You can read Part 1 here! Obviously you need to read that before you read this…
The Man Who Turned Into a Pebble: Part 2 (written 2006)
Typically, the printing press chose Fish Night to act up, jamming half-way through a print session of the Holy Bible and turning the second half of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus into mere gibberish. Sebastian had to work an extra half an hour to solve the problem and, as a result, despite running all the way to the bus stop, still arrived late home for dinner.
His wife hugged him tight when he arrived and immediately served up the smoked salmon without another word.
Sebastian and Julia sat in silence on the long drive to the specialist clinic. The weather was becoming increasingly wet and Sebastian wanted to let his wife concentrate as she squinted through the rain and gloom, eyes fixed determinedly on the road, hands gripping the steering wheel tight. Drops of water pounded relentlessly against the windows and roof of the car, dripping steadily down the windscreen before being swept away by the equally relentless wipers. Sebastian let his eyes follow the hypnotic movement, the monotonous rhythm clearing his mind of thoughts as effectively as it cleared the window of rain. It was mid-morning but the weather suggested that the sun had simply forgotten to appear or had more pressing engagements. The gloomy sky did nothing to brighten Sebastian’s spirits and by the time they arrived, he was thoroughly depressed.
The parking meter at the car park was obviously in on the conspiracy. It ate Sebastian’s money and refused to give him a ticket.
“You stupid piece of shit!” Sebastian was shouting when his wife finally came to investigate what was taking so long. “You stupid, useless, fucking piece of shit!”
He kicked the parking meter repeatedly, adrenalin coursing through his veins. When that failed to have an effect, he closed his umbrella and started smashing it against the machine. The parking meter stood placidly, uncomprehending and uncaring.
“You shit!” Sebastian roared at it. “I’m turning into a pebble! Don’t you care? Don’t you fucking care?”
He paused and slowly turned around. Julia stood behind him, holding her own umbrella over him, her face a stunned mixture of horror and anguish. Her clothes and hair were utterly drenched.
“I…” Sebastian shook his head, appalled at himself. He turned back to the parking meter, suddenly confused and disorientated. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said to the parking meter and the mangled umbrella which lay forlornly by his feet.
“We better go in,” said the parking meter softly. Sebastian stared at it.
“We better go in,” said his wife again. She took him by the hand and led him, like a child, towards the dreary, concrete building framed against the emptying skies.
The doctor’s office was covered from wall to wall with various certificates and awards as well as a pre-school drawing of something which might have been a rabbit. There was a small fan hanging from the ceiling, whirring quietly to itself as it filled the room with an unnecessary breeze. An old, bearded man sat behind a simple desk, his hands covering various pieces of paper that were threatening to blow away. Sebastian said nothing, his eyes fixed intently on the name tag on the doctor’s white coat which identified him as Dr. Heckle. Julia sat, shivering, occasionally glancing up at the fan. The doctor failed to take the hint.
“Sebastian,” he said eventually, sighing theatrically. His voice was deep and gravelly.
“Dr. Heckle,” replied Sebastian. “Are you related to my GP?”
“I beg your pardon?” the doctor asked, scratching his beard.
“My GP is also called Dr. Heckle. It’s not exactly a common name.”
“Sorry, my good man, I don’t believe I know of any other family members who entered medicine. An interesting coincidence for sure.”
“He’s a lot younger than you,” Sebastian said.
“Be that as it may, I’m afraid I don’t know him,” the new Dr. Heckle replied, with a note of finality in his voice. “Now shall we attend to business?”
“I’m definitely going to turn into a pebble?” Sebastian asked simply. Julia squeezed his hand.
“I’m afraid so, my good man,” the doctor said, arranging his face into a look of compassion and sympathy. “I’ve seen the results, there’s no doubt at all.”
“How can you even tell something like that?” Julia asked suddenly.
“Oh, it’s all very technical,” came the reply. “I won’t bore you with the details now but I can certainly give you an information pack which will explain everything. Now I know this is an intensely difficult time for you both but I’m here to help you as best as I can. Now do you have any other questions?”
“When will it happen?” Sebastian asked, looking down at the floor. The doctor consulted his flapping papers.
“In about a month or so. We can’t be sure of the exact date but it will most likely be late December. You probably won’t see in the new year.”
“What about Christmas?” Julia asked, choking back tears.
“Perhaps,” Dr. Heckle said, looking thoughtful. “I can’t promise anything.”
“What’s going to happen before then?” Sebastian kept his gaze firmly on his shoes.
