DON'T BLAME THE STONE? Why did you hurt me? Why did you hurt me? Why did you hurt me? Why did you hurt me? Six -year-old Sarah fell on the hard grey sidewalk, scraping red her bare knees. Why did you hurt me? Why did you hurt me . . . Six year old Sarah fell to her knees screaming on the inside less than a moment after the stone hit her in the left eye. You know that pain when you breathe in and can't seem to breathe out? Sarah felt like that. Alone and now in fear of the unknown. Why did you hurt me? Why did you hurt me? Isn't it enough that I get teased and pushed around on the school yard? Isn't it enough that my mom has to see the cuts weekly and bully bruises? Sarah cupped her hands over her left eye, fell further forward and cried. There was no one on the street before the stone as she walked over to her Aunt's house and there was no one on the street after the stone. There was quiet and there was sobbing. The blinds were down on her Aunt's house as she sat waiting for Sarah. Don't you know that you have ruined my childhood? Caused me to be self-conscious about my blind eye. Made me wear dark glasses to hide the visible pain. Wonder who you are? I walk on the left side of life so I can see the right side of life & sit on the left side at movies. Why did you hurt me? Why did you hurt me? Sarah fainted and the sidewalk shared her pain. Don't blame the stone. It had been there for six-thousand Sarah's. Deposited in some glacial till during the last Ice Age. Been part of a larger rock worn down through the 40,000 seasons in the new land. The stone was just lying around on the edge of the field at the end of the street. Don't blame the stone. It didn't want to hurt anyone, particularly sweet little Sarah. A few weeks earlier the stone and Sarah had met. She was at the park, alone on the swing set when she jumped off the seat. She picked up the small smooth round green stone and carried it with her to the edge of the grass where she dropped it near the sidewalk, beside a bridle -wreath spirea. Don't blame the stone. Sarah's Aunt got up and parted the blinds with her long, thin fingers. Sarah's Aunt looked out past the blinds and saw Sarah laying on the sidewalk on the far side of the street, sobbing. The stinging in Sarah's knees made her come to and through the tears she saw her Aunt rushing out the door, across the porch, down the steps, past the flowers, along the concrete path to the sidewalk, over the black asphalt, onto the curb and knelt down beside her. Sarah's Aunt saw the stone, the cupped hands, the bloody knees and knew. She reached out and picked her niece up and held her in her arms, close. As the stone left the slingshot just moments before and sailed through the air, it saw Sarah walking down the street. It thought about her laughter, her daily swinging and playing. The stone had seen a thousand children, but only one Sarah. Don't blame the stone. As the stone sailed through the air, it had no idea it would have any effect on Sarah's life; her childhood, her high school, her failed marriages, her abusive relationships and future happiness. If the stone had known all of this, it wouldn't have felt elated, sailing through the air. It wouldn't have been happy to see Sarah. Sarah's Aunt lifted her up off the sidewalk and kicked the small green stone with her foot. The stone rolled off the sidewalk and slid into the storm drain where it got wedged in a crack in the wall and remained there for forty-seven years. Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Why did I hurt you? Don't blame the stone. THE EMPTY CAFE Her words drift through the cigarette smoke, rising from fingers held in midair over the red cafe" table where she sits with a friend. She had used these words before to weave the smoke strands into coherent conversations. Words move through the gray-white air in the nearly empty cafe", devoid of nightlife, just a few customers eating and breathing. The television is on. The video plays a Beatles documentary. Coffee cups resonate spoon stirs. She stops her well-spoken words and turns her head toward the couple in the booth across the dusty aisle. Stirring stops and sipping begins. She brings her head back into the conversation, looks for an ashtray, and finds one near his "bottomless coffee cup" as the French waiter calls it; pouring without asking, coming by without being called. The word weaving continues for the duration of four cigarettes, three beers, two cups of coffee and — "a hard day's night." She hadn't noticed that her friend held her other hand with his. The hand that wasn't being used for the drinks. He stroked the suntanned soft skin between her knuckles as the smoke wandered up and up, swirled about their table and nowhere else. Words and random sentences hang on smoke curls, dropped from her mouth and meander across the table. He runs the back of his fingernails along her wrist and up her forearm as she blends words and phrases into paragraphs full of purpose, coated with