“You have to be very careful of people, you know,” I said.

“I know.”

“I’m not talking in terms of the all-purpose ‘don’t take candy from strangers’ type of caution. I mean, you need to look very, very closely at people, and afford them more than just a casual glance before deciding how deeply you want to interact with them.”

He looked vexed, his face falling from attentive to defensive in a single motion. His thick brows knotted together, and his eyes filled with suspicion.

“Isn’t that counter to the teachings of Father Perhew?” he asked.

“Of course it is, don’t be doltish. I didn’t summon you here as an acolyte of the Words, I summoned you here to listen as the person you are beneath those robes.” I swatted at the coarse hem of his dirty toga. He relaxed. “That’s better. There are some elements of this existence, my dear boy, that the Words simply do not cover.”

“Impos—” he started, then clapped his mouth shut.

“You must understand that a vast number of the people you meet on life’s highway, if not all of them, are doing their very best to conceal from you anything they’ve deemed as flaws. This can range from the gross physical defects that we all have to more sinister mental depravations.

“Now, once a person becomes aware of any shortcomings in their makeup, be they societal or based in vanity, there are two extremes of approach and then an infinite grade between, and they seek to best conceal what they see as negatives, or they attempt to improve themselves to diminish the perception of them. In the way a pair of rough stones might tumble down the riverbed of experience, one choosing to fight the current and anchor itself wherever possible, gathering other stones in front of it to break the flow of life until it no longer pushes and instead moves over, allowing algae to grow and so smooth its surface that way; or the other that rolls with every current and eddy, worn down by the endless forces at play around it. That second kind of stone is extremely rare, son, and though it might seem through my illustration to be simpler to let go, to allow experience to shape yourself, most of us find the relinquishment of control to be utterly terrifying. The battle against becoming what we ought to be is a noble struggle, and therefore we find ourselves trapped by a life of artifice and obfuscation, disingenuous in all word and deed.”

“Why do you tell me such things?” he asked.

I sighed. “I have the hope that you might somehow enhance yourself through this parley and absorb this tiny bit of wisdom I’m trying, rather desperately, to impart.”

He nodded his head, and for a moment I thought I might have penetrated his thick skull.

2015.03.07 – 2023.10.01

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