BOY: Today it is my birthday.  I am thirteen years old, and it is early in the morning.  I am in the garden of our house,  in a quiet place. I am sitting on my rock.  I have a blanket to ward away the early morning chill.  There is a light drizzle, and it is dull-it has been dull like this for most of my life,  I have seldom seen the sun shine. There are no bird sounds in this garden. The sprinklers hiss, and there is a distant hum of machinery. I have never encountered insects although I sense that they are here, they are shy. I do not like this place, I do not like that it smells of chemicals.  I do not like being trapped here, to feel that everything that can ever happen will only happen here, and everything that ever is to be will be trapped in a garden such as this.  The rock is my refuge, her rock-ness brings immense ease to me. Every day I come to this rock for conversation, comfort and good cheer. When we chat I forget the garden and the house and the people within it that are my parents. When we talk I don’t feel lonely, the rock understands my words and speaks to me in soothing tones. She grasps my position. I have worn the surface smooth on this rock, I have engrained part of myself into her and I hope that I have acquired some rock-ness in return.  I should like to be a rock, a rock seems like a very solid thing to aspire to be. But I am a thirteen year old boy, sitting in the  forgotten corner of the garden of his home, listening to the sharp exchanges that flow from the kitchen. Words fly like daggers in low tones laden with anxiety and fear. My kitchen is a dangerous place.  I am much safer in the garden on my rock.

[My parents stay mostly in the house, they only come out to turn on the sprinkler system. They cannot see that that sprinkler does not nourish life. The garden has no flowers, the shrubs and trees are crying in the sick ground. Somehow the growing continues, and I am grateful to the trees because they conceal my place here. Soon there will not even be a lone blade of grass, the ground will be parched despite the sprinkling. I believe, however, that my rock will endure. My parents are not happy people. They want me to be happy, happier than they ever were.  That is a lot to ask of a thirteen year old boy. I do not think that my parents know how to be happy.  They know how to stack thing on top of thing. They know how to busy a space, but this does not make them content. The weather does not bring them joy, the garden does not please them.  Other people annoy them, and make them fearful, they do not please one another. I believe that I am the contemptible glue that binds them. These parents and their house are not my home.]

PARENTS:  We are so proud; today our son has turned thirteen. This is a great age for a boy to achieve.  We have been making preparations to celebrate his birthday, we have organised festivities and some unique presents for him.  Our son is such a good boy, he is quiet and he is focused on growing, he never argues and is considerate. He spends a lot of time in our beautiful garden, which is what careful parents would want their child to do.  He is very good at amusing himself. He gives us a lot of privacy, and  he is not demanding, which is good for our relationship and for our family unit. He makes us feel so blessed, and we will ensure that he has all that he needs to have an exceptionally happy  long life.  We hope that he will have a better quality of life than we have had.  We will ensure that he has the best education, and can choose the right profession for himself. We feel so lucky that we can put him on a privileged life-path. We cannot wait to see his shining face when we tell him of these plans.  It gives us so much joy to give him pleasure. It gives us joy to have things to give to him so that he will never be in need.  We are glad that he is not like other boys, he is so solid and reliable, so steady. He reminds us of our fathers.

THE ROCK:  There is this boy who has been coming to visit me for many years now. He is unobjectionable, as some human boys can be, but he is endlessly alone, incredibly alone. He pours his heart out to me, and he inflates my ego by telling me how much he admires my character. I do not know what to make of this boy, he is not like all of the other boys that I have known in my time. This boy does not want his boy-hood, he would rather be a rock. I cannot understand what attracts this boy to rock-hood. Rocks are condemned to endure. Humans can die and be relieved of their forms, but a rock must go on. A rock cannot enjoy food and water, a rock must be eternally hard, When a rock cracks the wound does not heal, the rock cannot cry out, cannot bleed, it must remain implacable. The rock must subsist. There is no shelter for rocks, the trees do what they can, but they are trees, they die. Rock-hood is a long and perilous road, there is always the danger of being split into many smaller rock parts, or being ground down into gravel. This boy is delusional, he is crazy, being a rock is not all that it is cracked up to be. I would much rather be a boy of thirteen, with my short but intense life stretched out in front of me. I am not at ease in my rock-ness, my haecceity is compromised, I can feel a neurotic creeping restlessness in my body -a tension, as though my very substance is quivering and shifting in an irregular manner. I can only attribute this to my contact with the boy. I shall have to broach the subject and reach some kind of accommodation with him.

PARENTS:  Son, come in from our garden, We would like to congratulate you. You are now thirteen, it is a momentous age, you will shortly be an independent man.

SON: Good morning mother, good morning father and thank you for your congratulations.

PARENTS: Look son, here are the gifts for your birthday, we are so proud of you and so happy that you have reached the important age of thirteen. So many good and portentous things can happen for you now. You must be delighted, and so very proud of yourself.  All of this has come to pass because you have been such a careful boy, such a quiet, solid and implacable boy.  You have been a joy to care for. These gifts will surely assist you as you negotiate the next stages of your life.