concern. The cafe" had cleared of customers. The waiter returns to clear the table then left again. She looks over to the opposite side of the table and notices his hand on hers for the first time and smiles. The staff disappears into the back kitchen. The quiet grows deeper and it was then that he noticed that she was naked. She was sitting at the table in the nude and no one had noticed. He saw her in the red glow of the wall lamp that hangs between them just above the napkin dispenser. Her eyes say everything. They are robins' egg enchanting. Her breasts rest on the table as she leans forward and kisses him on the cheek and runs her fingers through his hair. Her hand moves softly down his face. She slides along the leather cafe" seat toward the aisle and stands up. She gathers the wafts of smoke and the words and phrases in her bare arms, steps up onto the table top and walks into the painting above the place where they were sitting. She strolled across the acrylic field and sat in the shade of the acrylic tree with half her body covered in shade, the other by sunshine, not far from a blue acrylic pond. He brought his fingers to his lips and closed his eyes for a second. "Last call," yelled the waiter from behind the kitchen door. He emptied his glass for the last time and walked along the acrylic tiled floor and stood in front of the acrylic door of "The Empty Cafe". HIS HANDS "You have such soft hands." Mine, she thought, are lined with life, creased and furrowed. Seven years strong. Seven long and hard seasons of landscaping, digging, planting, working wood into useful shapes, setting out stone and brick, drawing plans, loading trucks and look at me, where am I going, what am I doing? "You have such soft hands," she repeated and lifted her head, looked him in the eyes and smiled. He was taken by surprise by the remark as he continued to hold her right hand, fingers intertwined in hers. He had not thought of her hands as rough. When he saw her, he saw all of her not just her hands. He saw softness. He saw a delicate body. They had worked together years ago and had been close friends and workmates. He had acknowledged her softness many times; a speck of dirt removed from the eye as his knuckles rested on a cheek of silk, irritation tears running down her face; comforting her against his chest when a memory of the death of her father brought on real tears, his strong arms enveloping her. She looked deeper into his eyes and smiled, "I'm almost thirty-five and still working outside in all kinds of weather and I'm tired of it all." She looked down as her voice tapered off and turned her hand over in his. I've held a hammer more times than I've held someone else's hand she thought. Nails, wire, lumber and plants have passed through my fingers more times than I have held a human heart, more times than I have stroked my cats, cradled my sister's child, oiled my body, worn a cotton dress over my nakedness with the warm breeze rising up the contours of every man's mind's eye. "To me, you'll always be twenty -nine." He said, unbuckling the seat belt with one hand and holding hers with the other. "When you haven't seen someone for as long as I haven't seen you, that's when you never age, never grow older." He looked at her for the first time as more than just an old workmate, more than just an old friend dropping him off at his house after a chance meeting and a quick cup of coffee. He had thought she was racing merrily about town knowing who she was and where she was going, gathering shadows about herself to keep her dreams warm at night under the blanket of thought she purchased from the people she called friends. He had worked with no one else but her for three years on a landscape crew in the city. Three years spent driving around in a red pickup truck that was their second home, their diary on four wheels, keeper of the secret heart. A secret heart that was revealing itself now, which extended out into his arms, reached around her as she sat behind the steering wheel of her car and drew her closer to him in a firm and meaningful hug. Her still velvet cheek brushed gently against his and he kissed her on the nape of her neck, squeezed her again and moved back into his side of the car. "We'll always be friends," she said softly, and it was true. He had always been there for her. He wrote her poems to cheer her up, made her laugh, played practical jokes on her to make her mad, kept secrets she told only him, she could depend on him for anything. There had never been a reason for her to say stop phoning to say 'hello'. She was moving into a frantic working life after three years of college and just when she wanted something to change, to be different the phone would ring or there would be a knock at the door and his familiar voice would kindle the fire that warmed her memory. Now she needed his strength and the strength of his heart, his hand, his comradery. "We'll always be friends," she repeated without catching her