The Stoner

The sun hung low over he horizon, pushing the dark night sky back towards the western edge of the world.

In the twilight gloom of the early dawn a silhouette could be seen on a beach. Tall, lanky and manky, a man dressed in black was moving around erratically with jerking movements, He appeared to bend forwards in one corner of a tumble-down spread of rocks and boulders, fidget with something, and then straighten up and limp over to another corner. And back again.

Two figures approached from out of the semi-darkness, long fishing rods in their hands. They had spent an unhealthy amount of time standing on top of a set of high rocks on the edge of the sea, with waves rolling in from the open ocean and crashing heavily into the base of the rocks. From that position they had devoted themselves to feeding the various fish in the water below them a rich and varied diet of hooks, sinkers, swivels, and lengths of mono-filament fishing line, interspersed with generous helpings of pilchard, goatfish and squid. The latter had been intended to be used as bait, but really only served as icing on the cake of hardware. Thanks to their careful attention to the best of fishing practices, the diversity of the fish population of the ocean had now been augmented with several brand new species of fish that currently dwelled on the ocean floor with a large assortment of hooks, line and sinkers hanging out of their mouths, stuck in their backs, or wrapped around their tails. Having eventually run out of things made of metal to throw into the water they were now making their way back.

'Look, there he is,' hissed one of them, a disreputable fella with the mad look on his face of those obsessed with anything scaly and marine, including mermaids. He nudged his mate. 'Watch what he does.'

'Ngggh?' replied the second character, who bore a more than passing resemblance to something of a simian character, and may well have had a decent dose of chimpanzee in his family tree. Most likely swinging from the lower branches with a banana in their hand.

They stopped and watched. The Man In Black, with his back turned to them, shuffled from the right corner of the rockfall back to the left corner, arms swinging by his sides. They saw him pick something up and scuff it with his sleeve.

'Bugger it, I'm gonna talk to him,' said the Chimp. 'I wanna know what he's doing.'

He ambled over.

'Ah goodday mate, how are you?' said the Chimp.

'Huh? Ah, good thanks mate, good thanks, yourself?' replied The Man In Black, not apparently unduly disturbed by the sight of a chimpanzee walking upright and speaking to him.

'Yeah, good mate ... hey, can I ask you something, if you don't mind?'

'Sure, no worries, mate,' nodded The Man In Black, scurrying nervously back to his spot on the left hand side of the rocks. The Chimp followed him at a respectful distance.

'Uh, yeah, ... it's just, I was just wondering what you were doing?'

'Ah!' The Man In Black perked up visibly. 'Are you a knower of The Fine Arts, mate?'

'Uh, not as such, no ...'

The Man In Black ignored that. 'Well, see these rocks over here?' He made a wide sweeping gesture over a pile of small rocks at his feet.

'Uh, yes?' ventured the Chimp.

'Well, you see, these are beach rocks, you got that?'

The Chimp looked around. They were on a beach. Check. These were rocks. Check.

'Uh, yes?'

'Well, you see, I check 'em, and make sure they're the right size, you know?' The Man In Black said, conspiratorially. 'And that they're clean. See this?' He picked up a round grey rock the shape and size of a hand.

'Yeah, uh, I can see that one,' said the Chimp hesitatingly. 'It's very nice,' he added in what he hoped was an encouraging tone of voice.

'Nah, it's shit,' The Man In Black dismissed it with a flick of his hand. 'Look here, can you see that sand and dirt on the back of it?' He turned the rock over and pointed at the bottom. 'It's disgusting! No bloody good! It needs cleaning!' And he started rubbing it vigorously with his sleeve.

The Chimp looked down at his bare feet. The were firmly planted in sand. He looked around. The beach appeared, upon first glance, to be mostly made up of sand, interspersed, here and there, with patches of dirt. He was starting to feel lightheaded.

'Uh, right, yes,' he said. 'I can see the issue.' He nodded again, more to himself in an attempt to convince himself that he did, in fact, see the issue, than from any genuine understanding.

'Ah, but that's only just the start of it ...' crowed The Man In Black triumphantly, getting distinctly excited now. It occurred to the Chimp that explaining his endeavours to willing listeners might be quite a rare treat for this fella. He couldn't imagine why.

'... because, see this massive mob of rocks here?' The Man In Black continued.

'Uh ... yes?'

'Well, they're all the wrong size!' The eyes of The Man In Black shone with a passionate light usually only found in religious fundamentalists trying on new suicide bombers' vests and priests swearing on bibles that they weren't paedophiles, and anyway no one had seen them do it.

'They are?' The Chimp was starting to go cross-eyed.

...'Yeah mate!' The Man In Black punched the sky vehemently. 'You see, what happens is the sea goes up and down, the tide comes in and moves these rocks around, knocking them over and making them roll this way and that,' he gestured expansively, 'and so they're all mixed up! All the sizes are wrong!' He almost shouted these last words, fuelled by a burning indignation at such a lamentable lack of adherence to the principles of symmetry, order and organisation on behalf of the ocean. Froth formed in the left corner of his mouth.

'Ah, I see,' said the Chimp, slowly backing away and checking over his shoulder for a clear escape route. 'And so you ...?' He didn't dare finish the sentence, for fear of what he might hear himself say.

'Yes! I sort them out! See, out of the kindness of my heart I come here on my day off ...'

'On your day off? You've got a job?' The Chimp was flabbergasted. He found it hard to imagine this bloke bringing his rock-sorting skills into the harsh daylight of real-time employment.

'Yes, of course, I've got a job, I'm a brain surgeon, how come you're asking?' The Man In Black looked momentarily puzzled. 'Anyway,' he continued, 'so I pick up the rocks, clean 'em up proper, and put the small ones here ...' he motioned to a pile of of small rocks on his left hand side. They looked suspiciously shiny. '... and the big ones over there ...' He pointed to a heap of large rocks on the right hand side. Cleanliness emanated from them like the desire to take bribes and kickbacks from a politician. 'You see now?' And he fixed the Chimp with a stare with a depth and intensity of delusion only rarely found outside of the hallowed chambers of government.

The Chimp fled.

The Mermaid Lover had been watching the exchange bemusedly from a distance. 'So, did you get to the bottom of it?' he asked innocently.

'Don't ask,' said the Chimp. He shuddered and wiped the cold sweat off his brow. 'Just ... don't ask. Let's go and have a beer breakfast. With brandy chasers.'

The sun climbed a bit higher into the sky.

Off to one side a woman of indeterminate age, shape, size and ability was folding herself into the yoga pose habitually known as The Nose Up The Arse. A bit further away a group of three giggling teenage girls had arrived carrying brand new plastic surfboards, and proceeded to fit fins to them, facing the wrong way, the curve pointing forwards.

Beyond the surf humpback whales flapped their tails, reared up high out of the water and landed with a majestic splash. They seemed to be just about the only sane thing around.

Reality is stranger than fiction.