Birk came up with the perfect response three days late. A day earlier than usual. He found himself happy smiling because he was getting better, much better. He looked forward to the future when he would know what to say in but a few hours.
He closed his eyes, wishing he'd never opened them. The gray light of the day swept through the shades he had forgotten to shut the night before and reminded him of the unfiltered light in a gas station restroom.
It wasn't that he didn't like restrooms in gas stations. Birk often thought of gas station restrooms as if they were the great oases in the scorpion filled deserts of modern transportation. He reflected that it was unfortunate how often he died in his imaginary desert. With a shudder Birk imagined scorpions smiling as they danced on the dried out husk of his corpse.
Birk stumbled out of bed and made the decision to open his eyes. Oh, he wouldn't fall on the rusty spikes just yet, he would make sure his underwear had no holes that were not supposed to be there. He always listened to his mother. "If you go to the hospital and need professional medical attention, be it from a car accident, an incident involving pizza that was too hot, random panther attack, or even falling on the rusty yet unnaturally sharp spikes in your bedroom, a well-to-do woman doctor just might be the one fixing the broken and twisted wreckage of your mangled body. In fact, she just may take a liking to you while she was at it. Well, Birk darling, it wouldn't do to be wearing old underwear full of holes and unsightly stains."
Birk always remembered things. Things like brushing his teeth at night and sometimes in the morning if he wasn't in too much of a hurry. Also things like it was good to have both of his socks either right side in or inside out, but not mixed. Birk remembered a lot of things, even the mean length of the little metal whiskets that happened to fall off street cleaner vehicles when they brushed up too close to the curb. No one seemed to care about the little metal whiskets, but Birk knew them well. Birk collected them and had many uses for them.
Birk looked around for a couple of socks that were the same color and not inside out.
After Birk dressed and escaped falling on the rusty spikes, he picked up the three cactus plants he'd been growing since the week before and moved them to the other side of his room. Next to the rusty spikes, the plants looked much more at home, and almost like they had found a brown inanimate friend to laugh at. Birk would have to chat with them about that later.
He did morning things and then left the house with only a slight wave good-bye. The special pink morning rock in the rock garden seemed to be smiling at him. "Hello rock. Today I'll speak to the evening rock, but not the afternoon rock. I have a special meeting this afternoon. I'll need good luck in my meeting, so I'm wishing you good morning. Since I like good luck, as you well know, I wish you good morning every morning, but today is special. I'll give you the good morning greeting with double power since I'm not going to give a good afternoon to the afternoon rock. I hope it understands that it's nothing personal." Birk waited, but the rock said nothing. Birk actually didn't expect it to say anything. It wasn't even seven in the morning yet.
Birk thought about the afternoon rock as he walked to the bus stop. He never really liked the afternoon rock, but what could he do? He'd been pretending for several years, and it would be awkward to suddenly tell the afternoon rock after all this time, "Believe me, it's nothing that you did. It's what I've done. I simply don't deserve a rock like you. I'm not worth it. It has to end now, for us both, before it lands us on rocky shores... no pun intended."
On the bus Birk sat next to an elderly woman who didn't like the way Birk smelled. "You should blow your nose young man and you'd be able to breathe better."
Birk didn't believe in blowing his nose. After he was dead, his nostril tissues would have plenty of time to be destroyed by more natural causes than blowing. And he wasn't very good at it. Sometimes he would miss.
The elderly woman knew none of this, and Birk opted not to tell her. She was annoyed at Birk's unresponsiveness. "You should answer when your elders speak to you, young man." Birk said, "I think you have something in your nose."
When Birk left the bus he was happy.
He stood on the concrete of a cracked and dusty sidewalk bordering the sand of an ocean beach. It was not a very big beach, but it was big enough. Birk glanced.
He strode with a purpose down the beach to a sand magnet, and began walking on the spit of rocks that made it up. He waved to a stray piece of kelp, then crossed to the other side and jumped off.
Birk glanced again, this time in joyous rapture. In a state of pure contentment, he caressed the softly rounded beach rocks he found all about him. Weathered by the elements over uncountable years, these rocks were free. All bright and smoothly rounded, they wandered where they pleased and then sat with measured determination in their own spots next to other rocks just as free, creating a wonderfully uniform pattern of smooth roundness. These rocks were refined. Their neighbors were refined. These were high class rocks, all different yet the same. Birk always enjoyed this part of the beach.
He felt mildly guilty about flirting with these strangers, but he didn't think the morning rock would be hurt if it never found out.
