Rachel Canwell

Rock Solid

I can’t believe I am here. I have neither the energy or the physique to be squatting on these plastic orange chairs for hours at time. Held here against my will, dragged out of the shop for such ridiculousness, in front of all those tourists; locals too. And surely to God no one has ever been arrested over bloody seaside rock.

The two of them are outside the door now, loitering, Uniforms all sweaty and crumpled, the walking definition of a national disgrace. I can hear them muttering, one coughing, then the other laughing. Probably wondering what the hell to charge me with. When they finally come in, all cheap aftershave and bluster, then the trouble really starts. Asking question after question. Asking me why, asking me how.
I tell them I don’t bloody know!
Instead I throw open my mouth and point at my back molars, rotten, black. Let them get a good look. Then snap my jaw when I feel drool pooling at the corner of my mouth.
‘See! I’ve eaten more sodding rock these past three months than I have eaten in my life.’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’ The young cocky one asks, leaning back, wincing in disgust.
‘Trying to eat the evidence?’ The older sweatier one starts tweaking at his trousers, pulling at his groin and croaking out a wet, phlegmy laugh. I wipe my hand across my mouth, then look away. Staring at the walls, I try to calm myself before I answer.
‘Checking the rock; that’s what. Eating random samples, quality control. Making sure the words stay the same.’
They are serious again now, suddenly remembering why we are here.
‘That’s diligent of you.’
‘It is when I can’t bloody stand the stuff.’
The older one’s head snaps up and I realise I shouldn’t have said that.
‘Why not? Something wrong with your rock?’
I bristle. I see where this is going and I don’t like it. Sneaky buggers, twisting my words. Generations we’ve had that shop and never been any complaints.
‘I will have you know, no one has ever been taken ill from our rock. Not one person has been harmed.’
They look at me again. The old one smirks, the young one sits forward as he says; ‘Well Ada, that’s not…’
Mrs Collins,’ I say.
‘Eh?’
‘I am Mrs Collins to you.’
He looks at his mate, who rolls his eyes. Then looks back at me.
‘Alright, Mrs Collins. It’s not true that no one has been harmed. Physically, sure, but plenty of emotional damage has been done.’
I swallow the urge to laugh. Emotional damage. Everyone nowadays is so damn soft. Try living through what I have seen, trying living through a war. Nobody then would have called the coppers over some sticks of bloody rock. No matter how strange it is. I don’t say that though. I force my thoughts into the pit of my stomach. Let the words sit and fizz there, let them settle. The sweaty one opens a folder, pulls out a piece of paper. ‘Let’s go over this again. How do you explain the words that are inside the rock?’
I snort. ‘That’s what rock is! Has words running through it, everyone knows that.’
‘But not words like these, Ad…’
I shoot a warning look. 
‘…Mrs Collins. Not these nasty, personal, very specific words.’
I put my head in my hands. I can’t explain it. I don’t know how the rainbow striped rock I sold to that young man revealed to his wife he’d blown all their savings, or how the rock the Lord Mayor threw out at the summer parade told the crowd the exact figure he had stolen. I don’t know why the peppermint sticks old man Rogers has bought for years suddenly exposed his secret shame. All I know is it has happened before. And I know it will happen again.

I look them in the eye. I am tired now. Tired of being cooped up here. Tired of those sugar coated words that inexplicably change. Tired of the family curse.‘If you are going to do it,’ I say, ‘Let’s crack on. If you’re going to charge me, just charge me. Though what the hell you think you can pin on me is anyone’s guess!’

They look at each other puzzled; then break out those dozy grins.
‘Charge you? Is that what you thought?’
I wait, suddenly confused.
‘Selling rock that tells the dirty God’s honest truth?’ They look over their shoulder, all shifty like they are scared someone is listening.
‘Ada, we don’t want to charge you. We want to offer you a job!’

Rachel Canwell (she/her) is a teacher, blogger, reader, and writer – but not necessarily in that order. She is currently working on her first novel and is falling in love with flash fiction a little bit more everyday.

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