Rosa Lee opened the door only a crack until she saw me. She
unhooked the chain and pulled the door back full open.
“I guess you’ve come to see Mat’s place?”, she asked.
“Yes, do you have the keys?”
“Just a minute, I’ll get them,” I heard her moving back
in the house.
We walked across the field and up the driveway to Mat’s
house in silence. The salt air had that familiar bite and I
could hear the gulls crying off in the distance. I watched
her back as she moved. She was a lean woman, taut as a
guitar string. Her rusty hair whipped about her shoulder in
the afternoon sea breeze.
Mat’s house had not changed in the four years I had been
studying biophysics at Upstate. The clapboards, the bay
window facing east, the garret, the fence around the garden
on the western side of the house – all looked in good repair.
“Your uncle Mat was quite a collector,” Rose said as she
lead me across the porch of the house. Her green, catlike
eyes caught the sun as she held the door for me.
“It was one of the things that I loved most about him,”
she continued once we were inside out of the wind.
Once inside a tidal wave of familiarity crested over my
head and crashed down on my heart. Rosa must have noticed my
John, you OK?”
“Rosa, I’m confused. Mat was my friend as well as my
uncle, and I don’t understand what happened to him. I can’t
get mom, or anybody to talk about what happened. You were
his neighbor, did he die or something?”
“No. I don’t think anyone knows . . .,” her eyes drifted
to the window.
“Don’t give me that. A man just doesn’t disappear with
out a trace? Is he in some kind of witness protection
program? Why can’t I get anyone to tell me?”
There was a pained silence, broken only by Rosa’s shoes
as she paced the hardwood floor.
“With Mat gone this place is spooky, I don’t like to
stay in here too long. Do you want to see the garden?”, she
I turned away without speaking and sat in the empty bay
window. Unlike my Dad, Mat had been a source of intriguing
mystery all my life. There was kindness in his voice when he
spoke to me. He always had some gadget or rare
archaeological find to share when I visited him in the
summer. I had always tried not to pester him too much.
Mat encouraged me to go to school and achieve degree in
biophysics. He had become a part of my life and his absence
was like a new found cavity that I could not help but probe
with my tongue.
“John?”, Rosa whispered. I turned further from her.
“John I’ve seen you a couple of times but I barely know
you. What are you going to do? Are you going to by this
place when it goes on auction? Do you want the house, John?”
“Rosa, I can’t afford this house. I’m trying to
graduate from college, for God’s sake. I had to come back.
I had to come back and see what happened to Mat. Can you
tell me Rosa?”
“Does it hurt, John?”
“Mat put together a rock garden about three and a half
years ago. I guess that would have been shortly after you
went off to college. Let me show you.”
I allowed myself to be lead through the empty kitchen
out a side door. Rose led me to the garden wall and fumbled
with the keys on the ring. After a bit she managed to open
the garden gate.
In the center of the walled garden, in a leveled and
graveled space, there was the most extraordinary collection
of . . . things.
“He used to wander along the shore and up in the hills.
Sometimes Mat would go far away and buy things. He even
contracted people to find things for him. He would get bits
of sea shell, little terra cotta figures, rounded stones,
crystals and place them here.
I could never see the pattern, but he did. He would
place a bit of bone say right there, and suddenly I would see
that it was perfect. What do you think all this is for,” she
said moving in a clockwise orbit around the edge of the
stones that divided the lawn from the garden.
Mount Rainier was barely visible in the distance and
I could smell and hear the sea crashing on the other side of
the far garden wall. The sun caressed the swirl of things
placed on the rippled gravel. Some things were bright and
shiny others soft edged and worn to a smooth mat surface.
At the western end of the garden lay a plate sized,
razor edged shard of midnight obsidian. I stooped down and
picked up the jet black rock. The edge was clearly sharp and
caught the sun’s light in a sliver of laser sharp rainbow.
I felt a chill run my spine whenever I looked at the
rock in my hand. It reminded me of a time, as a boy, I
had picked up one of dad’s ejected razor blades. I watched
in horror as the blade slid smoothly through my skin. I
screamed when the crimson blood poured out of my hand.
The cut had been more dramatic than dangerous, and I had
not needed stitches. It occurred to me now that the most
insidious part was that the initial cut had not hurt at all,
the real pain came later.
Rose stood silently at the eastern end of the garden.
She had lifted a globe shaped stone that was milky, white,
and iridescent in the early afternoon light.
“I always called this the moon stone,” she said.