“Oh, nothing at all, my good man,” the doctor said, suddenly sounding cheerful. “You shouldn’t experience any other symptoms or side-effects at all. If you’re still experiencing headaches, even those should fade in time. No, no, the whole process is very quick and clean. Most likely you’ll fall asleep as a human and wake up as a pebble. You won’t feel anything.”
“You’re sure he won’t suffer?”
“Quite sure, my dear. I promise you.”
“Wait,” said Sebastian quickly. “What do you mean, I’ll wake up as a pebble? Pebbles don’t wake up.”
“Well, sure,” the doctor replied. He paused and scratched his beard again. “It’s a question of semantics, I suppose. Technically, you’re not going to die. Thus, when you turn into a pebble, you’ll still be alive.”
“I know, I know, it sounds stupid and I suppose it’s somewhat misleading. You will, for all intents and purposes, be…well, dead, I suppose. You certainly won’t still have a consciousness or be able to think or anything. You’ll just be a regular pebble.”
“My husband will certainly not be a regular pebble,” Julia replied indignantly.
Sebastian smiled at her as he thought of another question to ask. “Is there any chance that…um, you know…”
“The process might reverse itself? Again, I’m afraid not, my good man. The whole thing is quite incurable and…permanent.”
“What if a cure’s invented in the future?” Julia asked. Sebastian could hear a note of desperation in her voice.
“I find that unlikely,” Dr. Heckle admitted. “It’s not like there’s a lot of research going on into this particular…affliction. In fact, I believe you’re the first documented case in the world.”
“That’s me,” Sebastian nodded. “Unique.” He stopped and screwed up his eyes in concentration. An interesting thought had just occurred to him. “So this means that, technically, technically, I’m never going to die?”
“Well, I suppose so, yes.” Dr. Heckle nodded, smiling. “You’re going to live forever.” He smiled even more broadly and then let out a huge guffaw. The deep, baritone laugh startled Sebastian and Julia so much that they both jumped in their seats. The doctor ignored them and continued to chortle. “An immortal pebble!” he gasped. “Who would believe it?”
Julia stood, eyebrows raised, lips pursed in a thin line. Sebastian could almost feel her anger. She had never looked more beautiful.
“Dr. Heckle,” she said through gritted teeth, enunciating each syllable with icy clarity. “I would appreciate it if you showed my husband just a little more respect. Otherwise, I might just come back when he’s a pebble and jam him down your throat. And then we’ll see how funny you find it when you’re choking to death on an immortal pebble.” She paused. “Oh, and one more thing. Switch off the damn fan. I’m freezing my nipples off in here.”
“You’re so sexy, you know that?” Sebastian whispered, almost choking on his silent laughter.
When they got back to the car, they found a parking ticket stuck to the bonnet. Sebastian chuckled happily, carefully removed it, systematically ripped it into shreds and threw the remains into a puddle.
They had finished eating dinner, the children were in bed and the tuna casserole dish stubbornly continued to resist all of Sebastian’s attempts to clean it. His wife sat on the kitchen table, legs resting on a chair, the newspaper spread out in front of her.
“Are you actually going to read that?” Sebastian asked. “Or just watch me wash up.”
“You’re not really washing up,” Julia pointed out. “That dish is still as dirty as when you started.”
“What did you put in that casserole, woman?” Sebastian asked indignantly. “Glue? Cement?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault you’re incompetent at even the simplest household tasks. It’s about time you learned properly!”
“I’m going to turn into a pebble, honey,” Sebastian said sweetly. “Do you know how little I care about clean casserole dishes right now?”
“Don’t honey me,” Julia replied. “You think I like cleaning casserole dishes? Someone has to do it, you know. Why should it be me?”
“Because I’m turning into a pebble, honey,” Sebastian reiterated. “I have much loftier and noble thoughts on my mind. Like how to be round.”
“Is this going to be your excuse for everything now? Pebble this, pebble that. We all have problems, you know!”
Sebastian laughed, took off his yellow gloves and attacked his wife with them. “Get away from me!” she shrieked, leaping off the table and grabbing both his wrists.
“Apologise!” Sebastian whispered in her ear.
“Never!” Julia replied with mock severity.
“You have to,” Sebastian continued. “I’m turning into a pebble, you know.”
He leaned in close as his wife dissolved into another fit of giggles. When she finally stopped, he gently kissed her. She let go of his wrists and he dropped the gloves. He kissed her again and again, holding her gently without ever planning to let go. Eventually, she put her arms around his head and he carried her upstairs to a world where no-one cared about washing-up and dirty casserole dishes were left in peace.
