orange-pink sun cast neonesque rays through rose-streaked clouds,
illuminating the already pink ridges of rhodonite on Vancouver Island.
At times, the entire landscape appeared pink. Those who worked in the
quarry, who gathered pink for all the world to see, occasionally had the
good fortune to experience this display. The tourists who wore the stone
around their necks or later admired the tiny pink bears and eagles on
their bookshelves were less likely to experience the rosy spectacle.
during one of these pink evenings in Lake Cowichan, right before dusk,
when Peter had the accident. He was at the quarry, gathering his tools
and his personal belongings and leaving for the day. He had stayed late
in order to clean and polish his picks and shovels, and as he walked
toward his truck, he tripped over a pick half-buried in the ground.
Peter fell over, tumbled down the hill, and rolled into a ditch. When he
tried to get out, he felt pain, then knew he had sprained or maybe
broken his foot.
cell phone was in his pack, but he had dropped it somewhere between the
quarry entrance and the ditch. He lay in the ditch and waited for the
swelling in his foot to subside. It didn’t. Pinkness was fading fast,
and the last birds of daylight had already flown to their roosts. He
tried to hoist himself out of the ditch. If he could do that, then he
could crawl to his pack and use his cell phone. But he couldn’t move his
arms. Fearing the worst, he began to breathe harder, and tried to focus
on getting free. Perhaps he could roll down the length of the ditch
until he found a shallower area, and then hoist himself up. If he
this time, without forethought, Peter lifted his hand to swipe at a bug
hovering near his face. Relief coursed through him as he realized he had
been in shock. Now able to use his arms, he hoisted himself out of the
ditch, then fell to the ground in pain. He rolled, slowly, like a
doodlebug, back toward the quarry entrance, but it was dark, and his
pack was nowhere in sight.
exhausted, Peter rolled himself back into the quarry, instinctively
finding the smooth path the workers’ feet had worn over the years. In
the dark, he was aware of the smell of rhodonite. It was a pink smell, a
smell so much a part of his life that he had forgotten about it. He
placed his palms against the stone walls and felt the cold. Peter then
maneuvered his aching foot against the stone, letting his swollen veins
merge into the narrow, cool veins of the rhodonite.
evening, ladies and gentlemen!”
sound reminded him of programs he remembered from listening to his
crystal radio when he was a boy. Like they were coming from a tunnel,
yet clear at the same time.
the Raven, nevermore!’”
lookin’ at you, kid.’”
up . . . To . . . you . . . New York, New-oo York!’”
phan-tom of the op-e-ra is there inside . . . Your . . . mind!’”
an extensive David Bowie medley, Peter fell asleep.
up at dawn, startled to discover himself lying in the quarry; then,
emerging from his alpha state, he remembered the accident. He tried to
get up, but his foot, now swollen to a frightening degree, wouldn’t
move. The pain was so bad, he had no idea how he had slept.
rolled out of the quarry opening, lay on the ground and looked at the
sky: an orpiment orange canvas streaked with pale pink. A bird — he
didn’t know what type — flew over his head, then gently landed on the
rock near him and spoke to him.
Peter called back. “Whit-wheet!”
bird cocked its head and flew off. An entire flock of them flew over
him, then quickly disappeared into the streaked sky. Peter looked to his
left and saw a grove of birches, their bark tingling with pink-silver,
their leaves bright against the orange-rose of the horizon. A
gentian-striped lizard hurried past.
the workers arrived at the quarry a couple of hours later, Peter was
still lying on his back, softly humming a song from some early Joni
Mitchell album. He had his hands crossed over his chest, and his
breathing was strong and even.
Peter!” someone yelled. “Peter.”
look at his foot! He’s hurt!”
the workers picked up Peter’s pack, which was about ten feet from his
head, and carried it to him, then called an ambulance.
was taken to the hospital, where an emergency room doctor spoke the good
news: the foot was sprained, not broken. She gave Peter a shot, and a
couple of bandages later, he was released. He took a taxi to his house,
where he limped to the bedroom and lay down. The throbbing was still
present, but the shot had taken the edge off the pain.
asleep, and while he was dreaming of large birds flying out of carmine
caves, the phone rang and woke him up.
to see if you’re okay.”
Johnston, the quarry supervisor.
okay. Fine. Didn’t break anything. Can’t walk, though.”
send Doris over with some food.”
It’s okay. I’m sleeping.”
hung up. His wife, Doris, was known for her cooking, and Peter wished he
hadn’t told Johnston not to send her over. He fell asleep again, but a
half hour later, the doorbell rang, then the door opened. He must have
forgotten to lock it.
May I come in?”
