Garden of Stones - By Sophie Littlefield


San Francisco

Tuesday, June 6, 1978

Reg Forrest lowered himself painfully into his desk chair, which was as hard, used and creaky as he was. The dark brown leather was cracked and worn, the brass nails missing in places. When he found the chair in the alley, he thought it had a certain masculine appeal, like something a hotshot lawyer might own. But it hadn’t taken long for the thing to seem as shoddy as the rest of his office.

Reg flipped the corners of the stack of papers on his desk and sighed. The coffee wouldn’t be ready for a few minutes yet.

Dust motes swirled in the first rays of morning sunlight, causing Reg to blink and then to sneeze. He had positioned his desk under the only window in the room, a filthy pane of glass at ceiling level that looked out into a corrugated-aluminum well half-filled with garbage and dead leaves. Above the window well was the same alley where he’d found the chair, a narrow, stinking passage between the DeSoto Hotel and the building next door. Still, early in the morning, depending on the season, an errant sunbeam or two found its way down into the room, and for that small grace, Reg occasionally remembered to be grateful.

Beyond the office door, there was silence. The gym opened at seven, which was still a half hour away. He’d already unlocked the doors, but the half-dozen men who’d gather by seven would wait for him to come prop them open. They knew each other’s habits. Early morning drew the shift workers, the boys getting in a few rounds on the bag after clocking out. Night security, deliverymen, dockworkers—they were quieter, as a rule, than the ones who came later. Other than the occasional grunt or curse, they had little to say as they worked through their circuits.

It had been several years since Reg himself had taken to the practice ring. He’d broken the same hand three times, and his shoulder was never right anymore. The ligaments in his back were for shit, and there was a scar like a zipper running over his left knee. He was fifty-nine years old and he’d spent three of his six decades here, in the basement of the DeSoto Hotel, building Reg’s Gym up from nothing. Reg had paid in rough coin, but he wasn’t complaining; the sounds and smells of this place were all he knew anymore, and if he spent more of his time locked up in this office with a calculator than on the floor these days, he supposed that was all right. A man slows down, in time.

A knock at the door. Raphael, his day manager, sometimes came in early and drank a cup of coffee with him. On days like this, when his aches and pains were more troublesome than usual, Reg could do without the conversation—at least until he’d had a chance to work the kinks out of his joints and was feeling more sociable. The only reason he came in to work this early was his insomnia: often stark-awake by three or four, Reg had nowhere else to go.

“Yeah. Come in.”

He didn’t turn. The only sound was the gurgling of the coffeepot. Reg squinted at the sheet on top of the stack and wondered if he needed to go to the eye doctor again. What had it been, two years, three, and it seemed like they were printing everything smaller all the time.

“Hey, Raphael, look at this invoice, will you, I can’t make out the damn numbers—”

He jerked with surprise when warm hands covered his eyes. For a moment he was frozen, remembering the way his sister used to sneak up on him, half a century ago. She loved to put her small hands over his eyes and make him guess, little skinny Martha who died of scarlet fever before her seventh birthday; he hadn’t thought of her in years. The hands pushed gently, tilting his head back, one of them cupping his chin to hold it in place. Reg squinted, trying to see who was standing above him, but he was blinded by the sun streaming in the window. Something cold and hard pressed against his forehead, and the last thing Reg saw was a face surrounded with a brilliant, glowing corona, like Jesus in the picture his mother had hung above Martha’s bed.


San Francisco

Wednesday, June 7, 1978

Patty Takeda was having the nightmare again.

In it, she stood at the back of the church as the organist finished the