The Benefits of `Reading' The Book of Mica

FROM the pocket of a denim skirt about to be laundered I extracted shards of Victor's treasure, earlier entrusted to my keeping. Sifting the almost weightless nothings through my fingers, the excitement of my once-a-week visitor caught hold again.

"You know what this is, Gocky?" He pointed to a flashy facet of a stone he was preparing to skitter across the brook. "It's mica in it."

"So it is," I acknowledged. "And look at this." I dipped another thick chunk in the water to rinse off accumulated mud and held it out to my small charge. "This is a book of mica. See, you can pull it apart, just like pages."

"Let me try, let me try!" He fumbled at the ragged edges. At length he managed to loosen, then separate one slim page. He studied it thoughtfully. I wondered what he might be reading on it.

"We can get it even thinner," I offered, digging my thumbnail into it. There was another sheet, fine as onion-skin, slipping from my hand to his. It held colors like swirls of oil on water, reflecting blurred sky, beige sand, jade foliage, pewter rock. He was enchanted.

"Put it in your pocket, Gocky. It's to keep." Victor is a born salvager of odd treasures.

For the next several minutes further action was suspended while we found more books and stripped off tissue pages that presented different images to each of us. To Victor it was a brand new magic, a volume of mysterious nature to be interpreted according to his own fancy. For me, it was a more practical memory unfolding.

I closed my eyes briefly and reminisced while he explored, seeing small red and blue-tipped flames leaping from coal burning in our old parlor stove. They were brightly visible through tiny isinglass windows. That was the mineral mica, my father said. I tested the smoked surface of one pane with an exploratory finger; it was not overly hot. I felt it give and bend inward beneath such pressure, crackle, and threaten to shatter. Hastily I withdrew my hand, stopping just ahead of irrevocable mischief.

Yet from there, back to the future with Victor on the swollen back of our native stream, I could still feel the comforting warmth of that long-gone room of childhood where parental love protected me.

As we skipped flat stones, counting the hops each made across the brook, I told Victor about a group of "mica paintings" I'd once seen at a mineral show. The artist was nature herself. The collector stressed that he was only her agent, simply aiding in finishing off her masterpieces. He had been blessed with the insight to see a bit farther and clearer than most and had framed multiple sheets of the mineral. He had highlighted, with admirable perception, entire scenes presented "by the old girl herself,"

as he explained to curious viewers.

It was easy to imagine sea and landscapes, patterns of autumn foliage and skeletal winter trees, geometric earth-designs looked down on from high up, and burnt-out forests.

"Whatever your particular background of experience suggests is what you'll personally see," the exhibitor had stressed that day.

Victor was less than impressed with my secondhand word-pictures, nor was he burdened with my superior knowledge (if it was such) all shrouded in the impossible past.

At his age, everything is present tense, and the future yawns delightfully vague. His attention span is limited. But while he does focus, there is whole-hearted, utter absorption. It is like the perfect concentration of a single facet of a diamond, of a glint of mica in a scaling stone. In it he sees - what? A page, a message, an image no one else can envision.

So I carefully stored his mica treasure-book in my skirt pocket. It took a bit of a beating as we progressed along the brook path, his warm hand trustingly enclosed in mine as we squatted to observe minnows or crayfish under rocks, or hunkered down to study honeybees in beds of clover.

Later, when we sat on a broad stone in the sun and he took advantage of my lap-cushion, rolling his head to face up, the mica completely fragmented.

But the wonder of it was already stored in his memory, as in mine all over again, against some possible future day when we might need such reassurance. Then, perhaps, "A book of verses (mica?) underneath the bough" might just be "paradise enow."

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