Doris. He called to her to come into his bedroom.
walked slowly, stopping to take in the shelves of books and the imposing
collection of sound equipment. She smiled as she stepped into Peter’s
room. She was wearing jeans, a white shirt, and a necklace of the local
jade. On her ears were square rhodonite earrings. She was carrying a
picnic basket, the type of basket Peter imagined a woman from the past
carrying to the mines so that her starving husband would have a hot
you okay? Does it hurt a lot?”
pills. They help.”
sat at the foot of the bed.
tomato soup, baked chicken and rhubarb pie. Would you like to eat now,
or should I put it in your refrigerator?”
breathed deeply. Not since Susan’s death had a woman been inside his
house. He had spent the last two years alone with his books and music,
and especially with Beethoven, who, like Peter, heard most clearly the
sounds in his head.
eat now if you’ll eat with me.”
smiled. She rose from the bed; the bedside lamp shone on the rhodonite
on her ear, and Peter was startled by a desire to touch the earring, to
feel the coolness of the stone on his fingertips.
very kind of you to come here, Doris.”
were worried about you. I’ll be right back.”
heard her opening cupboards and gathering silverware, and though he
tried to resist it, an image of Susan appeared. Susan in her fleece
robe, making breakfast on Saturday morning. The sound of the toaster
popping up, the smell of his favorite Brazilian coffee, Susan’s dancing
to the rock station on the radio while she spread butter on the toast.
put on some music?”
smiled a teary smile, then realized someone was talking to him.
Anything you want.”
put on some Vivaldi, then appeared in the bedroom with two trays. She
set them on his dresser, walked out, and reappeared with a chair. She
propped pillows up behind Peter so he could sit up and eat. She gave him
a glass of water and a glass half filled with white wine.
didn’t know if you could drink the wine. I mean, with the pills.”
okay. I haven’t taken one in several hours.”
realized he was starving. He tasted the soup and felt its sweet warmth
course through his body. He suddenly remembered that he had taken his
pants off before climbing into bed, and he tried to recall what color
boxer briefs he was wearing. Susan used to tease him about his colorful
“This is delicious. I didn’t realize how hungry I
and Susan had once gone to a party at the Johnstons’ house. Doris had
cooked enormous amounts of food, all presented elegantly, and what Peter
remembered most vividly was Johnston’s failure to remark on his wife’s
talent and hard work. He ate and drank, talked about the mines, and
behaved as though his wife weren’t in the room.
are your children, Doris?”
doing well, Peter. Thank you for asking. Marty’s on the track team, and
David is in a science honors program. They’re good kids. Sometimes I
wish you had some kids, Peter, you know, so it wouldn’t be so hard.”
hesitated. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said —”
okay, Doris. I think the same thing. We were going in that direction
when the accident happened. She would have been a great mother.”
ate everything on his plate, and Doris offered to get him some more.
When he refused, she went into the kitchen to make some coffee. When she
returned, Peter had put on his pants and was sitting at the foot of the
bed. He asked to see one of Doris’s earrings, she took it off and handed
it to him, and he held it up to the light.
from our quarry. Not enough veins. Probably from somewhere farther
north. Maybe not even on the island.”
had them for years. Someone gave them to me for my birthday. I don’t
know where the stone was mined. Do you ever get tired of looking at it?”
It’s funny. You’d think I would. But it isn’t just the stone, it’s the
entire setting. I mean, the scene around the quarry. Listen, when I had
this accident, it was like I saw it all with such . . . clarity. The
sky, the tree bark, the light. Have you ever looked through a
stereopticon? It was like that. Frozen, like a slide show up close, only
I was in the show.”
smiled at him.
think the pills are talking, don’t you?”
Peter. No, I don’t.”
handed her the earring. When she took it from him, their fingers touched
for the briefest moment, and Peter felt the same melting comfort he had
felt when he swallowed the creamy reddish soup. She put the earring on,
gathered the trays and went back to the kitchen. He could hear her
rinsing and loading his dishwasher. The lilt of Vivaldi had ceased.
bade him goodnight and made him promise to call her or Johnston if he
later, on a cloudy day, Peter returned to the quarry. There was no
bright light to reflect the pink stone, no orange streaks splashing
through the birch limbs. But without the sun, the dew had lingered, and
the dampness itself caused the rhodonite to shimmer in counterpoint to
the soft clouds — shiny pink below folds of white fleece.
lifted his pick, still shiny from its last polishing, and entered the
mine. He touched the wall, sliding his hand against the wet stone, and
thought of Doris’s lightly veined earring. He was glad to be back, glad
to be surrounded by the pink stone that enveloped him. Fortified with
the permanence of its beauty, he unearthed a gem of truth within the
cavern of his psyche: He was a lonely man, and it was time for him to
emerge from the quarry.