They were small and fragile looking in the palm of my hand. I turned each of them over, examining the delicate markings etched into them in a fine script that I could not read. The man stood next to me, hovering as though he was afraid that I would put them in my pocket without paying for them and disappear.
His breath was hot on my face as I turned to look at him, reassure him. We were standing on the open sidewalk in the hot sun.
“How much do you want for them?” I asked.
He just looked at me and shook his head in short, furtive strikes.
“Do you speak English?” I asked. He hadn’t spoken a word since he first approached me and put them in my hand. At first, I thought that he was panhandling and had had shaken my head no. It was at that moment that he took my hand and placed them on my upturned palm.
He just looked down at my hand and shook his head again. For some reason, I was scared to pull out my wallet and show him money. Would he grab it and run? I reached into my pocket and pulled out a few bills folded together. I held them up and unfolded them one at a time hoping that he would stop me when his price was met.
He was startled by my actions, shaking his head in a wider, more violent arc and pushed the money away. He took my other hand and wrapped my fingers around the two small objects and held it against my chest. This done, he turned and loped down the street. They were mine now, but what would be the cost?
I have been home now for three weeks and I am still exhausted. After work I come home, eat, and go to sleep. Well, that’s not exactly true. I lay in bed trying to sleep. I stare at the ceiling and think about that moment on the street corner, the man’s face, his slow gait has he turned and left. I had forgotten about the two pieces, had thrown them into my suitcase as I hastily packed. I had slept through my alarm and almost missed my flight. They had remained at the bottom, mixed up with all of my dirty laundry for a week, the suitcases sitting by the front door where I dropped them as I entered my dark, empty house.
I thought about making them into earrings for Mona, but what would be the point? She was gone and wouldn’t be back. No, not even something this unusual would entice her back after what we had gone through.
One night, about 2 a.m., I got out of bed and took them off my dresser. It was too hot in the house to sleep so I went out to the backyard and sat in the moonlight. The neighborhood was quiet; the only sound the chirping of crickets. The moon was full and bright. I didn’t want to turn on the yard lights. I rolled the two objects over and over in my hands, feeling their silky soft faces. I couldn’t really tell what they were made of; maybe some form of stone or amber. I held them up to the moonlight and was able to make out the etchings. They were animal forms, though none were recognizable to me: dragons, maybe, or some other mythical beasts. I lit up a joint and took a big drag. It wasn’t until then, when the bright red glow of the tip illuminated the objects, did I notice that the animals seemed to move.
I started to carry the stones (as I called them) around with me everyday. They sat in my pocket, pressed against my thigh, rubbing noses with spare change, tissues and keys. I felt guilty sometimes when I reached into my pocket and felt them there. I worried about damaging them, scratching them, or losing them. But I couldn’t stop. They were reassuring, like Greek worry beads or a rosary.
I didn’t like to show them to anyone. Some times people would look when they were in my hand, fished out of my pocket with change or my car keys. I would cover them quickly for they were nobody’s business but my own.
On long drives, I would roll them out on the dashboard like dice, watching to see what combinations would appear. Two dragons, I would stop for a drink on the way home. A dragon and a snake, well that meant driving straight home. Each time I would assign different values to each etching. Likewise, the morphology changed. Sometimes a snake was an eel or a worm. A dragon one night was an iguana the next.
I rarely went out of the house anymore. I spent my days dressed only in boxers and a t-shirt. Occasionally, I would wrap a robe around myself and put on slippers.
The mail piled up under the slot in the door. A small mountain of unpaid bills, offers of low rate credit cards, invitations to social gatherings and junk mail flyers collected dust. I left the television on all day although I rarely watched it. Gerardo invited child molesters into my living room, Oprah talked with wives who had affairs with their in-laws. Late at night guns flashed and women bared their breasts as they made love to the bad guys. Me, I made love to the stones, caressing their soft sides, each different. I would hold them up in front of my eyes and stare through them at the flickering television images, now diffused, allowing only the rapidly shifting colors to come through, illuminating the etchings on their sides.