“There’s lunch waiting on the table for you Pebble!” Syrus called as Cori scampered off. He turned back to Ember.
“Pebble, that’s a cute nickname,” Ember commented.
“Oh, thanks.” Syrus chuckled. “I can’t really take credit for it though.”
. . .
“Papa! Papa! Look what I learned!” Cori came running through the doorway with a piece of paper fluttering in one small hand and a crayon gripped in the other. The short curls on their head bounced with each step and a deep purple smudge stained the front of their overalls.
Syrus, the burly bearded man Cori headed towards, was seated behind a sturdy wooden desk, positioned near the brick wall at the far end of the room. His eyes lifted from a book and he turned his gentle gaze toward the new arrival. As he did so, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened and a smile lit up his otherwise unlined face.
A fire crackled in the large fireplace and the warm light danced along the book-filled shelves that lined the walls. It was an intentionally cozy room, designed for long days and late evenings spent writing, reading, lounging, and learning. Across the room from the place where Syrus sat was a smaller replica of the sturdy desk. A child-sized chair was tucked under it and the top contained a bundle of art supplies and a neat stack of unused paper. Syrus had the miniature furniture commissioned from the woodshop across town earlier that year, knowing that one day his child would probably like the option of working at a desk rather than spread out on the floor of their room. For now, however, it functioned more like a supply refueling station than a true workspace. This fact didn’t bother him in the slightest. In fact, he felt a little guilty for enjoying the peace of working in a room alone. Nevertheless, he rarely minded the interruptions when the little one did decide to run in with something to share, as they were doing now.
Cori weaved between a couple large, plush chairs, a couch, and a table, skidding to a halt just in front of the place where Syrus sat.
“I Rock!” Cori called out waving the paper around.
“You do rock!” Syrus responded, doing his best to affirm this declaration and match the level of excitement. “You’re very talented! Did you create something today that you’re particularly proud of?”
“No Papa.” Cori shook their head. They pointed to their chest. “I Rock.” The words came out faster this time, in a more serious tone. Syrus furrowed his brow a bit, beginning to feel like perhaps he was missing something. After a moment of silence, it became obvious to Cori that more explanation was needed. “Here. Look!” The paper was thrust into his lap. “I-R-O-C” Cori spelled aloud, pointing to each letter. “I was practicing writing my name like you said and I got tired of writing it forwards so I wrote it backwards and when I sounded it out…” The little eyes looked up at him expectantly.
“Ohhh, yes, I understand now! You’re right! What a fun discovery!”
“Did you know that all along Papa? Did you mean to leave a secret in my name when you gave it to me?”
Syrus rubbed his chin, trying to decide how to respond to that. He settled on giving an honest answer. “To tell you the truth kiddo, I really hadn’t considered how your name would sound backwards when I picked it out.” Cori’s face fell, just slightly. He continued quickly, “but I absolutely knew that you’d be an awesomely amazing person. Which is why I named you after the coolest character I have ever read about.” Not entirely a lie, he thought. Just…missing a few details. A small smile returned to the little face.
“I wonder if the Cori in the book knew they had a secret in their name too.” Cori mused aloud before wandering over to grab a fresh piece of paper from the stack on the little desk. Their little socks swished as they spun back to face the middle of the room. “I have more research to do Papa. Can you let me know when it’s time for dinner?”
Syrus hid his amusement at Cori’s earnestness. “Of course. I will be sure to do that.” He gave a little nod. “May your research be fruitful and satisfying.”
Cori nodded in response. “And also with you.”
Syrus smiled as the little feet pitter pattered back to the bedroom down the hall. He turned back to the book he had been reading and picked up where he left off.
. . .
Later, when the sun had started to set, Syrus rose from his chair and walked into the kitchen. There he found a mass of linens piled in the middle of the floor, blocking his path to the sink.
“Cori,” he called. “What are these blankets doing in the kitchen?”
There was no answer.
“Cori?” he tried again. “Where are you?” He walked down the hallway and found the bedroom to be empty. His heart started to pound. Had he gotten so absorbed in the book he was reading he hadn’t heard the door open? With the festival coming up the city was bustling with even more strangers than usual. It was not a good time for a child to be roaming the streets alone. As he moved back through the kitchen to look out into the backyard, he noticed a little yellow sock peeking out from under the edge of the blanket pile. Not flat, like an empty sock. He sighed with relief. Bending down he reached out and ticked the tiny foot. A small shriek sounded from under the blankets, followed by a giggle.
