Shipment from Siena

Her eyes were the colour of moldavite – when you hold the stone up to the light, and see the green – a dignified, kelp-forest, pine-forest green.

Moldavite, but in these eyes there were gold flecks added, and the possibility of reflecting the sky – a blue somewhere in there too, waiting its time.

What he loved in her was her distance – the stern, almost eagle look of her as she sat facing him now in the train carriage. He was reminded again and again of the Eel River – that moody torrent that had beguiled his childhood. The river ten miles from his home that was too far for a little boy to walk in a day, and then walk home again. A place saved for a few family picnics per summer, his small sisters giving their dolls mud facials near the banks, his parents reclining on loungers, reading their separate sorts of books: sci-fi for him, lawyer thrillers for her. He, concocting far-flung adventures for himself, becoming a seal, becoming a bear. Once he tried to gnaw through a sapling, to become a beaver. But beavers’ teeth and jaws are so superior. He succeeded only in marring the bark and leaving a snaily patch of saliva on it.

The Eel had gotten closer when he acquired a 10-speed Raleigh bicycle. And a friend, Grayson Phipps. They’d bike there on a Saturday morning, with lunches in a paper bag, and spend the day diving, swimming, relaxing, dreaming adulthoods together. Grayson was blond and strong and short and he laughed like a hyena when he thought something Jad had said was funny. Their Mounds Bars and peanut butter sandwiches, celery sticks and apples and little bags of potato chips were the exact same lunches they took to school – a fact both disappointing and reassuring. It was as if their mothers were stuck in a hypnotized lunch-groove and, unless jarred out of it by a bigger family affair, could not produce a different bagged repast.

Yes, the Eel was for dessert – a longed-for place, not seen often. And so Jad felt when he looked into the eyes of this young woman across from him, who was reading Anna Karenina in deep absorption, but glanced up if he leaned to her or put a hand on her knee.

But if she opened her little pink crooked mouth – her lilting, soft lips, over white teeth that overlapped here and there – and began to speak…well, she was trying to draw him near. She told too much of herself, in a confessional, frank manner – told him her dreams of a morning, in all their concentrated symbology, and to him boringness – too much about her family in them; he only wanted to take her away from her family; not hear about them. Not know them better.

She tried to drag him close – near as near – by telling him all her woes and confusions. Especially after they’d made love she liked to do this – when he was feeling mellow as a banana milkshake, just wanting to glide through the ether and rest. And there she was, pulling him closer and closer, as if now she was just getting started.

And yet her eyes were so remote, and old, like the tundra – mysteriously coloured, wordless, fine.

They were headed towards Milan, and then Siena. They’d landed in Zurich, so that they could take in the sights on the long train journey south; the scenery was supposed to be amazing. And they were not disappointed – so many steep gorges with thread-thin train bridges spanning them high in the air; tunnels, and little villages between the tunnels, stuck in a wooded cleft, melancholic and tidy. They planned to retrace their steps on the way back and then swing on up into the high Alps for a few days’ R&R.

And now, on an impulse they jumped off in Locarno, and found a hotel; and dined in an empty restaurant on the lake, where an attentive waiter served them endlessly, graciously, with the best polenta Jad had ever had or could imagine having. It must, he thought secretly, have been cooked with meat broth – nothing veggie could ever taste that rich, that decadent – and its crust of parmesan crackled under the teeth most seducingly. Kerensa mmmm’d and sighed and sipped conservatively at her glass of red wine. The smoked fish starter – she was a Pescatarian, really – had been huge and delicious too, with its great hill of thick mayonnaise – and as they waited for their vanilla gelato with fresh figs, they told each other how nice it was that they’d gotten out in this dark, quiet town.

There was an old man who had a villa on the outskirts of Siena. He’d spent a privileged lifetime collecting beautiful stones. He’d travelled, and wherever he went, his goal was always the rock shop, the estate sale, the auction, where some passionate rock-hound had amassed his Aladdin’s cave of treasure.

Now, as he neared his end, he wanted his collection to go to someone who would appreciate it – his own children and grandchildren caring nothing for the old man’s rocks, but only what they might fetch. But to Signor Garibaldi, stones were magic portals to secret worlds of wonder. He revelled, he craved, he petted, he bought, he sold, he communed with – read the histories of untold aeons of transmutation, the pressures and upliftments of the earth, the fire and cold and the way sea and wind and mountains acted on the substances beneath them, pressing, polishing, scrubbing, millenium on millenium. And he felt the voices of them, these coloured messengers – some like princesses in a blue glass chamber, some like wise old men gone silent in a dwelling far away. Some were green and fresh as spring leaves. Some sang with the high dulcet tones of Himalayan maidens – some were serene as queens – some black as panthers in the dark – some chatoyant at cats’ eyes when they glance at you with a sudden alertness ,even as they’re purring in your chair. Some were warm as sunshine – some cold and blue as arctic ice – some radiant as moonshine – some dull and stodgy as a Bavarian village…But all of them he felt ownership for; a jealous guardianship.

