We bonded over crystals: you the believer, me the sceptic. Summer days when flash downpours scented the air with rust and an arch of colour framed the sky. Rose quartz and peridot dotted the grass, glass flowers amongst emerald blades.
“Here, take this lapis lazuli. It’s the stone of friendship.” A row of creamy opals grinned at me as you pushed the polished dome into ungrateful hands. “It has countless benefits… If nothing else, it’s pretty and matches your eyes.”
A season spent outdoors, carefree times where the breeze carried away our whispered dreams and our laughter gave life to the trees. When we ventured to the river, your eyes glazed over, some of your spirit lost to silty ripples. I wondered what you were thinking but my question was swallowed by your solemnity. Joy soon returned and we ran through the woods seeking flowers the same shade as your coloured rocks.
Autumn crept in, demanding scarves and gloves. You despised the confines of your house, preferring the outside chill pinking your cheeks, and pockets laden with crystals, the only reminder of your mother.
I listened as you reeled off the healing properties of clear quartz, jasper, amethyst, obsidian, cynical yet enchanted by your lilting animation. Fingering the lapis through gloved hands, I wished to have your faith.
“This tiger’s eye is my favourite. Imagine all it has seen!” You gushed about erosion and layering and ancient rock formations that only interested me because of your excitement. I wanted to tell you that your irises shone like the silky mineral in your fingertips; a kaleidoscope of browns like molten tourmalines flecked with gold embers, but magic evaded my words.
Fireworks lit the sky and we toasted marshmallows on a miniature bonfire my father built.
“I wish my dad was like yours,” you said in a tone that piqued my interest. Tiger’s eye turned to jet, amber flames licked your pupils. And time paused… Then, your mouth filled white with gooey sugar made me giggle, forgetting my curiosity seconds earlier.
One evening in late November, you climbed the naked oak to my bedroom window, and rivulets of selenite rolling down your face had me throwing my coat on over pyjamas and following your lead. We stopped at the riverbank, our breath mushroomed in delicate plumes against a canopy of black. My hand found the lapis, now a companion wherever I went; scepticism replaced by vague hope, and I reached for your hand, the stone connecting our palms.
Under the full moon, the water sparkled. “It’s like the stars have fallen from the sky.” Your grip tightened in reply to my whisper. Royal blue between our skin pressed as if you longed to fuse us together.
Winter sucked the life out of autumn, and your face paled. Snowfall sapped your vivacity and you stopped talking of crystals. We still met outside. A circle of violet surrounded a dull jet eye on New Year’s Day, like the clusters of amethysts I’d seen on your arms in summer.
“My parents can help.” I acknowledged your pain for the first time; guilt-spiked hairs lined my nape, ashamed it had taken so long for me to realise.
“They can’t,” was all you said before trudging to the river. I trailed behind in your steps, trying to squeeze my boots into your smaller footprints.
“It’d be fun to skate on, but the river’s too salty for ice.” You had a knack of answering my unspoken questions.
I nodded; your sorrow stole my voice. Waves lapped at compacted sand where snow couldn’t settle. White flakes dusted your eyelashes, melting in the saltwater bubbling along red-raw rims. I shoved my hand deep in my pocket and grasped the lapis lazuli, silently praying to the stone, or God, or some higher energy, to heal you.
“Mam’s in there.” Your head dipped towards inky water. I remained a statue, carved from rock, each layer an emotion too strong to articulate, and wondered what you meant since I knew your mother had been fished out of there a year earlier, an older, swollen, grotesque version of you.
You stopped calling after the frost cleared. I knocked at your house a couple of times. Looming in the doorframe, your dad said you didn’t want to go out; he never asked me to come in, but then, I never asked either. That last time I called, citrine shone from sapphire and I hoped you witnessed it from your bedroom window. Mine were the only footprints along the muddy path leading from your gate, and I imagined you slipping your shoes into my tracks.
Spring appeared during a solitary amble through the woods. Yellow topaz swayed from protruding bulbs. Turquoise and blue agate bells crowded the bases of maple trees, fluorite nubs would soon bracelet bare limbs. I’d show you when you next came out.
A week later, Mam’s face, blotchy crimson in the March fog, waited at the front door as I returned from school. Your pearlescent bag hung from her shaking finger, and with a barely-contained sob, she passed it to me. Jostling inside, crystals clattered together, bright and musical. I ran from her arms and didn’t stop until my throbbing heart arrived at the riverbank.
I gazed through clearing mist at murky water with frothy waves and called your name. A foghorn in the distance answered instead of your gentle tone.
“Your irises are tiger’s eyes!” Heaving the breath from my lungs, I would have you hear. “Molten tourmalines flecked with gold embers! The most ancient, wondrous crystals ever formed!”
Grateful you’d entrusted them to me, as your mother had to you, I clutched your stones to my chest. Lapis lazuli cooled my palm while I stumbled back home, ready for Mam’s embrace. Clear quartz brimmed in the corners of my eyes as I remembered your smile full of opals.
Nora Blakedon lives in northwest England, and when her head isn’t buried in a book, she’s usually writing, or can be found amongst nature with her dog in tow. Twitter: @NBlakedon.