breath, and that's all they ever were and ever would be. Not lovers, not as brother and sister, but as true friends. He said goodnight and let go of her sun calloused hand, opened the car door and stepped out into the cool night air. She was not thinking of him or the conversation that had filled the unexpected evening which had just passed between them. She thought about her hands. She sat back in the car seat and thought about her hands. She held them cupped in her lap to catch the tears that began to fall as she sat in the car, staring at her hands, remembering. THE RECEIVING ROOM The small receiving area at the university book room was crowded with low, black tables, cluttered with books processed in either coming or going, upstairs or down, specials or textbook, medical or children or adult categories. The constant hum of the two fans and the air conditioners added little to the white monotony of the ceiling and walls. The shuffling of papers, the classical distance of the radio and the occasional thud of a box of books on a table were the only sounds to break the noise of this silence. Shippers and receivers can dream of kings and dragons and paupers. A gallery of historical dreams. A galley full of paper dreams and in it, nightmares imbedded in cardboard and transformed by memory, divorced from the detail of before and after. The titles of the books passed out of the boxes and through the lingers of the men who worked these tables, were enough to stimulate even the weakest mind. Many times in as many days were there pauses in reflection and inspiration among these men. Sly smiles and widened eyes were to be seen while their imaginations were turning things over in their heads. In front of the longest table (a table used for the largest returns and orders) worked a three man crew. The other tables had one man each. They were spaced unevenly around the room and facing a different wall so that no one man could see the other without moving drastically from one side to the other and inside each man, the heart wearied of the monotony. The crew were busy counting, erasing, boxing and processing a large number of books at a steady stoic pace. The constant breeze of the fans lifted the edges of loose papers on the table and on the shelf above and laid them down again in a steady rhythm. Up and down like the hands of the three man crew, lifting and pricing, lowering and erasing, lifting and counting and dreaming, lowering and dreaming. Someone had placed their face on the Xerox machine and photocopied their profile with a knife blade against the throat. It was taped to the wall above the table. Empty boxes of all sizes and shapes filled the cluttered floor in the aisle leading to the textbook sales area, where racks upon racks upon racks of sleeping books awaited another fate. The stock control computers were idle after sixteen thousand entries and across the room, directly under the fans, were live tables piled ceiling high with boxes of unsorted, unprocessed books waiting for the chance to be sold, dreaming their own dreams, full of their own stories, screaming color. The other men at the different sections of the room, followed their own routine, quiet and supreme in their little worlds, sublime.. silent. There in the distance of their minds, a real sound breaks the silence. The sound of truck engines and the rattling of the automatic doors opening and in robotic unison all seven men form a line, a human chain, unloading the truck of its brown load of double dark brown boxes, passed from one pair of strong arms to the next set of hands and on to the conveyer belt at the back of the room. A few minutes later the door closed and the brown boxes disappear into the second floor storage area. The seven men, faint smiles, idle chatter, return to their work stations. There are no windows in the room. There are no windows in the loading bay. There are no windows in the doors and there are no reflections on the floors and the books in the boxes are still screaming. They take their jackets off, shed their hard outer covers... SCREAM... in all the languages of the world. That other world, not this sterile one. The fans increase their noise to hide the screaming. Several men turn their heads and answer someone they thought they heard call their name. Someone says to shut off the radio. Some of the men didn't even hear it. The boxes are bursting at the seams. The books are bursting with their screams. These books are the dreams of men, these seven men, this cities men. These exploding boxes, cardboard ripping and disintegrating in a flash. These colors splashing prisms on the walls, ceilings, and floors. Animals and cars and fictions bursting, life and death springing forth from the boxes of books. The letters flew off of the words which flew out of the books and filled the white room and the vacuous minds of men, enlightening the world like a long sleep waking and the dust in the tear's of God fills the eyes of the strangers.