the dabberstone Sep 27, 2021

Deelie sat in the hole where the where the Dabberstone used to be, crying. Cruddly Poot’s bad smell drifted downstream with the slight breeze and there was no sign of him or of the Dabberstone, but there was the memory of her dog trampled in the road. The memory of her dog burned like a wound. She got up crying and made her way slowly over the stones to the bank and the narrow passage between the houses. But she couldn't face the rancor that lived in the street and houses of Split. She turned back toward the river, the yellowish-grey boulders baking in the sun, the clumps of bushes and small trees here and there among them, and the crumbling cliffs of the far side. 

She slowly went from stone to stone across the width of the quiet riverbed and sat down on one of the boulders in the shade of a bush. The river slipped by her own length in front of her, with thousands of quiet trickling sounds that added up to a very, very soft roar. She gradually stopped crying as the peace that the houses of Split turned their backs on soaked into her. 

The Dabberstone was gone. There was only a hole where it had been. But so was her dog, the only living being she could put her arm around and feel she loved him. That was a bigger hole. There was no one in all Split she could tell, no one who would not be contemptuous and scornful. 

Was there no one in the whole world who could understand, who would love a little dog, and maybe even a person? The only comfort she could find was in the quietness there along the Mucky Scundgewater, where the cliffs and the trees and the sounds of the muddy water were saturated with peace. 

She sat on the boulders soaking it up until it was reaching her very heart. The shadows of hundreds of leaves danced over her face, over her hands, over the rocks around her. A small dark bird landed on the ground to her right. She turned her eyes without turning her head. The bird hopped, scratched in the thin layer of dead leaves and twigs that had accumulated since the last time the river had roared over the stones. She turned her head to keep the bird in sight, but it flew off with a little flurrying sound. A single strand of spiderweb was stretched between a bush and the stem of a plant, and from that a spot of light gleamed and danced back and forth as the breeze moved the weed.  A few white clouds slowly sailed above the cliffs, gradually changing shapes as they went. Two high and far-off birds soared and circled. 

Slowly, slowly, she did not know how it happened, her anger melted away and her sorrow smoothed out, calmed. It seemed as if the swarming unhappy feelings she had been full of had been replaced by something else. Something she had no name for. Something much bigger than she was.   Something the miserable, angry, fighting, blaming, cursing, vengeful village of Split knew nothing about. She sat in the silence for a long time, until the calmness inside of her began to fade into ordinary sleepiness. She lay down on a sort of mat of dead grass and twigs left by the water the last time it had flooded over the stones. She almost fell asleep. Maybe she even did for a little while, but then some ants wouldn't quit trooping over her ankles, so she finally got up and stepped from stone to stone back to the stinking bank behind the houses and behind the narrow passage. 

When she got to the street she stopped, to sink back into the silence of the river again. If she faced her mind in the right direction, she could feel it in herself and all around her, even here at the edge of the main street of Split. She stepped into the street and turned left towards her house, walking slowly and quietly, keeping the silence with her. There was hardly anyone in the street and the two or three who were in sight were too far away to tell who they were. At the door of her house, she stopped again to get the peace and silence around her. Then she opened the door and went in. Her mother and father were already sitting down to eat and the expectation of being yelled at flashed across her mind, so she almost lost hold of the silence, but she got a good grip of it again, and sat down herself without saying anything.  Her mother opened her mouth but shut it again. They didn't even ask where she had been. 

She washed the dishes without being ordered to and went quickly to her room. That night she thought herself back by the river as she lay in bed and discovered that the peace she found there was here in her room too. Strange she had never noticed it before. Not as easy to feel, maybe, but there all the same. She had dreams that night that left her feeling in the morning as if something good was happening, even though she couldn't remember them. 

The next day her mother had work for her to do, and errands for her to run. She never spoke gently to Deelie, but she didn't always speak cuttingly. Whatever way she spoke, Deelie just did the job without complaining or shirking. Whenever her errand took her among the other kids her age who were inclined to curse and ridicule and pick fights, she would just say, "I have to go right away, or my mother will be mad." They understood that. After all, their mothers were the same way. 

She got no chance to go to the river that day, but she did her best to recharge herself with quiet and peace that night. The next day she did get to the river for long enough to go into the quiet and filled herself fuller of it than she had before, as if practice had increased her capacity. She found a small piece of wood with intricate patterns in the grain, not quite round and half as thick as her finger, something split off the surface of a tree root. 

 She brought that home and put it on top of a box that sat against the wall in her room. Her life went on from one day to the next. She filled herself with peace and silence every night and she wrapped it around her when she went out. Sometimes she managed to keep peace wrapped around her all day, sometimes not. Life in Split wore peace away, like a file grinds away metal. She went to the river as often as she could to reweave the blanket. 

No doubt a wise man could have done much better, but she was only a little girl. She kept on because there was no other way to protect herself, no other place to go. When the muddy time came it was too cold most days to sit by the river, and the water sometimes ran right up to the foot of the willows. She had nowhere to go except for her room. She began to long for something beautiful there, but she had never seen a picture in her life. Nobody in Split bothered with anything as frivolous as art of any sort. Nobody even wore jewelry. But since the time she had picked up that piece of wood with the swirly grain she had been picking up small things that had beauty; a few small stones, another piece of wood, and a few feathers. Now she had arranged them in a pattern on top of the wooden box in which she kept her clothes. She had to do it over often because she had to open the box to get the clothes out, but she would sit there and gaze at her beautiful things, especially the wood with the swirly grain before she went into the silence. 

One day her mother sent her to the potter to buy a new pot. She warned Deelie to be careful with it on the way home, with some grouchy threats about what she'd do if it was broken. The potter's shop was not in the village. She had to walk across the road and follow a path over the low hill and between the fields to a low house with a smaller wooden building beside it and a large brick oven with a pile of firewood. The potter was working when she got there. She said nothing to Deelie. Her hands moved with a sureness and grace as they shaped a bowl. Her face had deep lines and wrinkles and looked more peaceful than the faces in Split. Deelie watched her for a long time. For some reason she felt almost as if she had at the river. 

Finally, the potter asked what she had come for. She said what her mother had told her to ask for and she got out the money. As she was leaving, she suddenly took courage and turned around to say, " I have to bring this back to my mother now, but can I come back sometime to watch you?" She braced herself a little for the harsh words of Split, but the potter woman said, "Come anytime you want, but come alone." 

It was several days before Deelie was free to return to the pottery. She sat and watched her again for a time til the potter woman without a word took a large handful of wet sticky clay and handed it to Deelie. She began to try to copy the way the potter worked, but she was dissatisfied with the result. 

She squeezed it back into a lump and tried it again. After a few tries her work was only a little better. The potter said, "Think of something you know how to do, that you are best at. And think of how long you have been doing it." 

Deelie asked her, "What shall I call you?"

"You can call me…

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.