The kid kicked the stones along the shady dirt path.
It seemed like the thing to do.
Sometimes he kicked them toward a tree, sometimes toward a puddle, sometimes just straight down the road to see how far he could kick one.
After a while he gathered a handful of stones, and after sorting out the too-small ones, chucked the others at dead trees to hear the satisfying “thunk,” or into the deep overgrowth just to see if he could hear them land; occasionally a squirrel would jump from a log to a tree after the kid had thrown a stone near it and wave its furry tail in protest and chatter out a scold.
As the kid came to a curve in the path he spotted an old man sitting on a stump along the side. He was a twirling a rope.
The man wore a straw hat, a black shirt and pants torn at the cuffs. His heavy beard obscured his face.
The kid stopped at the edge of the curve.
Once it was a lazy circle above his head, just a few flicks of his wrist. Another time he tossed a loop toward a boulder across the road only to tug the end of the rope back before it hooked onto the rock.
He would toss it out toward the middle of the road and make it hang and twirl in thin air.
Finally he tossed a loop toward the kid, who hesitated, and then picked it up.
“Whatcha gonna do with it?” the old man asked in a voice as deep as shadows.
The kid kicked at the rope loop at his feet.
“Don’t know. Rope something, I guess,” the kid said, and then wished he hadn’t because it seemed like a really obvious and dumb answer. “What are you doing with it?
The old man pulled the rope back, looping it over his elbow and hand.
“With this?” He held out the rope at arms length and issued a soft, dark laugh.
“Whatever I want.”
The kid leaned against a tree. “What’s that mean?”
“Maybe try to catch something with it, like a memory. Maybe I throw it out there just to see who will pick it up, because a rope is not always about holding, but sometimes about reaching. Lay this on the ground and a lot of people will touch it, leaving a little piece of themselves behind.”
He admired the rope, twisted and tight, a few strings unraveled.
“This rope is my life, about all our lives. What we dream and grieve, what we love and hate, what we’ve overcome and lost. It’s about our ideas, about the jokes we tell, the curses we utter; about those who we need and want, and those who have deserted us. It’s about all the big and little things we know and can’t imagine. It can be as big as all the tomorrows, or as small as the single pain whose ache won’t fade. It has two ends. It pulls in two directions. You make that choice.”
The old man tossed the rope toward the kid’s feet and the loop hooked on a tree branch.
“So want are you gonna do with it?”
The kid stepped over to the branch and tugged on the rope. It didn’t come off with the first yank, so he jumped on a nearby boulder and gently lifted the loop from the branch.
“Maybe…” he turned back to the old man, who was gone. The kid listened for footsteps in the overgrowth, but just heard the chatter of birds and squirrels.
“Maybe,” the kid said smiling, “I’ll just catch a dream.”