An innocuous pile of pebbles on the corner of the wood slab kitchen table appeared placed randomly as if her son collected them and left them where he believed they would be safe.
Either that, she thought, or he just forgot he brought them inside.
No two looked alike, whether feldspar, quartz, sandstone, rounded or sharp edged fragments left behind by some cataclysmic event eons ago, she realized as she sat to examine them without touching any.
The temptation to sweep them up and toss them outside, or just arrange them differently so their being on her clean table might be less offensive had been the first powerful reaction she had when she entered the room moments earlier.
She knew she did not understand her son’s passion for collecting something so mundane. Perhaps once, she thought, when I was his age, I might have, or maybe I would’ve scorned the effort as something boys did that we girls wound not consider. After all, what purpose might they serve other than to bring dirt into a freshly cleaned house and on kitchen table too.
Yet, a strong feeling she could not define stayed her hand as she reached for the pebbles. Instead, she folded her arms across her breasts, frowned at her indecision, and then turned to look out the kitchen window where she had left a pair of freshly baked apple pies on the sill to cool while the aroma that wafted off them might be enjoyed by anyone nearby.
She stood and walked closer to the window.
Her son Peter, shirtless in blue shorts, and bare feet, knelt alongside the ancient maple tree about fifty feet from the kitchen door, with his back to her. The play of muscles across his narrow upper back and equally thin shoulders told her he was seriously engaged with whatever adventure his young mind concocted.
He won’t miss them, she finally decided with a warm smile of affection. Besides, it’s time for me to set the table for dinner.
When she turned to the table, she discovered the small pile of pebbles missing. Struggling to keep the scream she felt building deep in her throat from escaping, and causing panic, hers at least, she let her hand drop to her side like the wet wing of a bird caught in a tropical storm.
“Peter,” she called, but not loud enough for him to hear. She knew he’d remain outside until she called three or more times, so went to the door, opened it and found that her son’s actions displayed he had not heard as he continued digging in the dirt.
For a second, he reminded her of an angry little dog she had as a child. Snapper had a habit of trying to bit anyone he did not know. The dog finally tunneled under their fence and ran off. She never knew what happened to him, but had often suspected that her parents knew and did not want to tell her.
Now it’s my imagination running away, she scolded and went to the white enamel kitchen sink without glancing at the table. She collected a wet sponge that smelled faintly like lemons. She squeezed out the excess water and with serious determination strode the five steps to the table.
The pebbles remained missing, the surface clear like the rest of the tabletop until she began rubbing to clean it.
The place where she’d seen the pile of pebbles earlier, began to disappear the way a smudge on glass does, slowly at first, resisting the effort to remove it until finally it dissolves and the glass is transparent again.
However, the tabletop was not transparent where the pile of pebbles sat. It looked more like a movie in a small round LCD that was more oval than round where the pile of pebbles had sat.
She leaned closer to examine what appeared to exist on the inside of her tabletop. She witnessed a parade of animals unlike any she could have conceived might live anywhere in her world.
Without encouragement, her forefinger, wet and soapy from the sponge, moved to prod the apparent opening.
She gasped, jerked her hand back before the action completed and felt her heart pounding against her ribs smelled fresh sweat as it beaded her upper lip. Her hands trembled as she clutched the edge of her flowered apron and walked to the back door stepping outside.
“Peter.” She called again but still not loud enough for him to hear. As she stepped off the bottom concrete step determined to go to him insist he listen she froze. Her breath hissed between her clenched teeth with the realization she suddenly did not want to look at his face or see exactly what his busy little arms and hands dug into.
His movements now reminded her of a frantic small dog racing to find a lost bone.
She thought of the tabletop the tableau playing beneath or inside it and shuddered hard enough her shoulders shook and felt the way she had the previous winter when caught outside in a mid-February ice storm. Then her body was too cold or too shocked to shiver.
Her heels tapped the flagstone sidewalk when she took several desperate steps backwards and then thudded against the first concrete step.
Yet instead of turning fleeing into the safety of her kitchen an act that felt like surrendering to a fear she could not define but that busily gnawed her resolve like timber worms drilling into the keel of an ancient wooden ship she stopped stood and stared.
She sat on the stoop to calm, herself and studied her fingers, as they worried the apron. The sunflower pattern had delighted her when she spied it in K-Mart but now seemed lifeless and pale when compared to what she witnessed inside the translucent patch in her table.
Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch al rights reserved
(I enjoyed writing this partial but it ran out. So I submit it as is. It does always make me smile.)