“Huh, I’ve never met a pile of giggling blankets before. I wonder what brings them to my kitchen,” he said aloud.
There was no response. “Are you shy little blankets? Are you hungry and looking for something to eat?” He wondered for a moment what his university friends would think if they saw him there, talking to a pile of blankets as if they were sentient. He wondered if they even knew about Cori, about Tyfel, about the accident. Some news seemed to travel so fast and some news he seemed to have to repeat every time he reconnected with someone from the past. He looked back down at the blankets that enveloped the child he loved so much.
“You know, I’m not even sure what blankets would eat. Something fibrous perhaps?”
“Papa.” A head poked out from under the pile and whispered loudly at him. “I’m not blankets. I’m a rock.” The face vanished again beneath the fabric.
“Ohhh.” He finally understood. He really should have picked up on that sooner but their previous interaction had slipped from the forefront of his mind once he had returned to his reading. Plus, you never really know what is going to capture a kid’s attention, or how long that interest will last. A fact Syrus had been learning from the very beginning of his parenting journey. Sometimes they held onto ideas or interests for months and sometimes they were gone in the blink of an eye.
“A rock this big is bound to have something interesting inside! I wonder if I cracked it open if there’d be any gems.” He scooped up the bundle of blankets and brought them over to hover above the couch. “Guess I’m going to try and find out!” The blankets shrieked playfully. “Noooo! Don’t break me!”
“Wow, a talking rock! I wonder if the gems inside are going to be the ticklish variety…” Their laughter filled the house as the sun finished setting. The darkness didn’t feel so dark tonight and for that, Syrus was thankful.
. . .
Over the course of the next few weeks everything in Cori’s life seemed to morph to revolve around rocks. Walking to the market the next day, Cori begged to go climb the rocks at the park. On the trip home, they stopped at the library to pick up a few children’s books about geology. Later in the week Syrus found himself picking small stones out of the laundry because Cori’s pockets had been filled with them.
Eventually a day came when Syrus walked up to his desk to find a drawing placed neatly beneath two stones. “What’s this?” he wondered aloud, shifting the stones and picking it up to get a closer look. The paper contained two carefully drawn blobs: one big one colored with browns and greens and one small one colored with a whole rainbow of colors. They both had white eyes with black pupils drawn on them and they were surrounded by a rectangle containing drawings of a random assortment of items from their home: the little bowls with the bee and honeycomb design, the kettle that was passed down to him when his mother died, a vase of flowers, two beds, two pairs of hand-knit socks, a beloved teddy bear, the fireplace, and numerous stacks of books. They were rough – it was a child’s drawing after all – but he knew how to decipher Cori’s drawing style. He recognized everything and he knew how much time and concentration this must have taken. Below the drawing was a string of meticulously inked letters:
the pebble is me
the boulder is you
we rock together
and I love you
love, cori (iroc)
Syrus often found himself smiling because he felt like he needed to. Sometimes when he was helping a difficult customer, sometimes when he was trying to be a cheerful father after a long and taxing day. But right now the huge grin that lit up his face was entirely authentic. He turned toward the doorway where he suspected that a pair of little eyes were stealthily watching him.
“Cori! This is incredible – I love it!” He moved towards the doorway. “This drawing is so detailed and the poem is very thoughtful.” He knelt down for a hug and Cori ran into his arms. “Thank you so much, kiddo.” He kissed the top of their head. “Do you want to tell me a little more about it?”
“Uh huh!” Their head nodded vigorously. “So I drew you using your favorite colors and me using my favorite colors. And I drew you big and strong like a boulder and me teeny tiny like a pebble that’s good at hiding. And around us is the house. Ms. B from school helped me with the words and rhyming. And on the back–” they motion to flip it over. “On the back there’s Nutty, Buddy, Carl, and Kevin. But as rocks, obviously.” This final word came out in a perfect imitation of someone much older.
“You even included the backyard animals! What a comprehensive drawing!” Cori was grinning almost as much as Syrus.
“Can I hang this up by my desk? So I can see it while I work?”
“Yes! We can put it up right now so you don’t forget!”
He pulled Cori into another hug and discreetly wiped away the tear forming at the corner of his eye. “That’s a great idea.”
Cori pulled back and planted a kiss on his nose. “I love you, Papa.”
“I love you too, Pebble.”