Monday, 26 May 2008
A few years back, I must have been but a boy, my grandmother told me this. We had gone to the beach that day and I remember being only a little excited because the beach we went to had stones instead of sand. I knew I would have to walk to the sea across the stones in my bare feet. The stones would be hot from the sun as well as hard and uncomfortable on my soft feet. But it was one of those rare times we would meet up with Grandma and Grandpa.
As it happened, Grandpa couldn't come as he had a meeting at his golf club, but Grandma met us. She was taller than me but shorter than mum and her hair was white as snow. She wore glasses too, but only for reading and she was full of stories and energy. She could always make mum laugh even though she was dad's mum. I could see where dad got his energy from though. Grandma had loads.
I told her that I wasn't looking forward to walking across the stones to the sea and she laughed.
"You don't have to worry about that," she told me, "Look for the stones with the most cracks and creases - just a few. Then bring them to me and I'll tell you something only those close to the earth know."
I was too old to believe in faeries, but the way Grandma said it, I instantly vowed to find some stones just like the ones Grandma had mentioned. We arrived on the beach and as mum used to say, 'performed the usual drama'. The towels were spread over the stones, the big sunshade was put up and the picnic hamper was opened. Then we had the pantomime of undressing and putting on our swimming costumes - even though only dad would go swimming. Mum and I might go for a paddle in the water if we felt like it, but mostly Mum and Grandma would talk and I would listen until I fell asleep in the warm sun.
But today I had a mission, so as soon as I was ready, I went looking for creased, cracked stones. I managed to gather five and brought them back to Grandma who put them out in a line on the towel.
"You see this one?" she asked picking up a white stone with cracks in it.
I peered more closely at the stone in her hand and nodded.
"All those cracks are actually a map. But you see it's like this. There are cities and towns in the earth. The worms and the moles know about them, but we mostly don't because we don't live in the earth only on top," she told me.
"So who lives in the cities then, the faeries?" I asked a little scornfully.
"Of course not," she answered, "Faeries live in bluebell woods, gnomes live in the earth."
"Gnomes?" I asked in utter disbelief.
"Of course gnomes, what else? Don't you learn anything at that school of yours?" she answered ruffling my hair.
"You really do have to learn or your brain will turn to fluff." she added.
I shut up. I mean I know that gnomes sounded unbelievable, but then Grandma was older than me and who knows, maybe there really were gnomes. I promised her I would learn and picked up a big sandy-coloured stone.
"How do they know which stone is their map?" I asked her.
"Well you see, they are never quite sure so they make a lot of maps. Some have a special kind of magic so that when a gnome picks up a stone the street names appear on the map. Other gnomes can tell by looking for the main roads on the map," she told me.
"Do they have cars then?" I asked.
"Oh no, but they walk a lot and they have been known to ride worms and even the occasional mole. They are very clever gnomes are," she replied.
I looked closely at the big sandy-coloured stone and examined the cracks and creases in the stones. They did look like streets and main roads. There was one big crack along the side of the stone with crystals in it. I asked Grandma what that was.
"Oh that shows a river, you can see that it must be quite wide and there - there's a road crossing it which must mean a bridge or a ford," she explained.
I spent all day on that beach with Grandma. We looked for more map-stones and we tried to work out where the cities were from the streets. Then I made up names for the cities and for the streets. We took the stones home and put them out in the garden. Two days later, they had disappeared. I told Dad that the gnomes must have taken them.
"Gnomes?" he asked, glancing at mum.
"Yes, gnomes. Grandma told me about them when we went to the beach," I told him.
"Ah," he said, understanding me, "Well Grandma would know, she has a bit of gnome blood in her side of the family you know. That's why she's so short and why she has a pointy hat."
I rolled my eyes at him and he chuckled. Still, I haven't forgotten that day on the beach.