An excerpt from a short story I wrote a few years ago (Heart Shape Rock, Kat Lee)
There were times I would sit with it, stare at it, talk to it. Times I thought people driving by thought I was crazy. There’s that old woman, they probably say, talking to herself again. Perhaps it was better they thought that than know the truth…that I was talking to a rock, a nine inch across heavy gray heart shaped rock. The rock lined my roadside bed for quite some time. Something so precious to me, I’d stand frozen, not wanting to leave it, yet never with the thought to move it either.
Not that there’s anything wrong with talking to oneself. Sometimes you start at a place, ask yourself a question, til you go round and answer it so many different ways that you learn there may not be any one answer. A mental beating round the bush, I guess. Another reason conversing alone is a good idea could be that you may be the only one who can ask the right questions of yourself; or the only one who you trust with the response.
I’m not so stingy with my responses anymore. Not the ones where I’d bite my tongue days long gone. Not so stingy with the important ones, neither. But those I save for my special friends, them that twitter, crawl, fly. And who says them don’t have spirit that can’t talk as you and I do? Maybe the voice I give to them in my mind is just another way of talking to myself. I don’t dwell on it.
I did take the fly-strips down, it just got too complicated. With so many flies, how was I to determine which ones were the ones I’d befriended? It got to me walking through the kitchen, passing the buzzing strips, thinking I heard something light, quiet calling to me. I stepped up on a chair and pried one little fly off the paper, cause it might have been Flossie, but I really couldn’t tell. Two legs gone but safe and alive, I started to try another, fell off the chair and broke my ankle.
The doctor asked me what I was doing on that chair at my age. I lied. I’m not so stupid as to let him know the truth. The flies knew the answers. I’m not saying I like them all, the ones that ain’t in can stay out. But once they come in, it would really be rude to turn em out, now, wouldn’t it? And if I swatter em, then I just might make the smart ones turn, and I don’t want that. One of these days I’ll get one of those window air conditioners, then some of this crazy business will settle down. It’s not a priority today.
They’re working on a new subdivision across the road, some sort of fancy community gone up where the Johnson place was. I remember when the Johnsons’ barn went up, how proud they were of it. I remember Mrs. Johnson and how young she looked, even on into her late years. Older than me, but younger in many ways, too.
My spirit aged with trials I couldn’t shrug off, my hair gray before my forty year mark.
That birthday, I remember, the phlox was blooming near my rock, it hadn’t done so before. After that, the neighbors dog come chewed my connecting hose, and it took me a few years to get a new one. That wasn’t a priority either. The phlox dried up and never grew again. I remember staring at the purple petals leaning over the rock, covering part of the heart, turning it into something that looked more like a tear shape that day. I remember the Johnsons passing by, pulling into their gravel drive, not waving anymore.
God made it so, because I asked him. Let me be invisible. And it was so. And no one waved for quite some time til lately. Now the new residents, little children in tow, wave as they walk over to their tennis court, where the Johnson barn once stood. And it had plenty of life left in it, too, before they tore it down. I wonder if the Johnsons see what became of it. I don’t want to think to much, cause them I wonder what became of them; and lastly, that it is probably better than what’s become of me.
“I’ve found something!” she runs to me, stepping over and on the apples, some smelling fermented, those ones you step on carefully if at all; they flatten easy- worse, if you hit them at too quick a pace, they’ve been known to send you sliding. The little pixies aren’t so careful as me. “You have to see this one! The grand pappy of them all! You won’t believe!” I stop my picking, she pulls my apron then my hand, wanting to drag me somewhere. She smiles without a front tooth, and I laugh at how happy her funny smile makes me. She laughs too, we laugh together, and I let her drag me across the yard, away from the orchard, and not too sad to be leaving it neither. Where they’d been digging for the storm shelter, a pile of red clay chirt, nothing of value, there, but then a few scattered rocks unearthed. Winnie’s little hand pointed down to one very large very unmistakable one. I wasn’t surprised.
See, Winnie had a special knack for finding heart shaped rocks. Little ones lined her top drawer, a drawer she was barely tall enough to reach. Sometimes I had to pick out clumps of dirt from her little knee socks. “Heart shapes rocks is one thing, Winnie, but heart shaped dirt is a whole ‘nother. You can shape as many dirt hearts as you please, just don’t bring them inside.” We agreed, and it was down to rocks after that.
“I can’t lift it, mama, it’s too big. This one might just be two three four of my hands.”
“Where you wanting to take it?”
“You know wheres,” she said.
“I think this one might be too big to go in there. Why don’t we find a nice place outside for it?”
“Her. It’s a her.”
“Okay, let’s find a good spot for her somewhere out here, we got to be quick, Antonia‘s due to wake up.” I lifted the mound, and her little hands went up. She could take it from there, she said. Barely, she could, but she did. We walked in the yard near the old red rose bush, and Winnie kissed the clean side, then set it down dirty side up. She glowed triumphant, my sweet.
Her honey hair was short from her daddy sheep shearing the child cause of a bout of head lice that summer. He weren’t a sentimental man, no man was back then. No use to argue, soon the day would be over and we’d move on. Piles of hair in the floor, falling, my shoe kicking a little under the sink to keep for later. She’d cried to lose it, and Antonia, she was too small to know better. I wasn’t, and I had to hold back my own tears watching first curls hit the floor. I think I was sadder when it was her turn than when it was mine.
