Carefully, one by one, he began to take the rocks away. Removing them from the mound, he placed them beside him in a neat pile. Revealing. Uncovering.
This was where it all began; this lonely little cairn on the hilltop. Before the phone hotline job, before that blissful morning in the park, before the miserable people and their parade of sorrows. It was many years ago, and he was a different person now. Back then, he’d been selfish and self-absorbed. His life had been vague, unfocused. He’d had no knowledge of his true path.
This had been Mother’s favorite place in all the world. Only thirty minutes from their house at a brisk walk, but so far from the noise and distraction of town. Nestled in the hills like an ancient secret. Mother had loved it here. For as long as he could remember, she’d wanted to die here.
The rocks were cool and heavy in his hands. He felt a strange intimacy with them. How many times had he taken apart this pile of rocks, only to pile them back on again? In the five years since her death, how many times had he come to visit?
A dozen? More than twenty? At least once for every miserable soul. Every sad, depressed, pathetic shell of a person he’d ever saved. And it was salvation – he truly believed that. They needed him, even if they didn’t know it at the time. (He brushed a finger over his bandaged nose. Some of them could be so difficult.) He was the answer to their questions; to all their fears and doubts that no one ever took seriously. He listened. He helped. He was their angel of mercy.
If Father had been alive, he’d have called it God’s work.
His hands worked a little faster now. Just a few more feet of rock and rubble to go.
Father wasn’t a good man, not by any stretch. Father was bad to them, but he kept their little family together. The day he passed on, it tore Mother apart inside. She could barely speak to him, but he knew she was crying out for help. She’d needed her son – needed him to do something – but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what.
Then they’d come out here together, and the rock had found its way into his hand, and nothing was ever so clear to him in his life. He’d taken away her sorrow. There’d been blood on his hands, and on the rocks, but it was worth it just to see the smile on her dying lips.
He brushed away the last of the rocks, and there they were, Mother and Child, face to face again.
She was still smiling. There was nothing left of her face – still, he knew she was content.
“I’ve done it again, Mother,” he whispered. “I’ve delivered another one. All for you.”
She smiled her loving smile, her glowing features reflecting boundless pride in her son.
And yet, did he detect a hint of melancholy in Mother’s face? He was shocked – even a little disappointed – but it wasn’t so surprising. He didn’t visit her as often as he’d have liked. She’d been out here all alone for so long, with no one to talk to but the stones…
Mother was lonely. But he could fix that, oh yes. That hawk-nosed woman, the police investigator, what was her name? Perhaps she’d make a good companion. There was always room for one more among the stones.