“And what did Mat call this one?”, I asked holding the
dark stone for her to see.
“He called that the Shiva Stone.”
I returned the stone to its place. Between the two
stones lay an entire galaxy of things.
“Rosa, who has been keeping the garden?”
“No one, why?”
“Everything is still in perfect order. The sand and
gravel is undisturbed and no grass has sprouted between the
stones. Surely it has rained since he left.” I could feel an
edge creeping into my voice.
Rosa turned to run back into the house but I caught her
arm. I saw fear in her eyes as I pulled her around.
“I don’t know who fixes the garden, I don’t know who
cleans the house. I don’t know what happened to Mat and it
scares the hell out of me. I’m frightened John. It’s like
Mat is still here somehow, but I can feel that he is gone. I
don’t know how I know, I just know.”
I released her and she ran from the garden. Instead of
following her, I hunkered down and studied the garden until
my legs went to sleep. Giving up I limped into the house and
sat on the hardwood floor facing the bay window. At this
angle I could see something under the lip of the window seat.
It was a slip of yellow paper. I opened the seat and found
a yellow legal note pad.
Later that evening as I sat in the darkening house, I
read and reread the words on the paper.
When the student is ready
the teacher will be seen
The wind, a branch, even a stone
can be your teacher.
Are you ready John?
The note lacked a date and it was signed by Mat. I
folded it carefully and put it in my jacket pocket. I pulled
the jacket around me as I wandered through the house.
I was startled out of my reverie by the blast of a car
Rosa sat in her Ford and waved for me to come down to
the car. She looked embarrassed and a bit flustered.
“John, this whole thing gives me the jitters, would you
go back up and lock the house for me?”
Later as we drove down the road, it occurred to me that
I didn’t really want to go back to my aunt’s right away.
“Let’s go down to Jackson’s for a burger and a beer.
I’ll call mom at Aunt Jaina’s to keep her from worrying,” I
“No problem,” was all she would say. It was clear that
her mind was occupied.
We found a booth and gave our order to a waitress. Rosa
noticed one of Mat’s friends standing about the middle of the
bar. I told Rosa to go ahead and eat if the food came before
I returned. I walked up beside the man and ordered a beer.
“What you in town for, son?”, he asked.
“Doing research on a friend of mine.” I offered.
“Your friend got a name?”
“Mat, Mat Christopher, know him?”
The man turned away and walked out of the bar. Stunned
I followed and tried to catch up with him in the parking lot.
I called after him, “Look you don’t know me, but Mat was
my uncle and if you know anything about what happened . . .”
He stopped halfway into a car. His face puzzled and
“What’s your name?”, he asked.
“So you’re John . . .” He looked hurt. He slowly eased
himself back out of the car and headed back into the bar. I
followed him in and directed him to my booth.
“Hello Rosa,” he said.
“Barry,” she returned coolly.
“You know each other?”, I asked. Rosa did not seem
very pleased to have this man at her table. He didn’t seem
“Mat introduced us once.”
“Let’s get something to eat kids and then we’ll go up to
Mat’s house. I have some things to tell you,” Barry said
with a tone of deep resignation.
Later that night Barry bought a six pack and we headed
back to Mat’s house. We used Rosa’s key to let ourselves
into the house. Rosa was right, the place seemed very
peculiar somehow, especially with the sounds of the sea wind
made as it caressed the house.
After a time Barry pulled the first can of beer off the
six pack and began to speak.
“John, Mat mentioned you often, that’s why I recognized
your name. I must tell you the story,” His face grew
animated as he spoke.
“About three years ago I met your uncle Mat in Portland.
I have some friends that deal in exotic objects, and I had
heard that Mat was in the market. He wasn’t interested in
any of the things that I had, but there was this one stone,
he sketched it and described for me. I didn’t know anything
about it at the time, but I took the sketch back and showed
it around to some of my buddies at the wharf,” Barry acted
like a man trying to make a confession.
“One of my buddies mentioned that a similar stone had
been recently recovered from what appeared to be a Chinese
wreck off the coast of New Guinea. Well, money talks and
before the year was out Mat had his stone. He yelped when he
first saw it and ran out the matrix, that’s what he called
his garden. I followed him to see what he was so excited
about. ‘This is the key Barry, this makes the matrix
resonant!’, he told me.”
“Dusty and sweaty, after a few hours work, Mat looked
up at me from the matrix. He said ‘We have finished the
ritual at just the right time. Notice the Sun Father,
arrayed in his blood crimson robes, is just touching the sea
on the west horizon. The full and pregnant blue Moon Mother
is just clearing the lip of the horizon.'”
