The Stone Masons

Sun-baked stones toast the little boy’s feet as he climbs to where the masons take their rest.  The path of stones stands well above the ground, for the winters here are wet.  But, now and again, curls of scaly eucalyptus bark scratch his ankles as he climbs.  Damp, cool air creeps over the stones from the sea below.  It bears a sharp seaweed tang and a lapping sound.  It raises goosebumps around the fine hairs on his calves, while the sun bakes his shoulders.  His gift to the masons rides warmly in his hands, like a creature.  It’s a clay pot of tea his mother helped make.  Hot dribbles trickle down his soft-worn shirt.

The masons stop their quiet talk.  They like to see their path be used.  And the tea can be only for them, as mountains lie beyond.

“Thankee kindly,” says a man who steps to meet him.  “Come sit with us and tell us how things be.”  His hands are scarred, and some nails are broken; calluses scrape the boy’s smooth forearm as the mason accepts the tea.

“Oh, we grow what we can and gather more, and father hunts for deer.  But let’s talk of your roads and trails.  I want to go far away.”  A gliding hawk catches his eye.  “Like him,” he points.

“Him?”  The mason shakes his head.  “He’s starving.  He wants to hunt for fishes, but the seagulls will drive him inland if he tries it.  Then the crows will pour out of the woods and drive him back again.  We’ve been watching them go at it as we lay the stones.”

The others raise their cups for tea, revealing armpits soaked with sweat; their odor floats sharply across the salty air.  “Why then, I’ll be like the duck,” the boy decides.  “He swims, walks and flies.  He adapts to any place he goes, and to whatever comes to him.”

“Even the hawk?”  Some masons chuckle kindly, their laugh-lines creased with use.  Others are looking ahead to where the next stone stands in its wooden frame.  Beyond it the boy sees a deer watching them from the high meadow and, judging by its twitching ears, listening as well.

“I will live like the deer,” he tells them quickly.  “And wander the high mountains  in hills and glades of plenty.”

“Aye, plenty in summer, until the snow has melted,” comes the answer.  “Then he must come down, where your father can shoot him, to drink.”  The mason looks up to sip the last tea, and puts his cup away.  “And speaking of drink, thank you so much; your tea is very good.  If someone happened to help you make it, I hope you’ll thank her for us.”  The music of chisels and mallets has resumed; he squares his shoulders and moves to join his men.

“I will be like you,” the boy murmurs, turning away.  “But first I’ll live forever.”  He carries the empty pot to the sea.  A good boy never brings home a dirty teapot, even if he’s afraid of pinching crabs.

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