Rocks
Nathan Leslie

 

We’re in the scrub. That’s what McGhee calls it. McGhee’s prosthetic clicks on the stibnite, the orthoclase. We’re manning the booth. If you can call it a booth.

Druids come and go, children of flower children. In the scrub everything is hybridized—cars, tents, contact lenses. It will rain someday, and when it does it won’t be purple.

We foster belief.

We sell hope to hopers.

They come, they buy our Brazilianite and morganite and typed instructions for healing. This before or after the reiki sessions. This before or after the happy pills. We’re only there for one reason. Don’t go inside, I tell myself. I’m my own guru. My shit life has me kicked. I have about zero confidence at this point. Want to straighten the ship.

They come, they buy. Shaved heads, loose puce gowns, pot-belly pigs in cribs, rolling their own dope. They are in a state of being.

At night we roll down the windows, listen to the bongo sessions. Even in the air-tight cabana-on-wheels we can smell the pinyon and mesquite burning. And the more fragrant smoke. We can hear the chanting. Jasmine sleeps with her fingers in her ear holes. If she had her way she’d be out there amongst them.

 

These Gotham children won’t question, I said. It goes against the whole spirit. McGhee closed his eyes. He does this to think, like a computers whirring. He tapped a cold finger against his forehead twice.

“I’ve never been so far from the ocean,” he said.

McGhee has a sea fetish. Says it’s the only thing which can rejuvenate. What we’ll do is take the way you see the salt water, transfer that to rock—make a buck.

We were twenty large in the red. House foreclosed. Running out of ways to shuffle dough from one piece of plastic to the other. American way.

The cabana was our way of consolidating. Still is.

 

At the rock pit. We brought milk crates. We brought burlap sacks. We brought shoe boxes. It was quartz, all quartz McGhee said. He should know—he took the geology class at the community college. He’s the smart one. He’s got the pedal to the metal. I’m just along for the ride.

Which is why I call him fingers.

It’s not about his prosthetic.

He’s got his paw in the maw. Me—I’m trying to see the maw. Get past my cloudiness.

 

But back to the quartz. It was a find. Different colors, stripes. Who would know? Who would care? We were in Clarke County. Tuesday morning. The park officials were sleeping in, fishing, drinking their morning Joe. Whatever it is they do.

Victimless, I said.

McGhee clicked. We gathered, even Jasmine. She drove us off, quartz clacking behind us.

 

The extra drag-mileage-wise would be worth it, I told him.

“You think too much,” I said.

He didn’t like it when I judged. McGhee said judgment is the essence of despair. He may or may not be right about that.

He raised his eyebrows. Problem was McGhee never held a real job. Laundromat operator stock boy. Bus boy. Garden center “associate.” How we ever owned a house in the first place is a miracle. Beyond me.

Well, I was assistant manager at Great Reads. Used books. Then they went under.

Fingers was always coming in, using my quarter-off discount. Never graduated high school, but somehow he manages to read Santayana. Finite and Infinite Games. The Critique of Pure Reason.

He doesn’t talk about his best years. On the water. Living on the dinghy was “by choice,” he says. His skin still tastes of salt and brine.

Living on the dinghy was his way of being homeless, I think. The uncounted homeless. Boat people.

Jasmine is his. Boat people include boat women, apparently. Or mermaids. She has long eyebrows. I count her as mine anyway. Sweet thing.

 

McGhee’s conscience is bothering him, he says. Which is why he’s up and thumping around. Nursing a plastic cup of skim milk. Chewing on pretzels. Wakes me up, too. Jasmine sleeps in the cab, so she’s probably okay.

“I don’t know,” he says. “What if somebody calls us on it?”

He’s not looking at me. He’s folding up the pretzel bag. Sourdough.

“We’ve already unloaded how many?”

“Maybe a third,” he says.

“We’re on the way,” I say.

He mumbles something about no harm in calling it quits. Giving the rest away. No skin off our backs.

This would be fine if it weren’t for the bloodsuckers, I tell him. We can’t be so choosy now. He shrugs and pulls at his hair. Says it’s an anti-baldness preventative. Sounds equally suspect about that.

 

Rocks. His bag of rocks is opaque. He can likely relate to the festival-goers in search of their inner-dharma. I don’t even know how old he is for sure. Not 100%. I see flecks of gray in his stubble though. I’m not blind.

We have them labeled. Uranimite. Nickeline. Purpurite. Diaspore. They’re in boxes. We’ve typed up “healing powers” on small slips of paper. Used a Kinko’s back in Louistown.

We sell a bunch of them. For days the hippies snap them up, juggling the rocks in their hands.

Two mornings later I’m drinking guava juice, nibbling on wheat toast. Jasmine is just rubbing her eyes. A guy in a leather jacket thumbs through the rocks. After ten seconds he snorts.

“Who are we fooling here?” he says. “You all should be locked up.”

“What?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says. He picks up a rock in the sanidine box. He holds it out flat in his palm.

“I teach science in a middle school. I don’t know much about geology. I do know, however, that this is quartz. All of this is,” he says. “It’s pretty basic.”

 

I’m looking out over the scrub. It’s ugly land really. Grey and brown. No mountains. No real vegetation. No color. So much for the serene beauty of the desert.

I’m glad McGhee is inside. If I’m going to eat crow, might as well do it without embarrassment.

“You don’t want to do that,” I say.

The man is shouting that we’re “crooks,” “scam-artists,” “not even scam-artists, just scammers.” He’s going tent to tent. He’s waking them up. Jasmine and me, we look at each other. We don’t even pack up the rocks. We just fold up the canopy and peel off. Play it safe.

 

Jasmine’s driving. I’m in the passenger seat, chin in hand. Watching the scrub turn scrubbier.

I’m wondering how I got to this point.

I’m watching dry lightning flash some fifty miles off.

When Bill left me I understood. It wasn’t working out. Or that’s the story we agreed on. I wonder where Katherine might be at this point. What became of the split-level under the maples. The oak bedframe. The photo albums. All of it.

McGhee claps his prosthetic on the vinyl seat, pulls himself up front. He sits in the middle. He’ll never gloat. He knows. There’s nothing to say. We’re all picking up our own pieces.

“Where are we headed?”

Jasmine hits the spray then the wipers. The windshield is gummy with dust.

“South and West,” she says. He closes his eyes. He’s probably thinking of the gulf. I don’t know. We won’t make it that far south, I think. Hope not.

 

Nathan Leslie has written numerous books of fiction and a collection of poetry, and his work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, South Dakota Review, and Cimarron Review. He is currently the fiction co-editor for Shale, a fiction anthology. You can find his website here.