They made love with a raw passion that neither of them had felt in years. Half-way through, with Julia on top and Sebastian honestly thinking of no-one but her, she suddenly stopped and leaned in, bringing him dangerously close to orgasm.
“What’s the sex going to be like when you’re a pebble?” she asked.
“Woman!” Sebastian breathed. “No conversations during sex! Especially no jokes!”
She kissed him hard and, just for a moment, his life, pebbles and all, was perfect.
They both lay, naked, breathing heavily, on top of the bed.
“So is this what you’re going to do for the next four weeks?” Julia asked, breaking the comfortable silence. “Go to work, come home, see the children, knock me up?”
“Sounds like an awesome life,” Sebastian ventured, smiling.
“Seb,” said Julia, sitting up, suddenly serious. “This is your last chance to really live.”
Sebastian sighed. “I know. And don’t worry, I’ve thought a lot about it. I could spend my last weeks travelling the world, seeing the sights, eating a hundred different foods, sleeping under dozens of different roofs. And then I thought, I’d rather just stay here, see you, Matty and Kate, eat your food and sleep under our roof.”
“You are so whipped.”
“Yeah, well, I love you and I’m not going anywhere.”
“You mean, until you turn into a pebble?”
“I’ll still be here!”
Julia fondled his hair. “I love you too. I just don’t want to see you spending your last weeks as a human helping to print books.”
“I like printing books,” Sebastian lied. “Look, the only reason that I do it at all is to provide for us. I was prepared to do it for my whole life, I don’t see why that should change just because it may end a little sooner than expected. When I’m a pebble, you’ll have to go back to work and I don’t want you to have to worry about money.”
“You just want an elaborate funeral, don’t you?”
“I’m not going to die! I’m just going to turn into a pebble!” He rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Now, where were we?”
He reached out and gently stroked his wife’s breasts. She closed her eyes in pleasure and fell back down on the bed. Outside, clouds moved across the darkened sky, silhouetted against a washed-out moon. Sebastian moved inside his wife, every movement bringing him closer to the point when time would lose all meaning and he would exist forever.
Frank and Sebastian sat together, as had now become custom, eating lunch on the factory floor.
“Have you heard from David?” Sebastian asked. “He won’t answer my calls.”
Frank shook his head. “I can’t believe you haven’t quit your job yet,” he said.
With the sky looking a little more hopeful than most Saturdays in December, Sebastian and Julia took the opportunity to take the children down to the lake. Dying trees lined the western bank, forlorn and naked, most of their leaves already lost to the autumn winds. There was a heavy crunch of pebbles under their feet as they trudged down to the waterfront. Kate gurgled appreciatively and started jumping up and down in her thick winter coat. Matthew raced out onto the jetty to test out his remote control boat with his father.
Julia stayed with Kate to shout “Kate! Be careful, Kate!” at appropriate intervals.
“Dad?” asked Matthew, after a period of silence, during which the speedboat had almost collided with a startled duck. “What am I going to do when you’re a pebble?”
Sebastian watched the duck take flight, uncertain what to say.
“Can I still bring my boat here?” his son continued.
“Of course, Matty.”
“Can I still talk to you?”
Sebastian hesitated. “Of course, Matty. I just won’t be able to talk back, that’s all.”
His son nodded as if this made sense, then cast his eyes back out onto the lake, where terrified ducks launched themselves off the water in all directions.
“This is going to be me,” Sebastian said a while later, holding a small pebble that was perfectly smooth from years of being underwater. He tossed it in the air as the four of them walked along the western bank, winding their way through the tall, autumnal trees. “No point trying to fight it, right? May as well embrace it.”
“You’re not fooling anyone, dear,” Julia whispered in his ear.
Sebastian shrugged. “Do you lot know how to skim stones?”
“Nope,” said Julia.
“Of course,” said Matty.
“Daddy!” said Kate.
“Well, maybe we all better learn,” Daddy said. “After all, if you ever decide to skim me across the lake, I’d want to put on a good show. It’d be pretty pitiful if I just sank.”
His son laughed and his daughter clapped her hands together happily.
“Now, what you need is a small, round, smooth pebble…”
The four of them remained by the lake, hurling pebbles with varying degrees of success. The wind continued to harass the trees, methodically removing their last remaining leaves, no matter how hard they clung to life.
“I can’t believe you still haven’t quit your job.”
“You really hate it here, don’t you?”
“Yes! In fact, sometimes I wish I could turn into a pebble.”
To be concluded…