Signor Garibaldi did not fear the parting from his treasures, though – for he felt that he would become part of them soon – part of their majesties and the way the weathers acted upon them, night and day.

He served Jad and Keri each with a large snifter in which was a little pomegranate brandy. They smelt it and tilted the glass and let the garnet liquid swirl, clinging with centrifugal force to the sides of the bowl. It smelt of autumn – of berries against wet brown leaves. It tasted like burning berries, tart and sweet, with something rich and mellow underneath, like caramel. Like skin…when you smell at your lover’s shoulder, and your lover is brown with the sun. They had some runny cheese all sassy with barnyard funk, unashamedly feet-smelling, barely contained in its virginal white rind. There were crisp, seeded crackers with it; a dish of white grapes nearby for the picking.

Jad felt himself begin to relax. This was good, he thought; this was good.

Kerensa was smiling at Signor Garibaldi with benign indulgence. So that was all right. She actually seemed to register his existence, though he was so very old. Kerensa was only twenty, and apt to shut out whatever didn’t speak to her personal interests: wildlife preservation, and snowboarding, and, of all things, Cuban literature – her Spanish was great, if her Italian was nonexistent. She’d grown up in Florida and Washington State – mom one place, dad another.

Signor Garibaldi was a well-fleshed man of medium height, mostly bald, with liver spots on his hands, his arms, his scalp. His nails were ridged and yellowed, though nicely manicured; his paunch noticeable, though not overwhelming, like American ones tended to be. His clothes, thought Jad, were very good – wool slacks, polo-neck sweater with the sleeves rolled up, loafers without socks. He wore one gold earring. His hands were long and sensitive-looking. His face was quite ordinary, except for a large mole below the right side of his fleshy mouth. His eyes, behind his glasses, were clear and sharp. He smelt of soap, and the many locked-in rooms of his house, and the lemon-flowers you could smell through the open window in the dining room, where they sat; and something bitter under that – an old man’s smell.

Jad was waiting to see the rooms where the stones were. But he knew that the socializing had to come first. A stout housekeeper with a disapproving air refilled the pitcher of water that sat on a ceramic tile on the large table. The lemon flowers lending their scent to the room…really were most incredible, thought Jad. That a room could smell like that.

Signor Garibaldi walked with a stick, the handle of which was shiny and polished damp from the grip of his hand. He led them haltingly down a long corridor to a room at the end. “And-a so-a, we start-a at-a the beginning-a,” said he cryptically. And he fitted a key into the modern lock on the stout, carven old door.

Grayson Phipps’s dad had had a filling station, but, telling no-one, he’d invested in Texas oil wells too. And he’d made it, two of the wells had come in, and so his son grew into his posh-sounding name, and drove low sports cars you had to fold yourself in half to get into. At twenty-six he’d already married and divorced twice, and young Mackenzie-Ann and young Taylora, his exes, were set up pretty well as a result of it. He’d grown away from Jad for a while, but when Jad needed bankrolling for his lapidary shop, Gray stepped forward and put up the money. He said the project helped him feel grounded. And then he laughed. Like a hyena. He was a good kid really, couldn’t help it if his blond, stocky good looks and his money made a certain sort of woman look past his lacking inches and pursue him cagily, cleverly. He was still finding his feet in the world, and at present was in Africa, photographing wildebeeste and the like. Something he was really interested in, or was just trying to be? wondered Jad. Gray was too biddable for a rich man, thought Jad, not for the first time.

In the dry mountain air the pale wood panelling on the walls gave the room a clean, silent feeling, stout and strong and yet light at the same time. The landlady, no-nonsense and squarely upholstered, had unlatched the shutters, thrown open the doors to the balcony. From there they saw the mountains…white and variegated, and felt their cold air touch their faces like an exciting invitation. The sky seemed bigger too, as if they’d been helped up into tit and could feel its wild nature a little better from here.

Jad had done all his phoning while they were still in Siena – arranging the packing, shipping, and receiving of Signor Garibaldi’s collection at Jad’s shop in Eureka, California. So now he could relax for a few days…he and Keri, and Grayson too when he arrived from Kenya tomorrow. He could feel the muscles in his legs in some eager answering to the bright, sunlit prominences all about the valley – Yes, yes! Out there! Walking!

