She could hear them laughing before she could see them coming up over the hill out of the woods. One carried a makeshift sword, the other a shield, both as dirty as rats from playing all afternoon. She rocked back in her front porch chair and continued to snap beans. It was cool on the front porch. She loved to hear them laughing.
"Look, mom, what I found you!" The little one always brought treasures from their forays in the woods. A stick, a turtle shell, flowers plucked in grubby hands and wilted. This time it was a stone. Perfectly smooth and oval, like the face of a child.
"What is it you have there honey?" She held out her hand and smiled as filthy fingers put it tenderly into it.
"I found it mom. It looked like you needed it."
"And I did. You found me the perfect stone. Thank you!"
Both boys gleamed through the mud and she rolled the stone between her fingers feeling the smoothness of it, and the sweetness of the gift.
Clearing her throat, she picked up the bowl of snap beans and said firmly over the giggles on the front steps, "Supper in an hour. Get cleaned up now."
She walked into the house and placed the stone on the mantle next to her favorite candle. She smiled to herself.
Worrying at the window, she found herself pacing.
It was late and they were young men. It was past the time they should be home. They’d taken the car to Charleston to see a concert. It was raining. The roads were slick. Anything could happen.
She decided to place a fire in the hearth and light a candle. Maybe that would calm her down. As she lit the candle her finger rested on the stone. Picking it up, she remembered the day they’d given it to her.
She sat in the wing - backed chair and rolled it in her hand.
She could hear them laughing before she could see them. The car doors slammed and one of them was singing a song he’d heard at the concert.
She placed the stone on the mantle and ran up the stairs. "No need in letting them see my concern. They’re home. They had fun. All that matters."
They both felt the call on 9-11. Both of them enlisted.
One went to the Army the other went to the Marines. They were both called out immediately. She carried the stone to the centers when she saw them off. She smiled at them and told them she was proud.
"What are you fiddling with in your pocket, mom?" She showed them the stone, and with tears in their eyes they smiled at her.
"We are not grubby little boys anymore, mom…we are men."
With that she agreed, but kept the stone in her pocket for two years.
The stone became brightly polished. The oils from her hand and the tears she let drop on it wore it down to a smooth gloss. The stone kept her connected with grubby little fingers and childish laughter. The stone kept her heart somewhat intact.
She could hear them laughing before she could see them coming up over the hill out of the woods. One carried a makeshift sword, the other a shield, both as dirty as rats from playing all afternoon. She held in her hands two letters from the United States Government. She reached in her pocket to …
The stone was gone.