The Stone

The stone is something your mother
gave you when you were six years old.
She left it somewhere—on the sill
of an open window or on the edge of a bath
she forgot to drain—and you picked it up.

The stone was small and grey. When you held it
under water, it turned a shiny black, and
when you left it in the sun it looked like any piece
of gravel, but you knew that it was yours.

When you first held it,
it had three sharp points that pressed
into your palm. Now when you open
your hand there are shadows cut across it,
dissected and crumpled, your life
lines shaped by the stone.

Over the years the edges have softened
or perhaps you’ve grown callous
or grown accustomed to it.
You could have let it go a long time ago but you didn’t.

You protect the stone. When you’re careless,
others notice it in your palm.
Whenever you loosen your grasp
it shows through the cracks in your fingers.
They ask about it, you tighten
your grip until it’s suffocated
in your hand and you can barely feel it.
It has become a part of you and you know

it’s made of you or you’re made of it.

Other people have
stones of their own, but you don’t ask,
you fear you will
have to defend your stone.
You can’t bare to tell them
how long you’ve had it or
how little you know about it.

You feel the stone other places, too:

It’s a sharp ache in the middle
of your back that you mistake for organ failure.
It’s a day in bed, asleep.
It’s a night in bed, awake.
It’s a snakebite on your ankle, a slow
cold spread of paralysis and shortening
of breath that comes on around midnight.
Lately, your fingers have been going
numb.

The first time you tried to tell someone about it,
a bee got stuck in your throat and
stung at your words until you were hunched
and hiding—oh yes, the stone can
grow and the shadow of it
can turn into five hours in a bathtub, fingers
and toes wrinkled, and still your bones
clatter and you underwater-scramble
for the stone.

You form a stone club. Membership is free
but it’s taken everything you’ve got. You sit
with the other members and rattle your stones. You practice
throwing them across the floor.
You meet at the beach
and you skip them across the water.
For scalding minutes
you revel in your lightness.

Those without
stones must live in the clouds.

It’s wonderful—the strength
and hindrance
of your grip.

 
 
 
 

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in Slice, The Malahat Review, The Matador Review, The Rush Magazine, EVENT, SubTerrain, Canthius, and is forthcoming in Carte Blanche and Gulf Coast. She won the 2015 EVENT Nonfiction contest and was nominated for a 2016 National Magazine Award for Personal Journalism.