What If? 86 – One in the Hand

Proverbs come from experience. Rolling stone; stitch in time; bird in the hand.

Exercise: take one of the proverbs above and outline a short story that uses it as both plot and theme.

Objective: first, to make yourself super-sensitive to ordinary things that contain the essence of drama. Second, to transform old-fashioned trite common wisdom into a real narrative.

Hah! I’ve always had trouble with the proverb, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” because I don’t know if gathering moss is a good thing or a bad thing. So:

Franklin dropped by Barney’s house. Barney and his wife, they were new to the town, only here a few weeks, and Franklin wanted to be neighborly.

Barbara looked a bit disheveled at the door, a drippy soapy mop in her hand, but she smiled and invited him in. “Barney’s out back,” she said. “You can go ahead if you like, he won’t be back in until sundown.”

“What’s he doing?” asked Franklin, seeing Barney through the glass doors and screen porch, trudging to the top of the hill behind the house with an armful of something.

“Keeping the moss away,” said Barbara.

Franklin wasn’t sure what that meant, but he felt he was intruding on this woman who still held her mop and didn’t seem eager to put it down any time soon. He went out to the hill and caught up with Barney just as he was throwing the rocks down. The men exchanged hello’s, and he shook hands. Barney’s arms were smeared with dirt and grass stains, bruised, shaking. He threw the last rock, then headed down the hill without comment.

Franklin followed him. “What are you doing, can I help you?” he said.

“I’m keeping the moss away.”

Franklin considered this. He couldn’t really make much sense out of it, so he murmured a noncommittal “oh”. They reached the bottom of the hill, and Barney started picking up the rocks he’d rolled down the hill. “You can get those two if you don’t mind,” he said, pointing at a pair that had wobbled a little more eastward than the others, landing on the other side of where Franklin stood. Franklin picked them up, then followed Barney back up the hill, only to see him give the rocks enough of a push to send them rolling back down the hill.

“Barney, why are you doing this?”

“Gotta keep the moss away,” he said.

“What’s so bad about moss?” said Franklin.

Barney stopped in mid-toss. He looked at the rock he was holding. Clean as a whistle, not a speck of moss. Perfect. He looked at Franklin.

“What’s the matter with you?” he said.

Franklin shrugged, and left Barney to self-Sisyphy all he wanted. He went out back of his own home and checked some rocks. Some of them had a few mossy streaks. Others were covered with the stuff. A few were bare. He looked out over the field behind his home, at all the stones, and wondered which one, him or Barney, was crazy.

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