A Rock In A Hard Place

Once upon a time there was a little rock called Aggie Agate. All the elders who lived in the River Life said that Aggie was a chip off the old block.  It was supposed to be a good thing, but Aggie wasn’t so sure.   She was bored. She was bored of everyone looking the same and all she wanted to do was explore the other things that existed in the River Life.
The flow of the River Life was fast.  Not only did this mean that that new, different things were always passing through, attracting Aggie’s attention, but it also meant that the agates who lived in the river were always being  eroded as they bounced against each other and rubbed together.
The very oldest agates were the smallest ones.  They had been rubbed away to almost nothing by the ceaseless flow of the water.  Some of them became smooth and coloured in beautiful translucent finery.  Others were chipped open to their sparkling inner crystals by the things the River Life’s water hurled at them.  These elders were pitied because they were seen to be defenceless without their outer shells.
Although the younger agates were desperate to play and explore the numerous interesting things that washed past them in the river life they were always warned not to. ‘It’s very important to find a little groove in the river bed and settle down there to stay’ warned the elders. ‘The deeper your groove, the less likely it is you will be washed away by the current or split open to your crystals.’
‘What’s wrong with splitting open to your crystals?’ Aggie used to wonder.  It seemed to her that, the few times she’d seen this happen to an agate, they’d become more beautiful than anything else in the river and she’d always admired them deeply.  ‘That may be Aggie, but once a crystal is split open they don’t get to stay in the River Life for very long. You know that.’  It was true.  Any crystal that showed,  even the smallest glimpse of their true beauty often got taken away from the river by the men and never seen again.
‘What do the men do with the crystals they take?’ Aggie had once asked the elders.  ‘Nobody knows Aggie so it’s much better just to stay still.  Stay in your place. Stay safe’.  The elders insistent warnings frightened Aggie but, despite her fear, she could not help her curiosity at the interesting and wondrous things that forever drifted over her head in the flow of the river.  No matter how hard she tried not to think about it, Aggie could not help but wonder what her own crystals looked like. Was she as beautiful as she had seen other agates become when they were split open.  Looking at her drab, dull, grey/white shell she couldn’t imagine how she could be.
One day, men came. Aggie, captivated by a shimmering shoal of tiny silver fish, had just risked a little hop from her resting place on the river bed to take a closer look.  She hopped too high and the current caught her and sent her tumbling away from her family only to be caught by the hand of a man.  He withdrew her from her watery home, Aggie was terrified but even through her terror she could not help but notice how different things looked without the flow of the water warping them.
‘Hey Guy! Look at this one!’ the man shouted, holding Aggie up in the air.  ‘This is exactly what I was looking for. I reckon she’s gonna be a beauty on the inside’.  A second man came over and looked at Aggie ‘How do you know?’ he asked.  ‘She’s got really nice energy’ the man holding Aggie said thoughtfully.  ‘Pffft, you and your energies, Will’ said the second man. ‘Put her to one side and let’s get our days quota fulfilled shall we?’
‘It’s my mums birthday in a few days ‘replied the man called Will, as if he hadn’t heard his friend.   It’s her 60th.  I really want to give her something perfect and I think this little rock might be it’.  ‘Seriously Will, you won’t be able to eat in a few days if you don’t fill your quota today. Let’s just crack on shall we?’ The man called Guy sounded worried.  Will didn’t.  ‘Nah.  I really want to get this ready by her birthday so I think I’m gonna head back now and polish this one up.  I’ll work double time later to make up for it.’ 
‘Well I suppose I could have a quick tea break just to see what she’s actually got inside’ said Guy, dubiously.  But Will was already walking off.   Aggie lay hopelessly inside the dark, warm cloth of his pocket, whispering a silent goodbye to the inhabitants of the River Life whom she would now never see again. The thought filled Aggie with an unbearable sadness as the river water ran off her in rivulets, soaking Will’s pocket.  ‘What have I done?’ was all Aggie could think now.
As if Will could somehow hear her,  he suddenly removed her from his pocket. ‘You’ he said to Aggie ‘Are going to be something completely different by the time I’m finished with you’.  They were in a big light room full of tools now and Will placed Aggie gently on a warm wood table as he spoke. Aggie had never felt dry wood before.  She never really felt anything she couldn’t burrow into.  The feeling was unnerving. She felt too exposed.  ‘You’re the perfect size for a lovely heart I reckon’.