"My smoothly shaped beach rocks!", Birk said. "How I enjoy your eternal presence! The gracious granite, the nefarious gniess, brooding basalt, lecherous limestone, and the little pink ones! Oh is it not enough just to bask in your eternal strength and fundamentally sound molecular structures? No! No, I say! It is NOT enough! "
Birk went on for bit, to himself, in his head, with the fundamental knowledge of the E.S.P. enabled rocks nearby who would pick his thoughts up and transmit them to the other less gifted but nonetheless wondererous rocks also nearby.
After Birk left the beach, saddened that he would not be able to return until the next day but happy in the fact that he had enjoyed himself in a harmless manner for nearly an hour, he considered and agreed with himself on finding a bus to continue his journey for the day.
He later reflected that it was his love of corndogs that ultimately became his undoing. Those tender morsels, oh so carefully wrapped in a deep fried golden brown batter mixture always different yet lightly crisped with a delightful and delicate corn flavor- who would have known the little stick would be rooted so deeply in the dog section? In his bliss of peeling off the pastry outer layer, he never anticipated the stick becoming a problem if he ever ate the dog section at some point in time. And on this day he had not eaten breakfast. So with much worry and apprehension he bit into the dog section and in the moment that it takes an eye to blink, in the brief span of time between when the turn signal is on and when it is off, in the micro-moment when it is just right and when it is too late to go to the bus stop, Birk knew he had mistaken.
The stick would not go down. Longwise it would stick in his throat, sideways proved equally awkward, and the nose option never even crossed his mind. Even if it did, he wouldn't have acknowledged the thought due to his strong position on natural nostril habitat and exploration.
Birk had always been close to his nostrils. In his childhood he had frequently explored their inner depths. He came to think of himself as an amateur nostril spelunker, or nolunker for those in the nose (a favorite inside nolunker joke of Birk's). Birk watched in fascination the professional nolunkers as they would mine the rich depths of their nostrils in search of the precious emerald treasure that was always within. Birk really never came out of the closet with his nolunking, though, which prevented him from competing at a professional level. Society still looked upon nolunkers with a certain degree of disgust, and Birk could ill afford to be looked upon with disgust since he had so much trouble with society anyway.
Birk put the corndog stick in his inside jacket pocket to deal with later, and then missed the bus. The corndog incident took away forever the three minutes and fifteen seconds he had needed to be present in the bus stop area when his bus came. Birk watched it recede in the distance as it followed the road past three green lights and finally turned right until it was lost to view forever in a hazy mixture of power lines and old brown sedans.
The road in front of Birk had the same characteristics of any road. Some cars went up, and some cars went down. On each side of the road followed an aged sidewalk with brown sidewalk grass poking out of dirty sidewalk cracks. Birk sighed. He knew that someday it would come to this. However, the act of attempting levitation gave him a headache, so he gave up. Birk knew without even trying that he clicking his heels wouldn't work either. He forgot his red shoes. So he started walking. Down the street.
Subconsciously Birk knew that walking down the street would be easier than walking up the street, just as walking south would be easier than walking north because north is always uphill. Birk didn't know where he was going, but he picked up a small rock for good luck and started on his way.
Right at that momment, Birk felt as free as the small pink beach rock he just put in his pocket.
As the sun dipped low and began the great escape from the night, and the night began the great hunt for the sun, Birk also hunted. He had found another beach, but could not find the sort of rocks he knew so well. He had found a beach crowded with unsmooth and oddly shaped rocks that were not at all rounded the way proper beach rocks should be. Birk was not used to harsh, rough stones such as these. He was not surprised to encounter aliens, though, being as far away from home as he was.
In the darkness, Birk couldn't discern if these new rocks were of familiar colors which would be an important fact in deciding if these were good rocks or bad. Their shapes alone suggested them to be different in more ways than he had ever foreseen. The smooth round pink rock, now in Birk's hand, also seemed colorless and bland in the dim starlight, but Birk knew the rock from memory. A refined and well-educated rock with an intellect polished by the infinite wisdom of forever sand. All around him the crude and primitive rocks on this beach were of a different sort, inferior, and their asymmetrical unevenness gave Birk the willies. Birk climbed into a nearby beach tree for safety and fell asleep.
In the morning Birk felt hungry. He experimented with the corndog stick, but without proper study there could be no way of dealing with it. And perched in a beach tree was no place to conduct a thorough examination of something as important as a corndog stick, not before noon at least.
Birk climbed out of the tree and saw the sun return after successfully evading the hungry night. The night had given up and gone away, and Birk smiled. The sun would never be outfoxed. Birk privately felt the sun had created the night just for the daily game of evading it, and enjoyed the unending hunt.
