ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A PEBBLE. AND A BOY. THE BOY found the pebble among many similar pebbles. This pebble, he decided, was the best one, so he put it in his pocket and walked home. At home he emptied the contents of his pocket onto the night table beside the bed: four shiny pennies, four dull pennies, four nickels, a dime, a piece of ribbon and the pebble.
It had been about five weeks now that he'd had his own bedroom, and ever since then he'd been making a project. Each day he rummaged through the rubble on the street and selected one pebble, the best pebble he could find. Some days the best pebble was shiny and smooth; some days it was coarse and irregular. Some days it wasn't a pebble at all — it was a small chunk of cement or metal, a wad of chewing gum, a piece of broken glass, a wedding ring, a cuff link, a tooth, a tack. But since the boy had his own room now, he'd decided that he might as well call them all pebbles, because he found comfort in the sound of the word.
He liked repeating the word softly as he rummaged. Pebble, pebble, pebble. Pebble, pebble, pebble, pebble, pebble, pebble, pebble. Sometimes it took only a few minutes to find the best pebble; sometimes it took all day. When he spotted the day's best pebble, he recognized it immediately, as if each day there was only one pebble waiting to be recovered; all he had to do was to find it, put it in his pocket and take it home.
He hadn't given much thought to the very first pebble. He'd been wandering around in the rubble when he was distracted by a bluish, pebble-size piece of something, so he picked it up and brought it home. After circling the room a few times with the pebble cupped in his hands, he decided to glue it to the wall with epoxy, the kind that comes in a double-barreled syringe and excretes the proper mix of resin and hardener when plunged. His father had shown him how to use this kind of epoxy only a few months earlier. The epoxy took about two minutes to harden enough to hold a pebble in place, so he used this time to stare out the window at the remaining buildings, to breathe slowly, and to think.
The following day, he found himself rummaging around the rubble for a second pebble, and the next day for a third; after that, it became a habit, an addiction, all he could do. And each day he spent a bit more time standing, pacing, circling the room, determining where the pebble should go; so that now, facing 37 pebbles, he might plan to study the situation for several hours.
LOST IN HIS MOTHER'S BATHROBE, THE BOY stood quietly facing the wall in his room, rolling the day's best pebble slowly between his fingers, his feet swimming in his father's brown vinyl slippers. In the other hand he held the syringe of epoxy.
On the adjacent south wall was an open window. Through the window he saw buildings similar to his own. He knew that inside these buildings, boys and girls similar to himself were also waiting, were working on projects of their own.
Someone had found a hardback book and was covering it in alternating layers of brightly colored wrapping paper and American cheese.
Someone was slowly bleeding a thin path of ketchup across the kitchen floor, through the living room, into the bathroom, the tub, the sink, the bedroom and then doubling back to the kitchen again. And again.
Someone was constructing a bust of Colonel Sanders out of discarded chicken bones and chicken wire.
Someone was rewriting the alphabet song — this time starting with Q and ending with P.
Someone had emptied a 5-pound bag of magnetized iron shavings into a Pyrex mixing bowl and, using a white rubber spatula, was arranging them into a large,
lowercase e on her refrigerator door.
Someone's living room was alive with hovering Easter eggs, the emptied shells filled with helium and sealed with wax.
Someone had unwound miles of videotape into an aquarium, had embellished the mess with empty Budweiser cans, and was now busy stacking the empty cassettes, cementing the stacks together to make a very, very uncomfortable couch on which to sit and watch the tapes.
When the boy felt that the time was right and that he'd found the right place, he applied a pea-size dollop of epoxy to the wall, mixed it around for a few seconds and pressed the pebble into it.
Counting backward, out loud, from 100 to zero.
Holding the pebble in place, long enough for the glue to dry, for the pebble to join the wall.
Reaching zero, stepping back from the pebble and the wall, sitting on the bed.
THIRTY . . . EIGHT. THIRTY-EIGHT PEBBLES, 38 days. He felt a peculiar sense of satisfaction, a sensation that reminded him of awakening from a dream in which he could fly. He knew he couldn't really fly, but he felt as if he'd really landed.
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Resources: Small Blue Pebble (www.beach-house.demon.co.uk/Small_Blue_Pebble.htm), Pebble Collection Relay (www.guidezone.skl.com/jmpebble.htm).