August 28th, 1996
My father carries rocks in his change purse to remember things. Some are important: the little chipped rock he found in the alley outside of Lee’s Palace the night he smelt my mother’s hair on the dance floor. Some are not: a smooth, black stone found on the beach, a place and day he cannot remember, perfect for skipping on the water. Some he will not talk about—not even to me.
They hit against each other like marbles when he rummages for nickels to get a large Double-Double. My mother’s belly and feet sweat and swell in the thick summer heat. The two of them are both twenty-one.
The line behind them is restless. He is not ready to pay because he cannot find one of his rocks—thinks it may have fallen out of a ripped jean pocket on the way to the coffee shop.
They leave without the coffee. Street lights lead them back the way they came as my father searches on hands and knees at the edges of urine crusted storm drains. His calloused fingers fumble in the dark and search beneath bits of glass and tire rubber. My mother sucks the juice out of a cherry Freezie and wonders how two children will raise a child.
They search for the rock until four in the morning—walk back down Spadina to their basement apartment with a stone that they know is not the original. They sleep. They will scream about the stone tomorrow.
September 11th, 2001
Our pre-school in Chinatown has no playground—only a deep groove in the earth, filled with dust and little grey stones. I decide that I’m in love with a girl named Gabriella because she knows how to tie her shoes. We pull our bodies down the rock pit as if it is a slide; my pink corduroy overalls puff dust into the air when I pat my hands against them. We both cough and pretend we are smoking cigars like the bankers on Queen Street and stamp our feet until the dust dirties our hair.
I fall as four-year-olds do. Scraped and screaming. A tiny pebble lodges itself in the center of my palm. My world is in chaos. Madame Roposo started less than a week ago and doesn’t know where the tweezers are. She calls my parents to pick me up. They arrive only moments later, already coming to bring me home after everything this morning on the TV.
My father kisses the top of my hand and leads me through side streets with broken sidewalks that we call “The Slanty Steps”. He finds my mother’s eyebrow tweezers and sits me down at the plastic patio table our landlord let us keep. I sob and beg him to leave the rock in my hand. My mother sits in our living room in front of our TV—her hand clamped over her mouth. I hear her pray in French. She watches the south tower fall. More dust.
I close my eyes while my father plucks out the rock. When I open them, it is gone. He convinces me that he accidently let the stone slip beneath my skin and now it will float in my blood stream, through the twists and bends of my body for the rest of my life. We wash the mess off—his hands clamped around mine under the cold water. He moves my wrists back and forth and the soap foams. Towel dried. An Elmo Band-Aid. The pebble sits in his change purse.
I fall asleep squished between couch cushions and dream of planes and dust.
March 5th, 2003
In speech therapy, I learn to say the word inuksuk without a stutter—try to build one with smooth river stones on a concrete dock stretching out into dirty Lake Ontario water. Seagull shit cakes my mother’s borrowed rubber boots. I scream the word to every floating plastic bottle.
The stones topple after each attempt.
July 13th, 2004
We sit on the moulding carpet in our living room and draw faces on flat rocks. A plastic Millennium Falcon centres the Star Wars action figure setup on the sideboard a few meters away, but we cannot touch my father’s scene. We would wreck it.
Instead, we name rocks and sort them into families. My little brother’s chubby wrists are stained with green marker; a ring of drool darkens the collar of his sweater. I chew on the split ends at the bottom of my braid.
One rock’s face turns out better than the others and I name her Scarlet Begonias because of our father’s favourite Grateful Dead song. He’s not even in the room—swearing at our mother somewhere outside the apartment—but his voice and visions infiltrate our play in such a visceral way.
I tell my brother that Scarlet Begonias the Rock is mine and he can’t see her because she’s my new sister and I love her more than he ever will. I sit on the rock to hide it and he bawls.
October 9th, 2005
I steal animal key chains off of people’s backpacks in the hallway and I bury them behind the giant rock at the edge of the school yard. A little rubber fox from a girl named Rylee who I used to go to Mad Science camp with; a plastic golden retriever head from either Kevin or Clifford (twins who share a single bag); a tabby cat with stripes from Emma with the pretty blonde hair and the married parents. I don’t want to have them; I don’t want anyone to have them.
I take them during lunch then keep them in my sweater pockets until recess. A group of kids agree that I am allowed to play Power Rangers with them as long as I die thirty seconds into the game and stay dead. My death is a perfect cover, during which I can leave to hide the key chains. Roots jut out of the dirt and I dig around them with my finger nails.
The nameless key chain culprit gets a reputation. We are told not to bring things to school that we don’t want stolen; to lock our backpacks in the classroom during recess. I find other things to take, though I never know quite why I’m taking them. Half-bitten erasers; rubber earing backs; green gel pens. Anything that belongs to someone else. I think of the collection like a time capsule not meant to be found. Something to make me feel guilty every time I go out into the yard; a shame that keeps me grounded and separate and special.
Only the large rock and I know where they go. Buried alive.
December 20th, 2006
Pebbles from the gravel road lodge themselves between my socked toes because I’ve worn through the tread in my Walmart running shoes. I shake the shoe out into the snow and nothing comes out, but I feel the tiny bits in my soles as I walk back and forth across the drive way, lifting boxes. I am convinced that a moving–box company exists called “Fraggle”, because I cannot pronounce the word Fragile printed on the sides of the cardboard.