A very bright day, Birk decided, with the sun gleaming and sparkling and blinding in all directions. He pondered a moment and tried to recall the last time he saw the sun gleaming and sparkling. Usually it simply made shadows and melted crayons. Then Birk saw.
The beach sparkled and gleamed and played with the sunlight like a cosmic ball of yarn, and each of the dull outlines the night before were now transformed into crystalline masses exploding with light. Fiery colors flickered and raced back and forth along the beach and Birk knew he died sometime during the night and went to the Good Place.
People who knew him thought Birk strange, perhaps different in odd harmless ways, but no one, except maybe for the old woman on the bus, would call Birk stupid. Once again he proved his unseen observers correct. He turned around to make sure of his existence and unhappily saw old brown sedans going up and down the aged beach front road.
Birk apologized to the rocks. He apologized for his xenophobia the night before, he apologized for his thoughts of superiority, and he apologized for not searching hard enough for a standard restroom. The rocks said nothing in response, and Birk broke down. "In all that people who know about such things believe is holy, forgive me!". His shout echoed across the parking lot behind him and startled a few birds who went off to ruin someone else's day. But the rocks remained silent. Birk couldn't think up any good adjectives to describe quartz and calcite, so left the beach sobbing and distraught.
The little pink beach rock, so bland and ordinary, lay forgotten in his pocket.
Birk rode the busses for most of the day. His time spent pondering rocks, corndogs, and things his mother said, he found nothing to explain what had transpired. And when the elderly woman asked him if he had learned his manners yet, Birk could only say, "They wouldn't forgive me because I thought they were terrible once. And now the little round pink ones aren't as special anymore." This confirmed the elderly woman's belief that Birk was truly insane.
Late in the afternoon Birk was forced to leave the bus. After pushing Birk out, the bus driver said, "This is your stop buddy, like it or not." Birk turned to the man but he had already closed the door, and the bus was driving down the street, past two green lights, then it stopped at a red and took a free right turn to pass from Birk's life for the rest of the day.
Birk stopped in front of his rock garden on the way to the front door. He took out the little round pink rock and placed it next to the morning rock, also pink. "I brought you a friend."
The afternoon rock looked forlorn, somehow sad. Birk said, "I can't bring everyone friends. You know that." As usual the afternoon rock remained silent and all Birk could think to say was, "How am I supposed to know what's wrong if you don't tell me?" He went inside, making a mental note to say hello twice to the evening rock once the sun left on its merry chase.
Birk turned on the television, then turned it off. He did that for nearly an hour, creating and destroying random pictures that meant nothing, snickering with glee and inner turmoils all his own. Another hour of nearly harmless entertainment.
It was not yet time for the evening rock, because the sun hadn't fully escaped, as if it were waiting for Birk while peeking over the fence of the horizon to see what he would do. Birk sharpened his rusty bedroom spikes, scolded the cactus plants about acting supercilious, and spent some time carefully not falling on anything sharp on his way down the stairs. The sun had finally gone about the business of hiding.
Night had taken over the game now and the stars laughed at its futility, or at Birk. Birk hadn't yet made any decisions about that. In the dim starlight he scrutinized. His rock garden seemed dark and absent of color and form. Of course, night had that effect on things. The small pink rock, the morning rock, and the afternoon rock, they could have all been conglomerate masses of glacial spankings, squatting before him as dark lumps of homogeneous non-interest. Birk playfully tugged at some extra long hairs poking from his nose, and glanced as his mind slowly began the process of pondering.
Birk stepped back and glanced again and the process sped up slightly, the machinations of his thought process were picking up speed and beginning to run smoothly. Every rock in the rock garden looked the same. A few paces back Birk found that every rock in every rock garden would look the same. He forgot about nose hairs.
At a few paces back again, ever rock in every rock garden and beach and mountain trail would look the same, and then in the morning their full glory would shine and it would shine because of how different they all really were. And the sun, triumphant once again in the game, would smile upon each one as it always had regardless of shape, form and color.
Birk lost his balance and fell into his rock garden, and this was okay because in Birk's rock garden there was nothing sharp to fall on.
Birk stood up after a few moments and wondered if he should brush himself off or brush off the rocks he had been lying on. Normally when confused in this manner Birk would go to sleep. So he said goodnight to the afternoon rock, said it twice to the evening rock, then carefully avoided the spikes on his way to bed.
Birk dreamed, and the offspring of the sun laughed and sparkled in the darkness above, and the night gave up the chase for just a little while to spend a moment pondering the proper method of eating a giant corndog.
Copyright © 1996 by Scot Ranney