“Hey Bob,” said the gravely voice beneath the granite floor of the building atop the acropolis.
“Yes Eddie?” replied the pillar in the back corner.
“Should we follow them?”
“What do you think Eddie?”
“Yes, we should.”
“Good thinkin’ Eddie”
Listen to the Chapter 29 podcast with roboreader Sangeeta.
The side of the talking pillar broke away, leaving a human-sized chunk behind. Bob took a few cautious steps to get the feel of his latest incarnation. Pillar marble was much more comfortable than he would have imagined - substantial and cool, and surprisingly flexible at the elbows and knees, thanks to hinged joints with glassy marble sliding over glassy marble. The pinkish hue was a bit lively for his taste, but understated enough to get away with in a pinch.
Bob rolled his head to get the kink out of his marble neck. He looked down at his marble toes and hummed his waiting-for-Eddie tune. The song was tantalizingly close to one he had heard ages ago, but couldn’t quite get right, which pissed him off even more than waiting for Eddie.
“Dammit man,” Bob said, clicking his pinkish marble foot on the granite.
The floor heaved. Eddie surged forward to his feet and stepped out of the hole he left in the floor. His broad granite chest was smooth and polished, as were the front of his legs and his forehead, all portions that had previously been part of the floor surface. His rounded sides and back were raw jagged rock. His eyes were tiny black specks set deep into craters below his flat forehead.
“Sorry Bob. I was just enjoying the ceiling for a moment.” He pointed upward with his arm of granite, which made a squeaking and grinding noise, like beach pebbles squeezed together in a child’s palm. “I don’t get the allegory there.”
“Oh geez Eddie.”
“I'm serious Bob. Look at the lower left part of the triptych. Everybody’s hanging out in paradise, and there’s that dragon peeking out from behind a bush bearing an absurd medley of fruit.” Eddie put his granite hand to his brow. “I mean, holy crap, what kind of bush produces apples, berries, bananas, and scrolls tied up with ribbon?”
“Dude,"said Bob, "let it go.”
Eddie persisted in his analysis of the artwork. “Then on the lower right," he said, "there’s a battle. The bush is dead and the fruit are rotting, and the dragon is kicking butt, slaying soldiers like flies – what with the flames and the pointy tail and all. And finally at the top, some naked guy with a helmet and a sword has the dragon on a leash, and there are little bitty bushes growing everywhere.”
“Dammit,” said Bob, his massive shoulders sagging in frustration.
“How’s a naked guy gonna capture a dragon anyway," asked Eddie. "What’s he gonna do with it now? And even if he could . . . Ow!”
A shard of granite skittered across the floor. Bob was relieved to find from his backhand swipe to Eddie’s head that marble was the stronger of the two stones.
“Oh, man.” Eddie rubbed the jagged notch over his left eye. “Look what you’ve done. Now I’m all lopsided.”
“You were never very well balanced to begin with.”
Eddie’s beady eyes glistened as he moved with sad grinding footsteps to retrieve the bit of granite skull. Bob could be so snippy now and then. He slipped the shard back in its place above his eye, where it fit like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Then he walked in grumpy silence to the stairs. Bob followed behind, rolling his pink marble eyes skyward in their pink marble sockets.
It’s going to be tough to make up for this one, he thought.
The shard shifted a bit as Eddie started down the steps. He held it tight with a thick stony finger to keep the piece from falling off during his descent. He didn’t really care about the damage that much, but he wanted to make a show of how absurd Bob’s thoughtless swipe had made him feel.
They trudged down the steps for a while in bitter silence.
Halfway down, Bob said, “Look Eddie.”
Eddie stopped, turned around and sighed. “Yes Bob?”
“No I don’t mean ‘Look Eddie.’” Bob thrust his arm toward the field. "I mean look over there."
Eddie craned his granite neck to see where Bob was pointing. The man and the woman were nearing the hedge in the distance.
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
Eddie swung around and continued to the bottom stair at the edge of the field and waited. Bob joined him and they stood side by side for a moment.
“I’m on it Bob,” Eddie snapped as he prepared to step onto the grass.
“No I mean - look Eddie, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sure you are,” said Eddie.
“It’s just . . . ” said Bob.
Eddie swung around to glare at his marble companion. The step was small and there was hardly enough space for them to stand face to face.
After a few moments searching for the right words, Bob gave up. “Forget it Eddie,” he said.
“It’s not that simple Bob.”
Eddie stepped backward onto the grass and dissolved into a pile of granite pebbles. First one, then another of the pebbles skittered off the pile and bounced back up the steps. Soon a stream of granite pebbles flowed up to the temple atop the acropolis. The only sign of Eddie was a slight lump in the ground that scooted across the field like a cat under a bed sheet. Bob shook his head.
“I’m going to hear about this later,” he said as he followed Eddie’s lead and crumbled into marble pebbles on the grass.