I think now that God or maybe angels chiseled those rocks in the night just for her, my Valentine’s baby, my oldest. I can’t say that my eyes are too good, but sometimes I’ll spy one along the gravel road. I think now she’s chiseling them for me.
“Mrs. Johnson, I thought you might like some company,” Mrs. Johnson sat in an inclined bed, staring at some sort of television talk show. She didn’t turn her head.
“Mrs. Johnson, I brought you some pickled okra. I remember you used to like it. Do you still?” I sat in a chair near her bed, her eyes now fixed at my face.
“No, Mrs. Johnson. I’m not your daughter. I’m your neighbor. Do you remember me?”
“You’re crazy.” My take on crazy had changed much over the years.
“Yes, Mrs. Johnson. You are too now.”
“Yes. Do you want some okra?”
“Alright.” I’d become lonely young, but Mrs Johnson wasn’t lonely til she got pretty old. Lonliness is a place where beggars can‘t be choosers. Lonely is a place, and before she’d got there, she’d probably spit at the sight of me. On this day she just chewed her little green okra, stem and all, staring at the television. I never went back after that. Frankly, I couldn’t tell if she noticed much I was there.
I was sitting at the table with all the memories and voices from the flies and Mrs Johnson in my head that I’d forgotten I made coffee and poured it in a cup. The coffee in my cup had took cold so I stuck it in the microwave, set the time to one zero zero then slipped my ragged feet into the house shoes. Time to make the rounds.
My usual walk consisted of around the house, to the mailbox, check the flower beds, and back to the porch. By the mailbox I spied my garden beds, by the garden bed, I spied her, the hard but soft friend that was my consistent, my connection with before.
A new sidewalk a bit further replaced the ditch, paving replaced the gravel road.
“Ma’am!” she yelled out, and little feet ran across the road to me, the sound of shoes smacking clack clack on the new road, followed by a car’s hurried brakes. My neck grew hot and the hairs rose up.
“God damned hell, child! You were near being road kill!”
“I saw the wind blow this out of your yard, I’m bringing it back to you.” The child hand passes over an old Guidepost magazine. 1988. I’d read it and left it on the porch for the past few years in a stack of junk. My old hands wrung the thing but it wasn’t any use. I’m not responsible for this. Even if it’s my magazine, it ain’t on me. Damn that old magazine. I make note to throw out all the magazine’s when I get back to the porch.
“Oh my Gosh! Look at that rock!” She points, but I know already. It’s time to tell her to go home, so I try to think of a way to do this nicely. I don’t feel too nicely about the situation, though…ants are crawling on my skin, or maybe my pores have turned into ants, I’m not quite sure. A little light headed. A woman yells from the other side, then runs up to us standing there.
“Morgan! I told you to never cross this road!”
“I’m not responsible for your child, miss.”
“I know your not, I’m so sorry. Come on Morgan, we’ve got tumbling class,” she takes the little hand, and the other one waves at me. Bye, lady, she says. Bye, child. I look down at my rock. Bye.
Nothing in the mailbox except some sort of envelope that said it was important document for me only. I shook it a little, then opened it as I walked up the porch steps. A little key and some sort of paper that says if I take my key to the car lot, I’ve probably won a car. I wonder how much they paid to make all them keys. I wonder if any of them fit in one of them cars. It’s doubtful. I didn’t get this old by clickin my heels. A little out of breath, I lean on the porch post. My eyes close and for a moment, I could be anyone doin anything. I could be one of them Buddhist meditators, so still without thinking. Since I’m standing, I can’t be sleeping, so I figure I’m close to what them folk do. A sapsucker come tap tapping on the house and the vibrations wake my mind. I close my eyes again but no use. I can only hear running across the porch in my mind. I tear at the little magazine the girl handed me and remember about cleaning the porch.
That is my priority.
I’ve gotten all the paper off the porch, it don’t look too bad. If only I could get rid off the stray cats. He’d moved the dresser out on the porch, the dresser and the bed too. The bed sold and the old dresser was a cats nest now. I don’t like cats; I’ve never liked them. I guess I might have had one once as a child, crazy sounding thing all full of claws. I got lazy and I left my dinner plate on the picnic table, Daddy come home an seen the cat on the table licking my plate, both paws on the white. The plate was made clean, but the cat met it’s end in a burn barrel. My daddy stood there hitting it in the head with a hammer, trying to get it to stay in the can. I wasn’t overly attached to the cat, but enough so I was hoping at the time that maybe the little monster could get herself free. Use those claws and claws daddy’s face into little lines of red running down. Claw him up, then jump right over and get free. It didn’t happen that way. I wish sometimes the memories we make in our mind could grow real and replace the ones that aren’t pretty, like the smell of burning cat hair. I wish that love could make them real. If I say something out loud to a stranger, a lie, it could just fill in for an ugly. Like rather than tell the cat in the barrel story maybe I had a cat that sat in my lap and loved me. It outlived daddy and lived to be 33 in human years, who knows what in cat years. All the while, I let that cat eat tuna off daddy’s plates. How nice it would be if that’s the way it worked.
While I’m at it, I’d probably make daddy be senile like Mrs. Johnson was, and take the cat in a purse for visits. I can see in my imagination his eyes afire at the sound of the can opener turning. I believe if it ever did happen that way, that would be the end of it.
Anyhow, I don’t like cats. I don’t like the smell of them. Probably I never did.