Sunday, October 15, 2006

A stone's throw away

The stone skipped four times before it sank. Four heartbeats across a flat expanse of water, the ripples like tiny sonar, echoing into silence.

Four times. He couldn't believe it. The best he'd ever managed before was two, and that was pretty much the minimum you had to get for it to count. But four!

He wondered if he could do it again. Maybe he'd finally mastered the knack. He tried to remember what the magic pebble had looked like, scavenged about for stones that looked the same. Not a single one of them skipped.

It was the wind that was the problem. It put too much spin on the stones he threw. He could see them turning, like keys in some invisible lock, meeting the water not flat as he had thrown them, but vertical, thin edge knifing into the lake. That was no good. He tried throwing heavier stones but the lake swallowed them up with a lugubrious gulp.

He might as well face it. That stone was a fluke, a one-off. He could spend every vacation from now on throwing stones at a lake and he might never again achieve that precise trajectory, that perfect stone.

He wished someone had been there to see.

Now that he'd decided he'd never get four skips again, skipping hardly seemed worthwhile. Still, there was something about the contiguity of pebbles and water that made defiance necessary, an atavistic urge that demanded his participation in nature, his attempt to master it.

Perhaps he would try and see how far he could throw. The wind was against him though - gusting off the high mountains, screaming at him across the lake. He picked up a handful of stones, trying to recall what he knew about projectiles - the arcana of high school physics, flightpaths and parabolas, ubiquitous angles of 30, 45 or 60 degrees, the questions lobbed at him like missiles, their formulae forgotten now, but the clean arcs of their flight still fresh in his mind.

He remembers asking whether it mattered whether the ball was thrown in the direction of the earth's rotation or against it, suddenly appalled by the idea that while you were up in the air the earth could move away from under you.

He couldn't remember what the answer to that one had been.

At any rate, there was no risk of that here - not with only his thirty-two year old desk jockey's arm behind the throw. He watched the pebbles leaving his hand fight their valiant way into the sky, and then, overcome by wind and gravity, fall to the earth in an almost vertical sluggishness.

The real problem, he realised, was not how to throw further, but how to judge how far you'd thrown. How to mark distance on the memory less surface of the lake.

To hell with it, he thought, having tried unsuccessfully to make the comparison, with only a withered tree for a guide. Why compare? Who was he competing with anyway? He threw stones at random now, trying out variations, letting himself go. He laughed, his laughter a small stone flung into the wind.

He was stooping to pick up another handful of pebbles when he heard the voices. They were coming up the trail behind him. He wasn't alone up here after all.

Staring at the stones in his hand he suddenly felt awkward, childish. What would they think of it, he wondered, a grown man throwing stones at a lake like a five year old child? It wasn't even like he could make the stones skip. If they'd seen that one throw, the one that skipped four times they might understand, but now...

He dropped the stones he was holding, dusted his hand on his jeans. He pulled out a book from his jacket, propped his backpack on the shore, settled down to read. Sat staring at the page, hearing their voices draw closer.

A group of women. Girls really. Probably still in high school. Unscuffed hiking boots and pink backpacks. About a dozen of them altogether. A collection of I-pod minis with their owners strapped to them. He glanced across at them briefly, smiled a polite, ambiguous welcome, went back to his book. He could feel them looking at him, their eyes lingering, intrigued for a moment, then moving on. The way you look at something in a curiousity shop.

They settled down a little further along the shore. Only a stone's throw away from him really. They were planning a picnic by the lake it seemed. He considered moving on, but decided it was silly to let yourself be stampeded by a bunch of 16 year olds. He would just go on sitting there, basking in the sunlight, reading his book.

When the first splash of a stone hitting the water reached him, the first cries of "Look, it skipped, it skipped" "No it didn't, you idiot! that was just the splash of the stone sinking", he didn't look up. He was reading. And besides, he refused to be drawn into such silliness.



n said...

as usual, it is amazing how a lovely piece can come out of something so normal and everyday. did the idea come from your trip? that must have rich in inspiration??

Supremus said...

Its writings like these that bring me to your blog so often. I wish I was as gifted as you are in expressing such minute details of thought / actions so beautifully!


The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Lovely. My father once tried to teach me the technique. All my pebbles sank immediately. Oh well.

jus another pebble.... said...


btw why exactly was the ealier piece a 'rant'? we thought it brilliant research....or able to become!:p
(perhaps one is understanding impaired)

Anonymous said...

"...while you were up in the air the earth could move away from under you..."

Is it just a pebble...or is it my imagination ? A rant or your views?

Anonymous said...

u write very well.
it nice to follow your thoughts , long twisting trails of words , never short of wit , u never loose your way.

however high your thoughts fly, u never once loose your gripe.
its nice to own such a mind.rational and creative.

dont become too much of a writer, though. apply yourself to whatever u love/ are good at . life needs more like you.

DoZ said...

Good one, Falstaff. Light and lovely.

nihilistwaffles said...

the mundane looks magical here..

and following the thread on Aisha's blog, isn't Dworkin expected be just a tad extreme since she was one of most visible proponents of radical(much as I hate the term) feminism? *argh* I am just a numbskull. Nevermind me.

Nice piece of fiction though. I am now tempted to sit by the pool at my gym and throw pebbles. Despite running the risk of having my pool privileges snatched away later!

Falstaff said...

n: Thanks. Yes, definitely inspiration from the trip - to be honest this thing borders on the autobiographical.

supremus: Thanks

shoe-fiend: Thanks. Yes, that usually happens to me as well - it gives a whole new dimension to the phrase "that sinking feeling"

pebble: It wasn't a classic 'rant' - though I was clearly being a little over the top through much of it, but I'd say it qualifies as one because it was clearly motivated by frustration one felt trying to open a bag of peanuts.

anon: some people would say my imagination is all pebbles. I'm the Diogenes of creative thinking.

anon2: Thanks

doz: Thanks

nihilist: Oh, absolutely. I have no doubt that Dworkin is going out of her way to be provocative, and I think that's valuable given what she's trying to achieve. It does mean though that in recommending her to someone as literary criticism I feel the need to add a word of caution. I mean Intercourse is hardly a balanced evaluation of the merits and failings of Tolstoy's work.

n said...

ah i thot so, from the lake you sat by the side of :)
i didn't comment on your travel writings, but i must say now that they were vivid, the scene was easily imagined in my mind, a word picture. so, very nice :) im a big fan of word pictures.

Neha said...

Quirky and beautiful. This one made me smile :)

Anonymous said...

"curiosity shop", curiosity is not the same as curious. sorry, i'm a puritan! been skulking around your blog for a while, i'm a fan! wish i knew how to make the words meld to create an image. do you have a problem if arbit people link you to their blogs? :-)

sa re ga ma said...

awesome post! Have done it (skipping stones) and tried explaining it to my buddy. Dont know what I was thinking, but assumed that since I had not grown up with him and he did not know all of my past, he would never have been through the same experiences. He looked so bewildered at me wondering why in the world I was so tediously explaining this and started to laugh, saying - "ofcourse, everybody has skipped stones, silly!"

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