They ate buttery little perch from the lake, with boiled potatoes and broccoli. They had some wine, and then sat back with a hot tisane, feeling the glow through their whole bodies – they’d hiked straight up the hill behind the hotel, up and up and up…as the valley went into chilly shadow, but the sun still fizzed above them, sweet and warm and complacent. They’d walked on a dirt road that had been cleared; snow lay off to the sides, crystalline, ageing. Snow paved the ground among the trees – pine woods, mixed with deciduous trees. It was all beautiful, beautiful – what was he doing in the flatlands? Why didn’t he live and breathe like this all the time?

The night was so dark. The hotel was on the side of a hill; the few street-lights in the village below did not make much difference in the thickness of the night. There was silence except for a stream somewhere, talking to itself as it ran along. Jad was buoyed on the goodness of the walk, the food, and their lovemaking…just about to be received by sleep, like a stream meeting a big dark lake. He was slipping under…

“Jad?” she began. “It’s really weird, but -” and he stiffened for a moment – for her knew that if he just fell asleep, and did not listen to her, he was not a good sort of guy. And he knew that he was a good sort of guy. Wasn’t he? And so he had to shake the sleep off for a little while – he hoped not too long -.

“Ungh?” he managed to utter.

“…I mean, I love making love with you,” she went on confessionally. “I love to feel your…um…beauty. Your…hardness, your…well, sometimes your heart. And it’s fun – we laugh – sometimes. But there’s always something kind of bothering me. Often…you know how, when you read books, and people make love, they have, like, simultaneous orgasms? And the woman, when he’s inside her, she’s, like, experiencing all this, like, pleasure? They describe it that way. ‘She reached a crescendo of pleasure.’ Or in Spanish, they call it ‘celebration.’ But it doesn’t feel like that for me. It feels different.

“I mean, when you touch me…first…it starts to feel really good, right there…there is something like pleasure – and when you suck my breasts…” (here her hands went to her little cones, her pink-tipped cones) “that can feel, like, really good! Exciting! Sweet! It’s like…I love your head, then – bent there.

“But when you’re inside, all that goes away. It’s not pleasure. Something else happens instead. I feel like…I’ve been thrown off a cliff backwards. It’s like I’m in a circus, and I’ve fallen off the trapeze. I don’t know where I’m gonna land. it’s like…all of me is taken over, y’know? And I keep waiting for some other, further thing to occur – to land, to explode, to finally breathe so hugely that I disappear and nobody is there anymore. Sometimes it’s like that. I forget my own name.

“…But…” she went on, as Jad listened, and kept falling into silky sleep, and pulling himself out again – trying to be interested, indeed, he was interested, but it all sounded so strange to him, so unbelievable – how could anyone do what they did together and manage to avoid pleasure? Pleasure was the very purpose, the very essence of the thing. You had pleasure, and then you went to sleep. Was Keri damaged somehow? Or was this what women were? No – he could not believe that; Keri was articulate – too articulate – but she could not be a spokeswoman for all the rest of them, too. He’d been with enough women to know…they loved it! They were all different, as different as cats with their stripes and blotches and colours of eyes and peculiarities of habit – but they all felt…pleasure. Didn’t they?

But Keri was going on. “…That part isn’t pleasure. I don’t feel it like I do in my clitoris, you know, when you touch me…I just feel…almost-annihilated; but not quite. Never altogether.

“So I wonder,” she breathed, snuggling closer to him, her arm over his chest, her small hand resting on his bicep – “what is wrong with me. Why I don’t feel it like I’m supposed to. Why I only feel like I’ve fallen out of a plane into the Amazon jungle, or something. Where are the mutual orgasms? Where is, even, an orgasm, for gosh sakes?

“It’s scary for me to tell you this,” she went on relentlessly. “You might think something’s wrong with me. Yes, sometimes I did have an orgasm – when you licked me – those couple of times – though I was worried that you might be getting tired…and that distracted me…the least little distraction ruins everything…but what about those mutual orgasms and, like, guaranteed pleasures people are supposed to have? I don’t get it…Jad? Are you awake?” she whispered.

“Ungh -” reiterated Jad. “Ung.”

And he fell deeply asleep.

She was amazing on a snowboard. She was something to watch. He liked sliding down a modest little slope, playing among the snow-hummocks – but she was an expert. She was so agile, so gracile, so quick and alert. It seemed effortless, what she did, flipping around over there like an elf in a white faux-furred jacket, a pointy snug fur-edged cap velcro-strapped under her chin. Her dark curls poking out, her arms out, balancing, going up and down the run like a skateboarding teen. He gazed on in admiration. She seemed so serious – she didn’t smile; she was absorbed in the combining of board, snow, cold, sky; her young body; all to a sort of music only she could hear.

