I’ve been writing recently about a broken stone. It started like this: Her stone sits closest to the road. Not on the main but on the curved inner path, curved like the profile of her hip, green on black on green in the posed Polaroid, a fixed outline, so many selves ago. I only come here in Summer, the ground around pungent with grass cut fresh in perfection around gray granite too heavy for the soil to hold, and yet holds it anyway, holds the weight of the stone and of her and of me and of the sky so hard and blue and not, not ever, far enough away to keep from smothering us.
There’s this other stone. Long forgotten until I wrote that paragraph. I’d flown home to Missouri and rented my standard white Thrifty car in the off-airport lot, and after a 2 hour slog down I-55, Aunt Mary was the first person I aimed to see. But first I made a stop. Aunt Mary had a love for all things red – red satin sheets, red curtains with pictures of Elvis, red drinking glasses, red candles, redredred – I ducked into the town florist and asked them put together some long-stemmed roses. While waiting for my bouquet, I spotted the stone; one of those memory things, brownish-gray and oval in shape, smooth and solid, enough heft to make it feel so good in my hand that I could not, would not, put it down; the word ‘mom’ etched in black. $19.95.
I’m thinking about the opening scene in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. Virginia reaches the embankment, climbs over and down again to the river. There’s a fisherman upriver, far away, he won’t notice her, will he? She begins searching for a stone. She works quickly but methodically, as if she were following a recipe that must be obeyed scrupulously if it’s to succeed at all. She selects one roughly the size and shape of a pig’s skull. Even as she lifts it and forces it into one of the pockets of her coat, she can’t help noticing the stone’s cold chalkiness and it’s color, a milky brown with spots of green.
Back in my rental car and heading to Aunt Mary’s, I set the stone in the round cup holder next to the gearshift. Where it stayed.
Damned stone. I drove the stone around for a week. Sometimes I rubbed the contours of its etched word up and down I-55. Sometimes I turned the stone over so I could not see the word and then felt guilty and turned it back. Sometimes I picked up the stone and cradled it, with all its smooth perfect heft, in my lap because it felt good to be weighted down in a town where I no longer feel the familiar welcome weight, the tether, of my mother. One day I drove downtown to the river and carried the stone down the embankment, and as much as I wanted to hurl the hell out of that stone into the murky brown Mississippi River I could not bear to let it go. I put the stone back in the cup holder. I kept driving.
I kept driving until I shot my white rental car all the way back up I-55 to the off-airport Thrifty parking lot and as I dragged my black bags through the parking lot to the shuttle bus I tossed the stone I was so very tired of carrying, of looking at, of touching, of holding in my lap, into a trash can. I heard the crash of broken glass. The stone I can never get back.
When my mother’s cold stone becomes too much, even with this heat, I pull myself all the way down on the ground until I’m lying on top of her, the length of her. I measure myself, my body, against her and wonder what will happen if I sprawl my arms and legs wide, if I will lessen my weight enough to float up a bit. But no. There is no lifting. There are only the sun’s rays hitting the pits of my arms and the insides of my elbows and the cold insides of my thighs and my hips. I pull my t-shirt up to the bottom of my bra and lie there until I can’t take the sun anymore. I sit up. An elderly man stops his car, rolls down his window, asks if I’m okay. I wonder how long he’s been watching. How long she’s been gone. The counting, the never-ending counting. The weight of her.