know what that means?”

“No, I do not.”

“The deeper the memory, the longer it lasts and the more it becomes part of the ocean.”

“So our special drink will never be forgotten?”

“No, I do not think it will.” With that they smiled and sat down in the sand to build a castle and discover the stories it held.