The words caught Aggies attention.  She didn’t what a heart was.  Will’s voice was soft and quiet.  Aggie forgot she was feeling afraid and listened.  ‘You know what?’ said Will to Guy ‘These rocks remind me of people’.  ‘Have you been smoking something dodgy?’ said Guy, sounding grumpy.  Will just laughed.  ‘What I mean is’ he said ‘that left to their own devices, these rocks never seem to get the chance to realise just how beautiful they can be’.  Now Aggie was listening intently.  She had to listen all the harder because an irritatingly loud squealing noise had started up in the background and it making it difficult to hear.  She tried her best to ignore it, not realising she was beginning to vibrate in time with it’s noise.
‘I think the shells of these rocks are like peoples habits and learned behaviours’ carried on Will. ‘They are born, a chip off the old block,  with the same hard shell their parents have.  Unless a freak accident or coincidence happens they never realise that, inside, they are an entirely different thing.  They just stay dull forever until we come along and break them open’.  ‘Do you break many people open then?’ teased Guy.  ‘Shut up and put the kettle on and let the Will power do it’s job will you?!’ Will said grinning as he turned back to Aggie.
The vibrating that had stopped, restarted now but as it did Will also continued speaking.  ‘Seriously though’ he said without looking round at Guy ‘if you think about it, you could say that what this lathe is doing to this stone, is the same that people have to do using will power.’  Guy sighed ‘go on then.  Tell me why’.  ‘The lathe has to cut through all of the useless hard exterior to free to real stuff inside just like people have to work gradually to form new habits.  Their efforts chip away so slowly at their outer shell of bad habits that it seems impossible that they’ll ever be able to get all the way through to the middle.  And there’s not much incentive to keep going because they don’t even realise there’s better stuff inside them that’s worth getting to’. ‘I suppose I can see what you mean’ said Guy.  ‘Want sugar?’.  ‘Yes please.  It’s going to take me a while to get through this one I reckon.  She’s a tough cookie!!’
Will stopped talking and concentrated intently on Aggie. She could feel the noise vibrating her more strongly now and she was starting to feel a strange sensation inside. It wasn’t painful but, because she didn’t know what was happening, it felt scary.  Aggie focussed on Will’s face and tried hard to be brave.  Suddenly she became aware of a new feeling in her body and could feel something inside of her that had never been there before.  It was a weird feeling, just like you would expect something to feel inside your body that hadn’t been there before.
Aggie’s bravery failed her then.  She wanted Will to stop and, as he stopped to take a sip of his tea she shouted to him at the top of her voice.  Even though humans can’t hear agate she shouted and shouted and shouted, praying that he would hear her. To her horror, Will didn’t hear and the vibrating started and but then, suddenly, it stopped.  ‘Damn’ said Will ‘you really are a tough cookie’.  ‘You could get locked up for talking to rocks you know’. ‘She’s broken the lathe’ said Will glumly.  ‘Bugger’ said Guy. ‘You gonna wait or use the chisel?’.  ‘I’m not sure she’s  gonna be strong enough inside to take the chisel’ said Will. ‘I’m surprised her energy can’t tell you’ teased Guy.  ‘That is what her energy is telling me clever clogs’ said Will as he gently eased the foreign object out of Aggies side.  Guy huffed ‘You gonna come back out with me then?’.  ‘ I suppose so’.
Will sounded so disappointed that Aggies suddenly felt sad  but, just then, the lathe came free of Aggie. Suddenly air and light pierced through the slim gap in Aggies side. Although it wasn’t much, because the gap was so thin, the feeling was sublime.  It felt ten times fresher than the water of the River Life.  It felt 100 times more exciting than jumping into the current of the River Life and letting it sweep her short distances.  She could barely feel anything on the outside, so great was the feeling inside.  She didn’t even feel Will’s hands pick her up, though the feeling of rising did serve to increase the tingling excitement of the new feeling inside. At that moment she knew that it didn’t matter what he had to do, she wanted him to finish the job he had started.
‘I guess you just don’t want to be set free today’ Will whispered.  Aggie shouted again, even louder than before.  This time she shouted in praise, not in fear.  She told him how good she was feeling and begged him not to stop now.  She shouted so loudly that some of the bits of her shell that had been loosened by the lathe suddenly fell away.  Will’s mouth dropped open.  Aggie waited, hardly daring to breathe so intent was she on waiting for what would happen next.
‘Guy…’ .  Will began.  ’What?  Are you ready to go now?’.  ‘No. Look’.  Guy appeared over Will’s shoulder and his jaw dropped slightly too.  ‘So….. how did you say you feel these energies then?’ Guy said after a moment’s silence.  Aggie saw Will smile.  ‘I knew she was going to be a corker’.  ‘Doubted yourself for a moment thought didn’t you?’ said Guy.  Will raised an eyebrow ‘I reckon the rock doubted me’.  Guy shook his head.  ‘I’m going out again. I guess you’re getting the chisel out?’.  ‘Indeed I am. She is a lot stronger than she looked’ said Will. ‘It must have been the crystals that broke the lathe’.   ‘I reckon so’ Guy replied, heading for the door  ‘I imagine there’s some philosophical story in there about falling at the last hurdle!  See you in a bit.’  Then Guy was gone leaving Will and Aggie alone, regarding each other.

