A Smooth Stone

By Marc Dion

December 30, 2019 4 min read

I'm writing this on Christmas Day. All the wrapping has been torn. The church at the end of my street has put Jesus in the manger. My wife liked her gifts, and we had a huge Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, blood pudding, beans, toast and strong tea.

My mother died last February. My wife's mother died in October. We are both only children, and are much more "only" now. Both of our fathers are dead.

It is all right. Everyone thinks their own pain is unique, but the truth is, we are all cliches. There are only so many kinds of pain, and they are all common.

After the presents, after the huge Irish breakfast, after we watched the "Downton Abbey" movie, I went to the beach. I went by myself.

The beach, a small one, is maybe 30 minutes from my house, just over the line into Rhode Island. I live in Massachusetts.

Leaving my house, I picked up a fist-sized rock from the border of my yard, and put it in my jacket pocket.

The beach I went to is in a country town that has nearly completed the transition to suburb. My mother grew up there, when there were cows in the fields and tractors on the roads.

That beach was my mother's favorite place in the world. We moved quite a bit when I was a kid. When we came home on vacation, she would go to that beach before she went to see her own family. She'd walk the tideline, suck in the tangy air and sigh.

"I love the way the ocean smells," she'd say.

Long after she and my father retired to Massachusetts, long after he died, long after she was frail and no longer drove, I could always get her out of her apartment with the promise of a ride to that beach. She didn't walk the tideline anymore, but she'd open the window in my truck, suck in the tangy air and sigh.

"I love the way the ocean smells," she'd say.

When I got to the beach today, it was empty except for one teenaged boy with a riot of curly black hair who wore a black hoodie with "Pearl Jam" printed on the front in neon green. He looked down at his phone.

I lit my pipe and got out of my car with a stone bulging in my jacket pocket like a mummified heart, hard and useless.

Down on the tideline, the little waves rolled and stumbled. I took the rock out of my pocket and dropped it on the sand.

A few steps further on, I bent and picked up a hard stone, smoothed by the stumbling, blind, relentless little waves. I put it in my jacket pocket, where it bulged like undissolved regret.

And it was stupid and useless, the way gravestones and cemeteries and statues of the noble dead are stupid and useless. They are all just hard, smooth stones, mummified hearts, undissolved regrets.

I smoked and walked the tideline, and I drove home on empty roads and streets, through the suburbs and into the city.

When my mother went to that beach, especially when she was old, she would always take a small stone, which she would put in a cup on the windowsill over her kitchen sink.

Now the beach my mother loved has a stone from my yard, and my kitchen windowsill has a stone from her beach.

And it is stupid and useless, and I have decided to do it every Christmas Day until I'm old and frail and no longer drive.

To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.Dion's latest book, a collection of his columns entitled, "The Land of Trumpin'," is available in paperback from Amazon.com and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay.

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