He heard a whumpff behind him, then a laugh – turned – and saw Gray coming towards him, stomping and sliding in moon-boots, laughing, with a sort of bluster coming off of him, cap-less, his blond hair shining.

They gripped each other’s shoulders, clasped each other in a quick hug.

Gray stepped back. He looked like Heidi’s brother – like he was born here – red-cheeked, flaxen-haired, stocky and beaming. He tipped his chin towards Kerensa. “Pretty good, huh? Wow. I was watchin’.”

They had a morning ritual, Jad and Keri – rise about 7:00, and walk together on the path that ran along behind his house, down to the river. There a well-kept jogging path allowed a good long drink of morning woods-vibes – something essential, it seemed, like water or air. They’d walk down to the bridge, cross over, and come back up the other side, to the next bridge, and back to his house – about two miles all told. And they did this walk in silence. That had been Keri’s idea. He’d balked at first, not wanting to feel constrained in any regard; but soon he realized that this silence with her was blessed – perhaps the best thing they had between them. It gave the woods a chance to speak, and the woods were uncomplicatedly benig; even, he thought, actively healing. Like thousands of wise nurses, or good parents, standing over them, non-interfering, yet ready with the soothing hands that could heal.

After the walk they’d shower, then get in Jad’s truck and drive to the local not-Starbucks, a reassuringly shabby refuge with donated couches, real potted bushes, and a constantly-changing menu of coffees, teas, and breakfasts. The coffee was everything you could want it to be…and, under its influence, Keri would talk…She’d get Ideas – Ideas for all sorts of things – how mankind could be saved (everybody had to have a silent walk each day – or dance for an hour – or, all politicians inclined towards aggression had to duke it out with each other, mano a mano, and leave the rest of us alone.) She had Ideas what she might want to do with her life: after she got her literature degree she would go for another one, in biology and ecology. Or, she would move to Cuba and really live what she’d studied. Yes, she surely must do that. Did he think he could stand to live in Cuba for a while? They should take the train up to the Hudson Bay and see polar bears! They should do that this year! And soon she’d learn to tango; all those long, snakey leg movements…she’d do them too, even if she was kind of short. How could anyone say they’d lived if they hadn’t tangoed? Or seen pink dolphins in the Amazon, and helped protect them? But she’d take time off to snowboard down Mt Everest – or at least Mt McKinley. Mt Fuji, if it still had any snow.

Jad listened, having figured out that it was the caffeine speaking, making her think all this was as easy as 1-2-3. She was so…multi-compartmented. She jumped about among the parts of herself like a half-grown cat, serious, skewing for balance.

Jad had always known what he was going to do. Hunt rocks, buy rocks, sell rocks, study rocks. Have a shop. And for cutting loose, well, hiking did him just fine. He didn’t have any expensive sports fantasies.

So what was it about Keri that he loved? Why was he with her?

…She was so other. He was big and bluff and slow-moving; sandy-haired, precise and diffident. But he knew what he wanted, knew how to go about it. She was little and dark-haired, with very fair skin and a low center of gravity. Her hips were rounded, her torso slender. And she seemed so lost; and yet she also seemed to belong utterly to herself. That intrigued him – how could somebody be so what they were, and yet not know what they wanted to do?

…And then there was Keri in bed. Her velvety openness to him, her damp, blooming lily-petal interior. Her warmth, and her twining about him, and her way of looking into his eyes in the dark or the twilight – looking, searching, like she wanted to see him, really see him. It touched him, that – she was so young. Such a petal.

He was beginning to realize that all this last was his experience of her lovemaking – and that for her it might be different. That she didn’t know her own softness, her own wet. That she lived in some different place, where these things had not dawned yet.

Yes, she was searching him – but she might never find him where he lived. As a ready, elementary man. Her complexity got in the way, and her youth…but she was Keri, almost like a sister to him too; and he accepted her, there at his side.

The past few days she’d not wanted coffee – she’d brought her own fennel teabags. And she went to the restroom a lot suddenly. Jad wondered if she had cystitis – but knew she’d tell him if she did, as she had before. Coffee-less, she wasn’t talking a lot either. He felt vaguely uneasy. Where were all her plans? Ones without him in them – ones including him – . He realized he’d come to rely on these little morning dream-streams. They made him optimistic too.

