“Don’t you think it’s odd the way he carries it around with him all the time?” Frank wasn’t looking at Jane as he spoke, instead he was peering over the thick black rim of his glasses towards Greg, who was sitting a couple of tables away in a dimly lit corner of the pub.
Greg, of course, was playing with his rock again. It didn’t look like anything special, it wasn’t glittering or glowing or humming or being in any other way interesting - from what Frank could tell, it was just a thumb sized rock like any you might find lying on the ground. Except Greg always seemed to have it with him.
“Yes, it’s odd, but that’s just Greg. He is odd.” said Jane, not bothering to look over as she sipped from a pint glass that seemed comically large in her hands. She sounded bored. Well, Frank could understand that, talking about any other rock would be boring - but this was Greg’s rock.
“It’s always the same one” he said, continuing to stare, “and I’ve not seen him without it in weeks. If it’s not in his hands it’s on a table in front of him. He doesn’t put it in his pockets when he’s carrying it around either, he carries it in his hands, like he might need to throw it at someone. I don’t get it.” He frowned deeply, causing his eyebrows to merge into an unfortunate thick mono-brow “I thought it might be some sort of memento, only he’s never been anywhere worth remembering as far as I can tell” Frank looked back at Jane, tilting his head a slightly. “You’re not even a little curious?”
“Not really.” She sighed “A month ago, yeah, sure. But it’s just kind of the new normal now. He does weird stuff.” She smiled wryly, glancing in his direction. “What’s one more weird thing?”.
Frank snorted, he’d asked himself the same question a few times. “Well sometimes his weird things are interesting, remember that box of his he got to play music?” Jane perked up a little, she’d been into that. It had only made weird noises for quite a while, but had played a cute little tune by the time Greg finished with it. “Of course you do” Frank noted “well that was odd and interesting.” He raised a hand and extended a somewhat battered looking thumb, “Or there’s the time he kept diving into the lake wearing those weird glasses” he extended an equally battered looking finger - those glasses had turned out to be great for seeing what was in the depths, “Or there was last year when he was hanging around with that girl no one knew anything about”. Another finger extended. Jane shifted in her seat. That girl had been the focus of conversation in their little group for a while, and Frank was beginning to think she’d not been too happy about it.
Her eyes narrowed and she brought that huge seeming mug in front of her face “No one ever did find out who she was” she said before taking a drink and glancing at Greg.
Frank turned to follow her gaze. Greg was looking at the perfectly ordinary rock, which was now on the table. He wasn’t even spinning it around, it was just sat there, still, untouched. Doing nothing.
“Exactly. Most of the stuff he does is interesting, like that” a little more so considering Jane’s reaction to the talk about the girl. That was new. “Making musical boxes, inventing useful things, hanging around with mystery people, all that Greg stuff. They all make sense in the end, but this…” he sighed “…is just a rock. It doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t do anything with it. It’s just … there?”
He brought his attention back to Jane, who was now looking at him with stern green eyes. “Yeah, which is why it’s boring, Frank”.
“No, that’s why it’s interesting!” he got the feeling he ought to change topic, but he was into it now, and the stupid rock had been bugging him more and more. “If you ask him, and I’ve tried, he’ll just say it’s a rock! Of course it’s a rock, but it’s got to be more than just a rock”.
Jane sighed, “All right, what ideas do you have? You think he’s going to carve it into a little statue? Find its inner paperweight?” her eyes rolled dramatically, “Maybe it’s a very obedient pet?”
Frank laughed, “Well, I wouldn’t put it past him to have a pet rock.”
She smiled, “Have you thought that he might just be trying to annoy you? You know, given how you always try to work this stuff out” her eyes twinkled “maybe he’s playing a joke at your expense. I’d laugh! It’d serve you right for being nosey all the time”.
“I don’t think he’s the type” Frank commented dryly, “and I’m not nosey, I’m curious”. She laughed at that.
“Yeah, about other people’s stuff, and that’s what being nosey is my dear” she smiled broadly, then became a little more serious “oh lets just go ask him, come on” She dropped off her stool and headed toward Greg’s table.
“I told you, I’ve tried that!” he said grabbing some snacks off the bar and following behind her.
They quickly reached the table, Greg looking up at them quietly as they got closer - rock still on the table. “Hi Greg, how’s it going?” said Jane as she shifted herself onto the bench next to him. Frank took a seat opposite.
“Pretty good thanks. Hi Frank, you alright?”
“Not bad, you getting a drink?”
“Got one on the way”
“What’s with the rock Greg?” Jane interjected - not that she was paying any attention to the rock or pleasantries being exchanged; she was still shuffling about on the bench and looking at Greg. Fortunately Greg had glanced back at the rock so he missed the slight cringe passing over Frank’s face - Jane was always so direct about things. Subtlety was the name of a sledgehammer she owned, he was sure.
“This rock?” said Greg, picking it up and rolling it over in his hand, smiling slightly. “Has Frank not worked it out yet?” The smile broadened. He knew which of them was more interested in it, clearly.