My parents move back together so they can pool their resources and rent us a town house—the first home we’ve ever had with a backyard. They fight every day, but we plant real scarlet begonias in the garden out front, bold red and orange petals like magnificent torches of flame. Our neighbors call the police eleven times to complain about the noise. We’re loud but infatuated with hope and space for the flowers.
My father takes a little red rock from the yard on our first day and puts it in his change purse. I wait until he’s inside, then grab my own: a crumbled slice of a brick that I think qualifies.
November 4th, 2007
My parents cannot afford the horse-riding party that they promised, so on my eleventh birthday, they let me skip school.
My father wraps croissants and cubes of cheddar cheese in paper towel and we go up onto The Bruce Trail for a picnic. I walk with concern through dead leaves and vow that I will run as fast as I can and dive into the foaming river if I come across a daddy long legs spider. He picks up rocks as we walk and we sing a harmony of the camp song “Barges” so loud that our voices echo against the opposite side of the escarpment and bounce back to us like a choir. I’m wearing his wet wool mittens, darned with pink thread.
We know exactly where in the trail we will stop. Flotsam and jetsam bubble at the base of the Cliffside as my father helps me down into the riverbed. Freezing water soaks our socks. We walk carefully across smaller stones until we have a small enough gap to leap onto a huge slanted rock in the middle of the river, the size of a glacier. I sit cross-legged on the cold grey stone—water blasts by us on either side. He talks about building us a house in the middle of the river, perched on a rock larger than this one, like the elves’ houses in Lord of the Rings. Our own Rivendell. I believe him.
March 26th 2009
Our neighbour is a girl my age named Kirsty Goodman. She plays me Gwen Stefani and wears low cut, hot pink shirts and singes her white blonde hair with a flat iron. Her couch always smells like cigarettes.
Her mother overdoses during our first sleepover. We both attend our first funeral.
Headstones are smoother than I imagined them. Lisa Goodman’s is freckled with grey and white like a marble counter top. Kirsty and I run our palms against the cold of the stone after the ceremony because we don’t exactly know what else to do. It comforts me to know that my father isn’t the only one who uses stones to remember things.
April 9th 2012
We rummage through the rocks in the playground of my brother’s elementary school, searching for the engagement ring that we found earlier. My father is convinced that the diamond was real. We need to find it before someone else does—we’ll sell it and fix the exhaust on the car. We’ll go out to The Mandarin for dinner every night for a week. We’ll buy a new dress for my grade ten Semi-Formal.
My brother and I have friction burns on our palms from running them under the rocks. The three of us search till the sky turns dark. I complain that I have school in the morning but my father is insistent that the ring was the universe’s gift to us—like winning the lottery. We deserve it more than whoever lost it. We deserve it. We deserve it more. He finds it hours later, wedged beneath the monkey bars.
The appraiser tells us that it is fake—not a diamond, likely quartz.
Our father takes the service road home and asks me what he’s done to make the universe hate him so much. I say that no one hates him, though people do; I say that he’s done nothing wrong, though he’s done plenty. The sun shines through the little cut of quartz and refracts a prism of rainbow light onto my face. I do not get a new dress.
May 26th 2017
Sixty feet beneath the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, I pretend to drop my phone into the archeological site during our tour of the ancient ruins. I hang my body over the metal barrier when the tour guide isn’t looking and use my phone to cover my hand as I grab a tiny piece of rock from the two-thousand-year-old site. It’s a horrible thing to do, but I do not feel guilty.
I hide the rock in my carry-on during the flight back home, and I wreck my roommate’s kitchen knife trying to slice it in half so that both my father and I can keep a slice. He gets the bigger piece.
November 9th, 2017
The boy asks me about all the rocks on top of my dresser while I give him a hand job. He’s generous and boring and smells like the inside of a Greyhound bus. We are only here because I thought he would make a good poem.
I lie and tell him that my father is an internationally acclaimed pediatric surgeon, and that he gives me all of the rocks that he pulls out of the bellies of children who have swallowed them. I say that the cratered beige one that looks like a little moon was in a boy in Belgium named Jon-Luke, who swallowed the rock in an attempt to kill himself so that he wouldn’t have to do his chores. He didn’t want to wash a red bowl, I specify—a particularly crusty red bowl.
He tries to say something about my breasts and I interrupt him. I say that the flat black rock leaning up against my broken salt lamp was in a seven-and-a-half-year-old girl named Louisa, who thought that rocks were fairy eggs, and that if she swallowed one, a fairy would grow and hatch and fly out her mouth while she was sleeping.
The boy seems confused. I keep talking in the hopes that I’ll convince him I’m insane or worldly or both, and that either way he’ll figure out that I don’t really want him here with his dick in my hand.
I pretend I have work in the morning to get him to leave. A night sky swallows up dusk and I stay up the rest of the night, talking to my father on the phone and rearranging the rocks.
Sydney Brooman is a Queer fiction writer, poet, and an Honors English Literature & Creative Writing student at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. They are also serving as Western University’s Student Writer in Residence. Their research interests include literary censorship, gender performance, inter-generational relations, and early childhood development. When they aren’t procrastinating writing by talking about how often they write, they’re putting their full effort into that one story that you really like. No, not that one. The other one.
Sofia Fey is a theatre student in the BFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Recently, her poetry has appeared in The Collective Magazine and Sobotka Literary Magazine.