On weekends she helped in the shop, and then they’d cook dinner together and eat at the picnic table behind his house, overlooking the river. Or they’d go out, there were a few great organic Mex places with really stellar, plentiful food heaped on long heated platters. They might see a flick, or visit friends.

Tonight they’d seen a docu-drama with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan – Judi Dench trying to look powerless, which didn’t really work. She was playing an old Irishwoman who had been seduced in her innocent youth and then forced to go to a Catholic Home for Unwed Mothers. Her son was taken from her and adopted away, she knew not where. Steve Coogan was the reporter who would find out what had become of this son. Keri muttered imprecations at the imperious, lying nuns; growled and beat on the armrest. Both Jad and Keri were much moved by the ending, and went out into the foggy night holding hands.

That night she told him…he was just falling into sleep, but she pulled him back out again with her sure, intense voice. “Jad. I’m quite sure I’m pregnant. I am. I’m scared, Jad. I’m really scared.”

He felt a bolt of cold metal move through his body. It was like being in a plane and thinking that the engines had stopped. But in those cases the engines really hadn’t stopped; it was some strange perception of standing still in the air. This coldness hit him, and it stayed.

“Are you sure?” he asked softly.

“Yeh. Did a test today,” she replied.

“But – what about the Pill?” he asked.

“I think it was the jet-lag – when we went to Europe,” she said. “I must have gotten confused about the time – left it too late. It got in there somehow.”

“Gosh,” he said, awake now, playing for time. “Um – what do you want to do? Do you know?”

Of course she wouldn’t know, he thought. Not yet. She’d have a dozen ideas about it all.

“Um,” she answered, hushed in the dark, lying naked next to him. She moved a little away. “Um – Jad – it it could be…Grayson’s. Or yours. I don’t know.”

Ice fell down the back of his neck. A cold boulder sat in his belly. He found he could not exactly breathe.

Gray?” He managed to get the word out, though his jaw seemed locked, but then it chattered, knocking his teeth together. He was so cold. But suddenly he didn’t want to feel warmth from her. He moved away too. The blankets weren’t enough to cover the two of them, yet they confined him. He threw them off.

“I’m sorry,” she said. There were tears in her voice, but they did not spill. Her body seemed braced, now, in the bed. Braced for whatever would come.

When?” he demanded. Nothing like this had ever happened to him. His life had been easy! Heat seemed to rise up through him now, getting into his teeth. They wanted to gnash, to bite something.

Gray?” he added, again – his voice breaking in a squeak.

“Switzerland,” she whispered. “When you went for a walk by yourself and then down to the village to buy picnic food that day. I knew we’d have time. I wanted…I wanted to see if it would be different. There’s only been you, and, and…my first boyfriend, when I was sixteen. I don’t feel what I’m supposed to! I wanted to see…if it would feel different – if I might have…those feelings.”

GRAY!” yelled Jad suddenly, and he jumped out of bed and threw on his flannel shirt, wrested on his jeans, pulled on woollen socks, his hiking boots, laced them up with a yank. “That FUCKING BASTARD!!!” and he ran out of the house into the night, truck-keys pointing out ahead like a knife.

It was all over, wasn’t it? His cozy, soft life – that little girl had betrayed him, she was nothing more than a green, callow teenager really – what was he thinking? – and his best friend, and business partner, had betrayed him too.

His mind raced about in his head as he steered the truck through the night.

He still owed Gray money, though he was servicing the loan at a good clip – did this mean he would lose his shop as well? No, no, surely not – he was the wounded party, he would go on paying, it was a business deal after all, above emotion – but could he stand to own the shop any longer, his beautiful shop, with that dirty money behind it? Oh, SHIT!

They fought behind Gray’s house, on the deck, in the dark. Punched each other like neither of them had ever punched anybody before. Tore each other’s clothes, bloodied each other’s noses, knuckles. Roared like bears, grappled – Jad wanted to beat Gray’s head against the deck, but his better sense finally prevailed, and he merely slapped the deck again and again with his open hand, gathering splinters, cursing the while. Punched Gray in the stomach then, a glancing blow, and Gray got him right back before they both fell back gasping onto the wooden floor, waiting for breath to return.

Then they hugged and sobbed, crying and yelling into each other’s ears – “YOU BASTARD!”

NO – YOU! YOU MOTHERFUCKER! AGHHHH! I TRUSTED YOUUUU!”

“You know me – I’m an adventurer,” Gray shrugged, later, while they sat in his cold kitchen drinking glasses of water. “She wanted me. How could I refuse? It would have been…ungentlemanly.”

“Oh, fuck you!” yelled Jad – but he almost laughed a little too. Bitterly.

“Jared -” said Gray pityingly. “You’re such a fool for love.”

