The Emotional Life of Stones

She sits on a drifted log and watches him search the beach for stones. She kicks at the cold sand. She sees him stoop, pick something up, then throw it into to the waves. This is a stick, she thinks, taking inventory of the things around her. This is a stone. This is seaweed. She stands up and jogs over to him.

Enjoying the difficulty of running in the sand, she jogs around him in a circle. "I like the idea of my parents," she says. "When I'm away from them, I always think of things they've said to me. I think about their lives and how they must have felt when certain things happened to them. Whenever I talk about them I'm reminded of how amazing they are, but when I'm around them somehow they drive me crazy. The reality of my parents is somehow less romantic. There are too many petty arguments and annoying habits to keep that glowing idea of them alive in my mind." She stops running, laughs and catches her breath. "This is good exercise," she says. "All I need is you and some sand, and I can quit my gym membership. Forget you, even, I could run around a post."

"You could run around a rock," he says and hands her a smooth gray stone.

"I could," she answers and throws the stone into the water. "Come on, boy, go fetch!" she shouts excitedly. She jumps up and down and pushes him toward the shoreline. He laughs and leans, in his wool jacket, against her fleecy mitten-covered hands. He turns around to kiss her. "We used to have a dog when I was a kid that would fetch stones you threw into the water." She laughs thinking about it. "That crazy dog. He'd dive down and find the stone."

He smiles at her, puzzled by her sudden nostalgia. She sees it in his face and says, "What? Aren't I allowed to be goofy and happy?"

"You can do whatever you want," he says. "I'm collecting rocks."

"Yes you are, Rock Boy. Go collect rocks." She pushes him on.

He walks with his eyes to the ground. "We talk about our parents too much. We talk too much about childhood."

"Concentrate on rocks," she says. "I'm going to be nostalgic. It's the ocean; I wish I could be here all the time."

He bends down to pick up another rock. "Ha, look at this," he says. "It's an agate." He holds out a translucent sea-worn white stone. She hops to him and takes it.

"It looks like quartz," she says. "Are you sure it's not quartz."

"Pretty sure."

"Fool's agate," she jokes.

"Agates are a kind of quartz, I think. They're both formed from silica."

She smiles at him.

"Agates form in the bubbles in volcanic rock. Silica filters in. When the rock erodes, the agates are left. They're harder than the rock."

"How do you know this stuff?" she asks.

"I collect rocks."

She laughs. "Are they precious?" She holds the stone away from him.

"Semi-precious," he says.

"Give us back our semi-precious." She laughs and trots ahead a step or two.

She tosses him the stone. "Maybe you should have semi-precious put on a ring," she jokes, then changes the subject. "How'd you get into rocks?" They walk side by side. He still has his eyes to the ground, but resists most impulses to inspect stones.

"I've done it since I was a kid. I used to break stones open with a hammer. My mom didn't want me putting an eye out with rock shards, and my dad was sick of me leaving his tools out in the rain, so they bought me a rock hammer and goggles. But we're talking about childhood again."

"So what!" she says. "You don't want to forget anything. How else can you keep things in your memory if you don't pull them out and warm up the tubes? Why do you like rocks?"

"It's evidence. You can look at rock and wonder why there's anything other than rock."

"Evidence of what?" She smiles.

"Look," he says and kicks up a sand dollar.

"Don't break it," she shouts and quickly crouches to pick it up. Skipping down to the water, she washes it off and comes back smiling. "I have a nostalgic story about sand dollars, but it isn't in my childhood. Last year on my 28th birthday, I was house sitting for some friends of the family who have a place on the beach. I was feeling sorry for myself for being alone on my birthday and for getting old, so I went out walking." She laughs. "It was raining, too, so it was a march of misery on the beach. But then something happened. I found sand dollars. This is in the town where I grew up, so I had walked that beach hundreds of times and had never seen sand dollars. My Grandmother always had Christmas ornaments she'd made out of them, and I thought they were the most amazing things. She told me she used to find them all the time on that beach, but she'd stopped seeing them. They'd disappeared.

"But there they were for me, laid out in the sand, each one without a crack, which is really rare because the seagulls eat them. I collected all the sand dollars and brought them home. It turned out to be a monumental day for me. I went back to the house I made some big decisions that had been looming over me. I wouldn't be here with you if it hadn't been for that night." she smiles. "I made my decisions with a nice bottle of red wine they left me."

"What'd you do with the sand dollars?"

"I still have them."

"Christmas ornaments?" he asks.

"No, I still have Grandma's for that."

"That's the first sand dollar I think I've ever found," he says.

"Then you should keep it," she says and holds it out to him.

"Nuh uh," he says, "I'll trade you an agate for one of your sand dollars."

"We'll see, Precious," she says. "Semi-precious."

About the author:

Corin Cummings is from Vermont and lives in Toronto. More of his fiction can be found at His novella Night Support is available at