12NOW: James Guiney

jamie-3Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His short stories have been published internationally and he has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize with his stories ‘A Quarter Yellow Sun’ and ‘The Cowboy‘.

Jamie is a graduate of the Faber & Faber Writing Academy and has twice been a judge for short story competition The New Rose Prize. His work has been backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council through several Individual Artist Awards.

Jamie favours the short story genre, believing it to be the closest written prose to the traditional art of storytelling, and has just completed his second novel ‘The Judgement of Moses Crowe’.

“Jamie’s stories are fantastically written—with vivid characters moving through evocative landscapes. You can feel the bitter winter wind in ‘Christmas’ and the brooding summer dust bowl of ‘Changes’—a real treat for the eyes and imagination!”
SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR, Miranda Dickinson

“Rising Star.”
CULTURENORTHERNIRELAND.ORG

Web: www.jamieguiney.com
Twitter: @jamesgwriter
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jamieguineywriter


Summer Stones

By a clear stream, that turns and gently massages over rocks of no importance, hunkers a young girl of six years old. She is a well-behaved, spirited girl who often smiles broadly, showing tiny dimples in her cheeks that are so precious, they produce a grin from whoever sees them. She is humming a hymn that sometimes drifts into song then back into melody again.

There is no real bank to this river for it blends scraggily along one side into a meadow, that sweeps to a gentle rise, then ascends into a long, grassy sprawl with hedged borders and a single, metal gate. Beyond that, is a concrete street known locally as the hill and a row of houses where the girl lives in number six, same as her age.

In her hands are small stones that each in turn are washed in the stream then examined at great length. Most are tossed over the water into thorns and brambles, or into the river itself, depending on which thoughts fire in her brain first. The odd time, she will stand up and pull back, then throw the pebble as far as she can out into the grass, then hunker again as though it never happened.

Her hair is chestnut and waves down her back. It gets tatty from her adventures, but smoothed with a hundred strokes of the brush every night before bed. Some children envy its length and beauty, the secret merely attention and a life of growth.

Sometimes after careful consideration, the rocks have a quality that she likes. She will smile and place them into the trough. There are many stones inside, all of them angel white or speckled with silver, appearing like gold or so perfectly shaped as though fashioned by the hand of God himself.

This is the fortieth day of summer and she has been selecting stones almost every day.

On the first she found an old, green window box dumped in the river and retrieved it through curiosity. Its ugly appearance did not matter for she appreciates things that people find of little value.

She gathered sticks over an afternoon, attentive to their length, ensuring a neat fit inside the trough, before screwing her face up and tipping them out again.

The box could be used for something better.

What if she found the most perfect of all stones and pebbles to fill the window box? Only beautiful ones of every sculpt and nuance that nature could make?

It would be the most special thing she’d ever done.

Each day she drags it up home through tilting grass and it has begun to leave tracks, like grooves in an old hand. Her brother and sister show no interest for they are older, though the parents remark on the beautiful stones just to keep her entertained.

After many days of sift and select, the trough is nearing two thirds full. She has borrowed a cart to ferry it up and down the hill, for she can barely lift it anymore.

When evenings come, she leaves the trough in her back yard and hopes everything will be as it was, when she wakes the following morning.

A shed would be ideal, but they do not own one.

She worries about the boy in number three. He has a couple of years on her and already a reputation for stealing things. The day he came across her wheeling the trough home and made enquiries, she explained it with lacklustre and emphasised only girls would be interested.

He has been indifferent so far and the trough hasn’t been stolen.

The sun is high and bright, pinching the blue of her eyes as she pulls. She is halfway up the hill, stopping for a rest. Sometimes she wants to sit up on the wall that follows the road, but is forbidden. There is a fierce river down the other side and the drop is steep and dangerous.

How special her stones look.

When the trough is full, she might ask for some paint from her grandpa or a neighbour to clean it up.

She has noticed that insects like it too.

Yesterday a bee landed in the stones to investigate and she watched him briefly, before shooing him away.

She knows that all bees are boys.

Just today, a yellow butterfly flickered through still wildflowers down in the meadow, before meandering into the trough. She tried to steal a pebble and the girl shooed her too.

She knows that all butterflies are girls.

As the girl rests and mulls about a drink she might like to have, the chug of a car ascending the hill pulls her gaze. It passes then stops. Two red eyes shine at its rear and it reverses a little.

It is brown and old, though shiny and clean.

She knows who it is. There are few cars on the hill and she can recognise each one by their sound alone. Her grandpa steps out. She feels excited to show him her stones.

He plods, that is just his way. His hair is waxed grey and catches the sun, his face in half smile.

“What have you got there?”

“My stones. Wanna see?”

He looks into the trough and wipes his brow.

“Where did you get all this?”

“Down at the stream, I’m collecting nice ones.”

“You shouldn’t be anywhere near the river.”

He pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and rubs his nose, then puts it away again. As he bends to lift the trough, hauling it up to his shoulder, the smile slips from her face.

He turns it over the wall.

The stones and perfect pebbles rattle out and down and down to the river below. He sets it on the wall; a lone grey stone with speckles of silver is left behind. He cannot see its beauty and nips it out and away with the rest.

When he goes, the red eyes of his car disappear. He is soon home on the hill, brewing tea and eating apple tart. She sits by the road with an empty cart. Lip shaking. Quiet.

In the days that follow she will retrieve the trough and climb over the wall where she is forbidden to go, but most of the stones will be gone. She will try to recreate her perfection, but summer will soon be gone too.

 

[First published in the USA in The Snake Oil Cure.]