“I don’t know if it’s love, exactly -” said Jad, head bowed, legs apart, feet planted – where he sat in a hard chair, at the table in the messy kitchen. And he contemplated freshly the indignity of things.

He had to go away. He had to think. He had to be alone.

He unlocked the front door of his long rambling shop and went inside. There were no other businesses just nearby – a dirt parking lot outside welcomed motorists from near or far. The building was long and many-winged, and there were outbuildings. It had been a lumber mill, once, and he’d converted the offices to retail and storage space.

He went from room to room, feeling the silent gorgeousness of the stones – some big as toddlers, others big as German Shepherds on their hind legs. Miniature Himalayan peaks they were, or burning bushes of jasper, polished on one face, showing the insides of themselves implacably, beauteously. They towered, they loomed, they rested, they reposed, like magicians in armchairs they presided, they held court. They were lemon-colored, grape-colored, earth-toned, spring-leaf-hued. Every natural color was here in these rooms, made with interminably slow magic by Mother Nature herself. And she’d given them personalities, characters, essences. It was as if he’d come into a Council of the Wise…they’d been here while all that noise and drama had been going on at Gray’s, and they’d just sat so silently.

He found the room where the shipment from Siena had been laid out for inventory. And in a room next to this one, he remembered, he’d stored some Afghan carpets he’d once bought at an estate auction. They were rolled up, tilted slightly against the wall in a corner. He dragged two of them into the larger room where the stones were, and unrolled them, one atop the other, on the wooden floor. In a nearby restroom he mopped his face of blood and dirt, using dampened paper towels, brushing himself off – he was dotted with damp leaves – and then he washed his hands. He turned off the light and went back out into the larger room. He had no plan – was just acting instinctively, moment by moment.

He wanted to cover his eyes – needed to cover his eyes – he didn’t know why. He cast about until he found an old woollen scarf, on a hat-stand in an office. Then he sat down on the rugs, facing a tall, greyish crystal; with several peaks or points on its top. A towel had been laid out on a long narrow table next to where the crystal sat atop its wooden packing crate. On the towel a collection of fine, lumpy moldavites stood about, like E.T.s at a cocktail party. Moldavites, he knew, were supposed to be , in New age parlance, “the starborne stone of transformation.” These greenish tektites were the product of a meteorite strike in Czechoslovakia 18 million years ago…The very earth had turned to glass, in little lumps, all along the path of the skidding meteor. Those gloppy bits carried the alchemies of heat and shock and unthinkable distance…carried the bearer to outer space, there to turn around and regard our earth, and his own life, from that formidably wisdom-producing perspective. He had heard (though he himself was pragmatic about his work and didn’t seek these often airy-fairy, wild-eyed and glib-seeming descriptives) that judicious use of moldavites would result in the shaking-up of a person’s life, while all things that did not feed his real purpose here on earth, broke and crumbled. But he didn’t know about this himself – he just loved stones, and this was an agreeably mysterious and ugly-beautiful one.

On the other side of the crystal, on another long table against the wall, was a selection of unusual stones, beautiful examples of each: selenite, prionite, honey calcite, labradorite, ulexite, lithium quartz, charoite, heulandite, diopside…in different shapes and sizes.

He found himself bowing to the great crystal as if it was a god.

Then he began to weep, harshly. Then suddenly he stopped, and keeled over onto his right side in foetal position. That felt wrong – going, somehow, backwards. He sat up again.

Something was pulling at his crown – just behind the very top of his head. Something was forcing him to be alert.

In the end he simply sat cross-legged on the floor, with his jacket wadded under him, and, closing his eyes, tied the muffler round his head, covering away his outer vision, so that he was taken into darkness.

He sat for a long time. At first his inner world was full of commotion – memories of thumping and being thumped; the sensation in his diaphragm when the air was knocked out of him. The similar sensation when Keri had told him what she’d told him.

By and by though he began to notice sounds, and other sensations – the weighty swwwsh of an occasional vehicle on the road, the round notes of an owl. The air on his arms, colder now. A kind of urgent heat in his chest that then lessened, and settled, and calmed. His breathing slowed…and with it his urgency, his panic.

His mind could not grapple with any plans of action – he was altogether too overwhelmed. He felt that there was nowhere to go that would make any sense – his best friend was lost to him, and his woman too – and perhaps his business, this place that he loved, that was his own creation, his very footprint.

Nothing could be done. And so he sat.