‘Are you ready?’ Will asked Aggie, after a moment,  laying her down gently and placing something hard against the gap in her side, shutting off the source of the good feeling.   A second later Aggie felt an almighty bang.  She gasped at the force but, now craving the light feeling she’d just had a moment ago, she didn’t feel afraid.  She felt excited.  She trusted Will.  Bang!  Aggie felt more of her outer shell give way and felt Will’s ferocious concentration as he placed the chisel at the perfect point.  Bang!!  Aggie fell apart.
The feeling was stunning and the effect was clearly as pronounced on Will as it was on Aggie.  They both fell into an awed silence.  The feeling was like nothing Aggie could describe. There was a kind of energy flowing out of her from where her crystals now lay, completely exposed. It was as if the whisper of Will’s breath were tickling a thousand nerves within her and the feeling flowed through every tiny inch of her.  Even though she could see the discarded slab of her shell lying several inches away she felt, in that moment, more whole than she ever could have dreamed possible.   She felt indescribably powerful, as if the feeling she had were resonating out of her, filling the room. Indeed, she seemed to have had some magical effect on Will for drops of water now misted his eyes.  ‘I knew I’d find you’ he whispered softly ‘I’ve been searching for you for months. I was giving up hope that I’d find you before mum’s birthday’.
Aggie wished fervently that she could reply and, as she wished,  she felt the energy radiating from her shift, subtly and move in Will’s direction.  A funny look came over his eyes and he suddenly stood up and left Aggie lying on the workbench.  A moment later he returned with a pretty card, sat down and began writing quickly in it.  When he was done he sat back and sighed. A bright beam of sunlight fell through the window, shimmering off Aggies newly exposed crystals and Will picked her up. They sat there for a long time, admiring each other and basking in the warm sunlight.  There was no need to talk, even if they could have done they wouldn’t have needed to. They knew each other now and that was enough.  It was all there, in the feeling radiating out of Aggies sparkly new center.
Will spent many days with Aggie after that.  As Guy nagged and teased and was sometimes outright grumpy about Will not going to work. Will just sat quietly polishing Aggies remaining surfaces.  Aggie had thought the only beautiful bit of an agate was it’s crystals. She didn’t realise her entire surface could be polished to such a beautiful hue.  Will worked tirelessly, the polishing was soothing to Aggie. For each rough edge he removed from her, Aggie felt more contented when he layed her down to rest.
On the 6th day Will declared she was finished.  ‘About bloody time’ moaned Guy picking Aggie up and turning her over in his hands to inspect her.  ‘Nice job… ‘ he began to say but then stopped. ‘You’ve missed a bit. ‘Nope’ said Will ‘I’m leaving her rough on the back because a rock that is too perfect has nothing left to remind it of where it came from’. Guy pursed his lips and nodded. ‘Nice touch’ he said, grudgingly.  ‘ Thanks for helping me write the card’ Will said to the center of the room.  ‘Don’t think I was much help really’ said Guy. Aggie and Will just smiled.
The next day Will wrapped Aggie in a silk scarf and took her down to the river.   ‘This’ll refresh your energies before I take you to my mum’ he said.  Aggie wasn’t so sure as she saw that he was heading for the exact same spot where all her family and friends lived.  Would anyone recognise her? Would they hate her for looking so beautiful? As he dipped her into the River Life, the  first rock she saw was her young friend Adam. ‘Aggie.is that you?’ he said in amazement. ‘Yes’ replied Aggie, cautiously.  ‘They brought you back looking like that?’. ‘Yes, but I don’t think I’m staying’. Adam looked at the hand holding Aggie and said ‘Are you scared?’. ‘I was before but I’m not now. It’s feels wonderful to be like this. I wouldn’t care if I sit on a shelf forever like this because the feeling that makes me happiest is coming from my crystals, not from anywhere else, and I’ll always have them’.  Adam looked at Aggie sadly. ‘Won’t you miss us?’ he asked.  ‘Yes, but it’s not as if I have a choice is it? I can either be happy with the new way I feel or spend forever being sad about the things I miss in the River Life.  You don’t want me to be sad do you?’.  ‘I suppose not’ said Adam, a little sulkily. Just then, before she even had a chance to say goodbye, Aggie was whipped out of the water.  She watched Adam get smaller and smaller as she was lifted higher.
If it hadn’t have been for the rushing sound of the water of the River Life she would have been unlucky enough to hear that his parting words to her were ‘Maybe you don’t belong in the River Life now anyway’.
Maybe Aggie would have been saddened by that but, as it happened, there was a more than suitable distraction awaiting her at Will’s mums house. Will’s mum was called Destiny.  She had all sorts of very beautiful things in her home. For the first few weeks of Aggie living with her, Destiny moved Aggie around lots of different surfaces, placing her next to lots of other beautiful things that made Aggies happy feeling grow larger and larger.
Finally, one morning, Destiny settled on the windowsill for Aggie.  Aggie was overjoyed. From the window-sill she not only had the best view of all of the beauty that lay within Destiny’s home but also all the beauty of her garden which was awash with colour and life.  Each day, as Aggie looked at the beauty around her and felt the happy feeling radiating from her crystals, she wondered why she had spent so many years trying to stay at the bottom of a river. With so much to see every day,  and so much beauty, Aggie’s crystals sparkled more and more brightly every day,  delighting Destiny.  Every day, first thing in the morning, when the sun fell directly on the window in which Aggie sat, Destiny would visit her with news of Will. Destiny would always stroke Aggies beautiful surfaces then take 5 minutes to read the pretty card that Aggie remembered from Will’s workshop which always sat beside Aggie and read,  on the front:

‘Happy 60th Birthday Mam.’

(June, 2015)


The End