[The boy looks at the mound of gifts, he knows that his parents have invested heavily in his potential future, he cannot find it in his heart or in his mind to disappoint them by expressing his despondence.  He smiles broadly and participates in the ritual opening of the gifts. His face is radiant, his parents believe him to be ecstatic.]

BOY: You have been the most careful parents, I could not have achieved this distinction without your help and your forbearance. I shall try in all respects to continue to make you proud.

[The parents are beaming with delight, it is a rare moment of genuine joy, all three are momentarily relaxed momentarily relieved, the boy is not thinking of the rock.] 

PARENTS: This evening we have organised a party in your honour, we have invited all of our influential acquaintances and those parents whose children have also reached this seminal age. It will be a momentous occasion for you, and a long anticipated opportunity for you to meet some of your contemporaries.  Perhaps you should rest now the better to licence your many abilities later.

BOY: Of course you are right, I shall go to the garden and meditate in preparation. Thank you both, you have been extremely fine parents.

[The boy arises from his place and slowly makes his way, blanket in hand, into the garden. His head is spinning. Emotions that he cannot fathom occasion nausea that he cannot contain. Without his volition his feet lead him towards the rock. He collapses there shivering. He clutches desperately at the rug but can find no warmth. He cannot speak, not even to the rock.]

THE ROCK: What ails you boy? I sense that you are troubled, I sense that your stability has been shaken. You are cold. Ordinarily you have heat to give, today you are frigid.

[No answer from the boy]

THE ROCK:  There is something important that I need to discuss with you, it can wait until you are ready.

[No answer from the boy-he cannot yet speak]

THE ROCK:  I want you to know that our acquaintance and the affinity that our proximity has occasioned has changed me profoundly. I wish no longer to be a rock. I earnestly wish to be a thirteen year old boy.  What do you say to this Boy?

[Still no answer and no reaction from the boy.]

THE ROCK: If it still pleases you, I know of a way in which we might transcend our  current states?

[There is no response from the boy, so they sit quietly in silence, and the hours pass.]

[Abruptly it is night, the boy raises his head, he knows that out there are stars, but they have not been visible without a telescope for decades. He cannot yet address the rock, but somehow they have been communicating anyway.  The rock is pleading, inveigling, enchanting, but the boy dithers. The first guests have arrived and the air is fizzing with jouissance, it is indeed a rare occurance in the boy’s life. Ultimately his curiosity triumphs, and with the most extreme effort the boy extracts his body from the rock and moves cautiously, unsteadily, towards the crowd. His face appears to be translucent, he is ghostlike, cold, solid, ethereal, and  alluring.]

[The room is stuffy, bodies press close together. All turn towards him, as he enters. He thinks it an odd crowd-no one has a face.  He recognises his parents from their familiar form and makes his way to stand beside them, he longs to reach out and touch where their faces should be, where have all of the faces gone? He wonders if he too has lost his face.  He can hear the conversation, he accepts the congratulations of countless faceless guests.  His faceless parents call attention from the crowd and begin to speak. There is low murmuring and finally tacit silence.]

PARENTS: We welcome you all to join with us in congratulating our boy as he has reached the age of thirteen. He has done this, as you are all aware, with distinction.  Look at his face and you will see, the valour and strength of disposition that is estimable.  He is wise beyond his years, he is trustworthy, dependable and his fortitude is already legendry.  He is calm, strong and steadfast. He will be a significant man. He will endure. Let us raise our glasses to toast this exceptional boy?

[The crowd claps and cheers, and raise their glasses.  The boy can feel a flush of heat flash briefly across his icy face. He is asked to speak.  How can a boy speak to a room full of faceless people? He pauses for longer than is comfortable, the face-less crowd shift uneasily.]

BOY: You are excessive in your praise of me, I am just a lone thirteen year old boy.  I have been fortunate enough to have had careful parents, who have guided me to this point in my life.

BOY: I wish to know how you all think of me as strong and wise, I have no idea as to how I might have come by those attributes?

BOY: I wish to know what all of you mean by “…a significant man”?

BOY: How and what will I endure?

[The boy glances about the room, the bodies are shifting from foot to foot, everything feels unstable and awkward, His parents move forward.]

PARENTS: Let us have music and some dancing now.
[The room dissolves into faceless chatter and music, the boy stands solitary, forlorn’  straining for recognisable features in the crowd.]

[The room has become airless, the boy is struggling for breath, he makes his way blindly towards the door, and unexpectantly comes face to face with the kindest eyes that he has ever seen]

BOY: What is this? kindness?

BOY: Is this humanity?

Boy: Is this compassion?

[The eyes blink, and flutter, he is compelled to follow where they lead, he is melting, he is warming, he is ensnared.]

[Darkness changes abruptly to light and it is morning again, the crowd are leaving dishevelled, disjointed and still face-less.  The boy and the eyes walk towards the rock.]

On the ground there is a curious grey substrate, but there is no rock.


© Jennifer Redmond 2020