Somehow, in this sitting, he was falling deeper inside himself. He knew this; and marvelled that he had not known this place existed – this deep-inside place – a still place, gripping him gently so that he did not feel to move. His breath created little sensations, little muscular movements in the inner walls of his nostrils. His lungs…expanded and contracted and expanded again. His taut belly registered tiny movements with the breath. And inside his stomach, the pain of loss, of impact, pulled at him, yanking him deeper still.

After half an hour he lay down. He felt like the rug – flat, fringey with toes, full of a dark-woven design; still and receptive.

He did not sleep, but went on falling into himself. He perceived that jealousy leaves you no egress – you cannot do anything without making of yourself at best an ass, at worst a criminal. It drives you inwards, for there is no place else to go. People are free – they can love, or at least experiment with, whomsoever they please. Anything else is imprisonment, torture. There are rights you cannot deny people, and which you would not wish to be denied. If love is based on being in a state of captivity, it is no love at all – it is something else. Something we do to animals, and should not do to other people. He knew this – he could feel it, in his body, as a truth.

Kerensa had spun away from him. All he’d taken for granted was no longer true. And so he fell inwards layer by layer. And the deeper he fell, the more still things became…until he was a rather warm iceberg, floating in an unknown sea.

The great grey crystal rose from its perch and glided down to where he lay, coming to rest on the floor not far from his right shoulder. Then the moldavites descended, surrounding him, a circle of little stones. The the odd rocks twitched and flew into the air, moving soundlessly like a little flock of birds with the volume switched off; hovering over him, then coming to rest where they felt easiest, each somewhere about him on the floor.

He felt the music of them – the energies of each, communicating itself to him, passing through his body, making a kind of balance, a nourishment precisely placed to be just what he needed right now. He began to float more peacefully – almost a bliss overtook him. He forgot where he was, or what had happened. He was just here.

The grey crystal took on the aspect of a figure – tall, with a long grey beard and long, clean grey hair, it sat, wearing a robe, it seemed like; and just sort of being there. It was a sort of man, though he could not have told you what its face was like – it didn’t seem to need a face; or not one you could stare into. It was enough for Jad to be near it, and let it shine its particular energy at him – a kind of very intimate, personal, and yet calm and objective, welcoming.

Jad noticed the robe of the Crystal Man, from within his eyes-closed space. The cloth turned a deep, rich, vivid blue….the colour seemed to reach out to Jad and fill him with a peaceful sense of trust. His body relaxed; his breath slowed even more. He began to feel that he was in love…yet not with someone; rather, that something loved him. Something he could not name, yet had always known was there.

His belly and his heart seemed to open, and his questions came tumbling out – not spoken aloud, yet spoken inside himself quite firmly, to Mr Blue Robe Crystal:

What is happening?

She went with him! She has left me!

Has she left me?

Do I want to be with her, really?

Are we good for each other, really?

Is my best friend Grayson lost to me?

Why do I feel so destroyed?

Is it wrong, that I beat on Gray?

Is this shop safe? Can it continue?

What must I do now?

What can I do?

Then he lay back, and gave up, and waited…his belly, his heart, gaping wide.

The answers came not as words, but as knowings in his body – yet it was clear that these knowings were flowing into him from the stones, from Mr Blue Robe Crystal, from the very blue of his gown. And perhaps from some atmosphere, some place Mr Blue Robe Crystal came from…where lived a multitude of wisdoms.

A pinkish light began to glow in the room, he could feel it, see it all about him – though his eyes were covered.

And there was a Knowing that in his extremity he had become available; and that without that emergency, he was not.

The pinkish light now lay under him as well as around. He was floating on it. The sense of peace and goodness was amazing. He seemed to not truly have any troubles; all were just perceptions, changeable as dust.

As if from a distance, he saw Gray and Keri, meeting, trying things out.

He saw that they did not really care for, long for, each other – that he had no cause to feel afraid that she would go to Gray as a mate.

They were ‘just fooling around.’

This, however, did not reassure him – his body did not relax into any sort of submission with it – because the bigger question was, Did Jad really want to be with Keri?

He was shown, with the blue light seeping through his body, that he himself was a Singularity – unknown to himself, unborn. That he was precious beyond belief, beyond understanding.

That he was here to walk the walk of his own life, above all things.

And, once well begun, then he might look about him for a mate.

Gray was his wolf-brother.

They might fight – it was natural.

They might stray apart.

But they would meet again. No need to worry, push, or Do. Nothing had been destroyed that was real.

He was ashamed then, because he did not know himself. Because he had been caught out as the wild animal. But nothing is wrong in it – sometimes the bear has got to rage.

We are not all civilized. We are really barely civilized at all.

Most of all…Jad was welcomed in love by Those, cradled by Those, set gently and neatly back on his path, by Those.