“I’ve had a few ideas actually, but they all seem daft.” Frank waved his mug at Jane “Someone here was saying it might be a new low maintenance pet for you”. Jane glared at him, which was amusing, but Greg smiled broadly. “Hah, not too far off the mark”.
“Really?!” exclaimed Jane, her glare for Frank replaced with an expression of confused pleasure. Frank just grunted.
“It’s not a pet, but it’s something I’m keeping around which helps me think differently, like a pet”
Frank nearly grunted again, but caught himself in time. Conversations with Greg always ended up with him sounding like a bloody caveman. “Who keeps a pet to think differently?”, he asked, grabbing a few peanuts and settled back; this was going to be another one of those discussions.
“Anyone who owns a pet thinks differently than before they had a pet,” said Greg, addressing Frank, and turning to Jane. He paused as though just noticing how close she was.
“You have a pet and you start to consider things from the point of view of the pet. You wonder why it likes some particular spot of the garden, or what it’s thinking about, or what makes it happy - and why. That’s why having a pet is different to raising a farm animal - you give a pet considered attention, you empathise with it.” He paused as a bar maid set a frothy headed pint of something dark on the table. “Thanks, Gale” The barmaid smiled and moved on to another table.
“Thawlers?” asked Frank.
“No, a guest ale; it’s pretty good.” He gestured for Frank to try some, but was declined with a wave of a hand. Jane picked up the drink instead.
“The point is there are two things a pet does;” Greg continued, “provide companionship, and change how you think about the world.”
Having taken a sip Jane quickly put the drink back on the table and reached for her own, taking a large gulp and swilling it ‘round her mouth. A bitter then.
“The pleasure of a pet” said Greg, who hadn’t noticed the drink thing, “is in revealing a new way to appreciate the stuff around you that has always been there. You see it from a different perspective.”
Jane seemed to become a bit dewy eyed at this; oh yes this was an interesting development. Fred wondered how long it’d take Greg to notice. Come to think about it, he wondered how long it had taken him to notice.
Abruptly, Jane frowned “Wait. You’re… empathising with a rock?” She looked back at the drink “how many of those have you had?”
“None, so far” he grinned.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have any more”.
Frank laughed, and then again more loudly when he noticed Greg’s confusion.
“Because the fumes have clearly got to you already?” said Jane, smiling “Greg, for someone so clever you can be quite slow getting a joke. It’s kind of endearing”. He smiled awkwardly, running his fingers absentmindedly along the side of his mug.
“So, tell us more about the rock” said Frank, “What different perspectives has it got?”
“It’s not got any, it’s a rock” Gred quickly replied, “but for example… how old is it? We think a rock’s a rock, but how long has that one existed as a pebble?” he gestured to the rock on the table. “Rocks wear out in the wind and rain, but I’ve never seen one actually do that, it takes too long to notice… so how old is it?”
“I guess it could be a few hundred years old” said Frank, settling into his seat a little more.
“Yeah. So, maybe it spent a few hundred years in a cave where very little changes, and then some animal dislodged it or whatever, and it made its way outside, where I eventually picked it up.”
“Or maybe it used to be a much bigger rock and it’s been worn down over centuries, and no one noticed it getting smaller because it took too long. Over the lifespan of that rock, what has it seen? Was it around before the village was here? What did the land look like when it was younger?” He spoke a little more calmly as he progressed; “To a rock, us humans have tiny lifespans - we appear and disappear really quickly. A rock could notice patterns in what we do as a society, that we don’t because we don’t have time to see them.” He began to look a little self-conscious. “Anyway, that’s why I carry it around. It reminds me to think about whatever I’m doing in a longer context than I’m used to. I ask what the rock might think of whatever I’m doing at the time.”
Frank smiled to himself, answers on the rock puzzle at last!
Jane touched Greg’s arm lightly, smiling as she spoke “That makes sense; you’re sort of meditating”.
“I am?” He asked.
“I think so. From what I know, meditation isn’t just sitting with your eyes closed and tripping out. I think it’s more like what you’re doing; focussed attention and getting new insights.” She blushed slightly “I mean from what I’ve heard”.
Frank smiled quietly to himself; he liked it when she forgot herself enough to say more than she normally would. He never did understand why she liked to appear less smart than she was.
“I think I need to read up on meditation then” said Greg, still playing with his drink more than actually drinking it. A pause lengthened, and Jane tapped her fingers on the table like she did when she was frustrated.
Ah-ha, thought Frank. He looked up and across the pub, “Sorry guys, I’ve just spotted someone I need to talk to - excuse me” He got up then turned back to Greg “Maybe you can ask Jane about meditation, seems like she might be able to answer some questions, and she’s far better company than a book.” He smiled at the both, and rolled his eyes slightly when only Jane could see. “See you both later”.
He walked across the room, around the corner, and out of sight, as though looking for someone who’d wandered off. Once he was sure he couldn’t be seen he sat down at the bar, and wondered if those two would hit it off. Jane might have to spell things out a bit more for Greg first.
He ordered another pack of nuts, smiled to himself, and started thinking about rocks. Again.
About this practice piece
If you're interested, you can go behind-the-scenes and read about this practice piece in the related Process post:About 'The Pebble'