“So they all went to get their digging spoons, and set to work, the eldest with his sterling silver baby spoon from very long ago; the middle child with her sea-shell-shaped sugar spoon; and the youngest child with the runcible spoon. They dug for a while, and then they took off their sweaters and dug some more, the gap around the fingertips growing as the wrists became visible. The hands were shiny, almost translucent, with cloudy brownish knots and veins.”—Claire Bateman
By Claire Bateman
GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—December 2016—One afternoon, three children playing in a back corner of their garden came upon a pair of large stone fingertips sticking up out of the soil and pressed closely together as if the hands were positioned palm to palm.
So they all went to get their digging spoons, and set to work, the eldest with his sterling silver baby spoon from very long ago; the middle child with her sea-shell-shaped sugar spoon; and the youngest child with the runcible spoon.
They dug for a while, and then they took off their sweaters and dug some more, the gap around the fingertips growing as the wrists became visible. The hands were shiny, almost translucent, with cloudy brownish knots and veins.
“I wonder how far down he goes,” said the youngest.
The middle child said, “If there’s a whole stone body, this will take a very long time, especially if he’s as tall as he surely must be!”
The eldest child said, “We’ll dig for a year if we must.”
By almost sundown, they’d gotten to just below the elbows, which were not bent, but straight, as though the man was holding his arms fully outstretched above his head.
While the children ate their dinner, they speculated about this. Was the man praying or diving, or, in this particular case, were praying and diving the same thing?
“Still,” said the middle child, “it must be an awkward position to hold for a long time. Try it.”
Right there at the table, all three of them stretched their arms and hands into the same position, and it was indeed awkward.
At this point the mother came in with pie, bubbly baked apple oozing fragrantly out of the crust. “Whatever are you doing?” she asked.
They told her about the giant.
“My goodness,” she exclaimed. “Is it that time already?”
“What time?” asked all three of the children at once.
“Rising time,” said the mother, and went to the telephone, removing her apron as she always did, though of course, no one she called could ever see her.
She dialed a few numbers, spoke quietly to several people. When the father came in from the train, she greeted him as always, and then said, “We must have our dinner early tonight, when the children have cleared their plates. It’s rising time.”
“Already?” said the father. “Things do move along in this world, don’t they, whether you’re thinking about them or not. Well, I’ll prepare the luminaries while you’re washing up.” And he went to put his hat and coat in the hall closet.
“Mother!” said the children, nearly all at once. “What is rising time?”
She frowned at them. “You don’t know?” she asked.
They declared vehemently that they did not.
“You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”
They declared even more vehemently that they were wholly serious.
“I thought your father had explained it to you,” she said.
The father came back in. “What’s this hubbub?”
“The children claim that you never told them about rising time,” the mother said.
“And so I didn’t,” said the father, “since I assumed you had.”
Both parents were visibly chagrined.
“Well,” said the mother. “We did teach them about table manners—“
“—and strangers,” added the father.
“—and how to safely cross the street,” said the mother.
“—and how to save their pennies for the bank,” said the father.
“—and, especially, how to say please, thank you, and excusez-moi at the appropriate times,” said the mother, “so I suppose we can’t be considered altogether negligent. Nevertheless, we should have told them.”
“Yes,” said the father. “It’s a shame that we let it slip. Of course, there’s no time to get into it now.”
“No,” said the mother. “We must get on with things.”
And so they did. In less than an hour later they were gathered in the back garden, which adjoined the neighbors’ back gardens. All the parents had brought out odd blown-glass balloon lamps lit from within by, as the father called them, “special non-oxygenated candles,” and everyone, including the grown-ups, had found their digging spoons, though the few people who used them seemed merely to be loosening the dirt from around the edges of the holes, for now in every garden, giant stone people with pressed-together hands were emerging from the earth. Indeed, the children’s giant had come up several inches during dinner, so he was noticeably ahead of those in the other gardens, which made the children feel a bit better about the fact that some of the gardens boasted entire stone families whereas they themselves had only the one fellow.
It was like any other village occurrence—the grown-ups chatted in small clusters as the very young children slept on their shoulders or played around their feet, and some of the older children perched in the lower branches of trees while others looked on or chased each other until they finally curled up to doze on the garden benches.
And as the stars crept across the sky, the earth continued both to rotate and revolve, and countless waves hurled themselves against countless shores with only a few individuals taking any notice at all of this vast, continual effort, the stone people worked their way up. Finally, a little before dawn, the parents woke and gathered the children. The giants had completed their surfacing and were now fully visible in their heavy brogues and their soil-and-leaf-encrusted garments with many stone wrinkles and folds. Their faces and hands were slightly bluish in the echoey non-oxygenated light, as if they might be chilly without the earth around them, and their stone thoughts were impossible to guess.
Everyone gazed at them in silence for a while. Then the fathers snipped the strings and released the luminaries into the air. With them rose the giants, the children’s giant a little ahead of the rest as though he was their leader or perhaps a scout. They went up and up, ever smaller as they plumbed the darkness.
The parents blinked and rubbed their necks and passed around glasses of glittering champagne which had been brought out while the children slept. And from the same wooden boxes in which the glass lamps had rested, they lifted fist-sized and exceedingly dense stone eggs which they allowed the children to touch and wonder at for a few moments before they dropped them into the holes where the giants had been, sprinkled them with ordinary sugar, and covered them with the earth that had been displaced by the giants’ self-excavation.
Then it was time to collect the scarcely-used digging spoons, the flesh-and-blood babies and children, and the fluted champagne glasses, and go inside for breakfast, since things do move along in this world, whether you’re thinking about them or not.
Note: The first photo used to illustrate this column was taken by Amy Sanford in the Vigeland Sculpture Park of Oslo, Norway; the second derives from http://tadbeer.deviantart.com/art/VIGELAND-SCULPTURE-PARK-12-217514141.
This piece initially appeared in the Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, http://gingerbreadhouselitmag.com/2013/08/24/rising-time/, and Weekly Hubris thanks the editors for permission to reprint it.