A woman is not someone to take for granted – to live beside in animal solidity, without a question.

She is a daily, hourly, mystery – an Other, doing what she must for herself.

Do not take her lightly.

And he felt all his questions come apart…and leave him bobbing in a tropic sea of pink and blue, back in himself, with all who did not belong in the room, out of it now.

There were really no questions – for there was nothing to do. No decisions to make. Life would make them.

18 Months later…

The email pinged into his inbox while he was sitting in a departure lounge at Schiphol, waiting for a flight to Copenhagen. Another collector’s demise; another auction.

It was Keri. He’d not heard from her in more than a year.

“Hi Jad, I’m in Portugal. Want to Skype later?”

So, that night, after a lonely dinner which somehow contrived to cost a great deal without being filling, he sat in his hotel room and opened his screen.

And there she was.

She looked the same – and yet not. Her hair was longer, rippling down past her shoulders, parted on one side. She was wearing some little hot-weather top with straps – her shoulders were bare. She seemed relaxed. Silver earrings dangled from her ears.

“I dreamt about the baby last night,” she said. “I wanted to tell you.

“He had curly blond hair. He told me he was Gray’s son.”

Jad took a deep breath and let it out. So.

“I told him I couldn’t have gone through with it – having him, bringing him up. I was too young. Not ready. I said I was sorry.

“He said, ‘But I would have loved you.’ Then he added, ‘And I wanted to play football with Gray!’

“He was…sweet. Ready to come and be alive. I felt kind of sad…but not like I should have had him anyway. Not like that.

“And you know, I heard from a friend here, that the baby will just go somewhere else. It knocks on one door – if it’s not the right house, it’ll go elsewhere.

“And I thought, who knows, maybe it will still end up with Gray – somehow. …But really, Jad…I’m just so happy to be here. This is what I needed. To take some time off from school – I didn’t really know what I was doing – and go someplace where I could ask all the questions I want…real questions, not just about literature and stuff. And later, when I go back, maybe I’ll be clearer what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t know yet. it’s not time.

“I’m just revelling in being here, with Mooji Baba, with the other people, letting my spirit be the most important thing…not all those practicalities and pursuits. I’m so glad my new room-mate turned me onto this. This is the best thing I could have done. Because what is life if your spirit has been misplaced?

“But anyway I just wanted you to know.” She was gazing frankly at him, that old, confiding Keri, yet with a new quality in her voice – calmer, deeper, more at home. He liked it.

“And…umm…” she continued, “I’m learning too. There are things more important than trying to be some sex-talented woman? Like, being just real. Just…in the moment. Like it is. Not like it’s supposed to be.

“And then I like to…ummm…describe it. What’s happening. Not just jump into all sorts of excitement and stuff, which is anyway part pretense, I’m afraid. Slow down…look in eyes….feel what is really happening – in my heart, in my body, in my spirit. Let go of the shoulds. Sometimes it’s like…nothing much. And that’s okay. I always thought it had to be something, but it’s amazing when I just let it be…nothing, or only part of something. And sometimes…well, my spirit is, like, doing cartwheels, hand-stands, flying around in the air. Because the contact in the eyes is so awesome.

“This is really fun. Of course,” she went on, “sometimes this scares them away. The talking. The slowing down, too. But it feels right to me.

“Jad – is it okay that I’m telling you all this?” she asked earnestly, her little face wrinkling up with concern. She was tan, too, he realized – some sun-glow about her skin.

Not really, thought Jad. But it was a mild feeling only – and who knew, maybe later he’d be glad for the information, somehow.

“Glad you’re doing well,” he said gruffly.

“And you?” she asked, and on Skype he couldn’t really see the color of her eyes, the gloss in her hair – but there she was, she’d flown away. Well away.

“I’m good,” he said. “Giving classes now, in Stones Husbandry.”

She laughed.

“Um – I’m still looking,” he said. “Dated a bit – nothing conclusive. But I’m fine. I love my work, and when the right time comes, somebody will come along.”

“You’re an undiscovered treasure,” she said.

“Discovering,” he replied.

Was this tears coming up in him? A little?

And he knew that while he’d been with her, he hadn’t really been there. Not really. he’d been so determined to move about in his bumbling comfort, he hadn’t really heard her distress…had not wanted to know. Did not want to bestir himself. Would have thought some action would have been demanded of him, he would not have known what. He was glad that some bigger man than he, even if this man was somebody as oddball preposterous as a Jamaican guru who lived in Portugal – could take in her restless acumen and give it a home.

His heart, for this moment, was there for her, touched her.

And then it was enough.

Hebden Bridge, 2017

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