“Without looking at me Mat said, ‘Never again will such
a conjunction happen,’ his voice had taken on a strange sound
“Never is a long time,” I said, “maybe in ten thousand
years we will get together and watch it again.”
“Mat said ‘I’ll make a note of it in my calendar. For
now we are witness to the sky and it is enough,’ and he was
silent.” Barry went paused for a moment.
“John, I’m sure you know that Mat was a very wise man.
He wasn’t just smart, he was wise, like the great
philosophers, the great religious leaders . . . Sometimes he
was spooky . . .,” Barry seemed on the verge of tears.
“Go on Barry.”
“Mat opened a door, that’s how he described it to me, he
opened a portal or passage or something. Hell, don’t ask me,
I’m just a stupid dock rat.”
“Mat opened this passage in the matrix that went into
“What did you see Barry?”, Rosa asked.
“In the garden, the matrix, all those things started to
glow in the twilight and I was real frightened. It was like
slow, violet heat lightning. This hole sort of opened up a
few feet over the matrix. There was this deep violet light
coming through and I couldn’t see him against the light. It
hurt my eyes to watch. There was a noise, or a sound or
something. I couldn’t make it out.”
“How long did this go on? How long was the hole open?”,
“One moment the light was there, the next it was gone
and Mat was laughing hysterically. I asked him what was so
damned funny and he said that he was being tested. I would
have thought him nuts if I hadn’t seen the whole things
myself. When I asked him to explain, he said it was like he
had three wishes.” Barry looked drained.
“I know what you’re thinking John, but I swear it’s the
There was a long sustained silence as we tried to sort
things out in our minds. The wind from the dark ocean hissed
at the windows.
“What happened after that?”, I asked at length.
“Well he didn’t say anything much just then, he did say
he wanted to sleep on it. He told me I could sleep on the
couch that was over there. I hounded him the rest of the
night with things I thought he should wish for. I am
embarrassed to admit that everything I suggested was selfish.
Mat was not that kind of man.”
“I slept late and it was around noon before I got up.
He wasn’t to be found. I waited and when I got tired of that
I went into town to uncover if anyone had seen him. I came
back here around twilight and found him sitting on the garden
wall that overlooked the sea. He seemed glad to see me.”
“He said, ‘Barry come here, I need a witness,’ and he
opened the passage again. The violet light was even more
intense this time. I had to hide my eyes.”
In a voice big as the sea he said, ‘I have come with my
first request,’ and there was a thunderclap.”
“I strained to hear. I figured gold was the best bet.”
“Mat said, ‘I ask man wise enough to advise me on the
next two requests!’
“Silver strings came up out of the ground and blue dots
came down from the sky. The bits and pieces looked first
like a wire model of a man, but it was soon fleshed out as
this little, shriveled oriental looking guy. Both Mat and
the stranger had started to glow themselves and the light was
so bright, I could hardly stand to look at them.”
“There was a rushing of wind, but I think Matt said
something about leaving you a note . . .” Barry looked pale
and frightened. I could see that the telling of this story
had been an ordeal for him.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone about this Barry?”, Rosa
asked with an edge creeping into her voice.
“Who would have believed me?”, he asked finishing the
last beer from the pack.
“Maybe there is no evidence, but a lot of people think
you killed Mat,” she accused.
Barry blanched. He held up his hand as if to fend off a
blow. “I swear, I didn’t . . .”, was all he said.
“Do you think Mat’s dead?”, I asked.
She was silent and so was Barry. Again there was the
sound of the wind outside.
“No, John. In fact I think Mat is still very much
“I believe that he is out there somewhere, but I can’t
figure it out. Barry why didn’t you tell anyone about
this?”, I could see that Barry was exhausted.
“I was ashamed,” he said sinking down the wall.
“Ashamed of what Barry?”
“Ashamed that all I could only think of myself. Your
uncle Mat was a wise man John, a rare man nowadays. I’m glad
it was him. I would have really screwed things up.”
“I believe you Barry, why don’t you get some sleep?”
Barry curled into a fetal position on the floor. I
covered him with my jacket and walked with Rosa out into the
garden. The moon was setting in the west and the first light
of dawn starting to break in the east.
I couldn’t tell if she believed Barry or not.
I reached for her hand and her cool fingers clasp mine.
We leaned silently against the garden wall with our backs to
After a while I began to see a soft violet glow hovering
over the matrix garden in the remaining moon light.