portion of the artwork for John Colvin's fiction

Rock
John Colvin

I was walking across the cornfield in back of our house when I found the rock. I was looking for arrowheads, but when I saw the rock, I picked it up. There was something about it I liked. It fit my hand real nice and had a caved-in place on one side for my thumb. It felt like it was made to break something. I took it home.

It was Sunday. Mom was at work, and Dad was stretched out on the couch, snoring away with his bare feet propped up on the armrest. I took the rock into the kitchen and washed it in the sink. Once I had it clean, I saw it was kind of a reddish-brown color. I held it in my hand and thought about how good it would feel to throw it through the kitchen window. Then I put it in the fridge. I put it in the freezer compartment, back in the back so Mom wouldn’t see it. I don’t know why I put it there. I just do things like that sometimes.

The next morning I was thinking about the rock while I ate a bowl of Cheerios. When I’d gone to get the milk, I’d looked in the freezer compartment to see the rock sitting in the back. It looked dark and menacing hunched back there behind the ice cube trays, like some kind of monster egg.

I hadn’t taken it out because Mom was standing there. Now I was thinking about how cold the rock was going to be in my hand, colder than anything I’d ever felt.

Dad had already left for work, and now I was just waiting for Mom to leave the kitchen so I could get the rock. She was bitchy because she’d been fighting with Dad. I finished my cereal and filled my bowl again. Mom glared at me.

“You’d better eat all that. You’re always going off and leaving a half bowl of cereal.”

“I will, I will. Give me a break.”

“Don’t you talk to me like that. I’m not in any mood to put up with shit like that.”

She went back to her dishes.

When she finally left, I jumped up to grab the rock from the fridge. It was so cold it made my hand ache. I got my backpack and went outside to wait for the bus.

I sat on the porch swing and fitted the rock into my hand. There was another dented place I hadn’t noticed before, just right for my middle finger. I pressed the rock to my forehead. The cold seemed to sink right into my skull. It felt like a clump of ice was forming behind my eyes. I liked the way it felt.

* * *

On the bus, I showed the rock to Jeff Abbot. He’s a couple years older than me, a sophomore in high school. He’s really pretty much of an asshole, but I like to hear him tell his bullshit stories. He spent a year in the Gibault school for boys, the same one Charlie Manson was sent to when he was a kid. Jeff tried to hold up a convenience store when he was only twelve, or so he claims. He says he told the clerk to give him all the money in the cash register or he’d cut her eyes out, but it’s hard to imagine him having the balls to do something like that. I imagine he really got in trouble for stealing or vandalism, something like that.

“Yeah,” he said, “That’s a good rock. What you gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it’d be good to have in case anybody ever fucked with you. You could just knock them up side the head before they knew what hit them.”

“Yeah.”

“Here, I got something.”

Jeff pulled his pants leg up and showed me an iron bar he had stashed in his cowboy boot. It was a foot long and an inch thick.

“Right here is what you need. Anybody fucks with me, I knock their teeth out.”

I nodded, but I knew he was full of shit. Everybody knows Jeff’s a pussy. He’s always carrying a knife or something, but somebody still stomps the shit out of him about once a week.

I thought about what it would be like to hit Jeff in the head with my rock. I imagined waiting until he stood up to get off at the high school, then swinging my arm up and crashing the rock into the side of his head. Jeff told me once that’s the surest way to kill somebody with a rock or club, hit them in the side of the head. I thought I really could kill somebody if I did it without thinking, just swung my arm before I had time to think about what I was doing.

* * *

I carried it around with me all day. I’d try to think up a different story every time somebody asked me what was with the rock. I told some of them it was a meteorite that had landed in my back yard. Or maybe it was one of those eggs from that movie Aliens. It surprised me how many people wanted to handle it. A lot of them would swing it like they were going to throw it, or else they would just hold it in their hands and look at it up close. Some of the girls even petted it like it was a kitten or something. I let Angela Craig do that awhile, then I moaned, “Rub it some more, Angela. That feels really good.” She threw it at me, but she wasn’t trying to hit me. She was just playing around.

Most of my teachers didn’t hassle me much about it, except for Mr. Fitzgerald, who took it away. The rest of the hour, while Mr. Fitzgerald added fractions on the board, I imagined running up, grabbing the rock off his desk, and hitting him in the head with it. Or in the face. Mr. Fitzgerald is an old guy who always has this snotty look on his face. He has this tight little mouth and stuck up nose. When he looks at you, especially when you don’t know the answer, his mouth gets even tighter, and his nose scrunches up like he’s just caught a whiff of fart. I imagined sneaking up behind him with the rock and waiting until he turned around. He’d see me, and his face would start to scrunch up. What’s this kid trying to pull, he’d be thinking. And before he could say anything, just as he was opening his mouth, I’d let him have it right in the face. Right in the mouth! I’d shove it right in his mouth and make him swallow his false teeth.

After class, Mr. Fitzgerald didn’t want to give it back.

“What do you want this for, anyway?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It could be used as a weapon. We have to watch out for that kind of thing these days, you know. Or you could break something with it.”

“It’s just a nice rock. I thought I might start collecting them.”

“I think I wouldn’t mind keeping it myself. It’s just right for a paperweight.” He was just trying to piss me off.

“Mr. Fitzgerald, I need to get to my next class. Can I have it back, please?”

“OK, but I’d better not hear about you getting into trouble with it.”

* * *

My next class was with Mrs. Ryan. We had a quiz that day, but I didn’t mind because it was over The Odyssey, and I’d really liked that book. I’d especially liked the monsters in it, and the end where Odysseus kills all the suitors.

I finished and turned my quiz over. Mrs. Ryan was leaning back against her desk with her arms at her sides, looking out for cheaters. I was looking at her tits. She’s got really nice tits. I started thinking about one of Dad’s porno movies I’d watched when I was home alone. This executive has his secretary bend over his desk and puts it to her from behind. I imagined bending Mrs. Ryan over her desk the same way, lifting her long skirt up and pulling her panties down. But first I’d take her blouse off. She’d reach behind and undo her bra. It’d fall away, and her breasts would bounce a little, like in slow motion. I’d slowly kiss her, run one hand down her warm back, slide my hand beneath the elastic band of her panties. I’d feel her nipples against my chest and her tongue in my mouth. She’d moan a little. Mrs. Ryan was looking at me.

“Is that your pet rock, Mike?”

I looked down at the rock in my hand. I hadn’t even been aware that I was holding it.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“May I see it?”

I handed it to her. She hefted it, feeling its weight. Then she turned it so her thumb slid into the groove.

“It really fits one’s hand, doesn’t it?”

“That’s what I like about it.”

She turned to the rest of the class.

“OK, pass your papers to the front.”

All through the rest of the class, she kept the rock in her hand. I think maybe she just forgot she was carrying it. When she sat on her desk with the rock in her lap, I felt as though she had put my hand there. After class, she handed it back to me. It seemed warm. I rubbed it against my face as I walked down the hallway.

* * *

When I got home, I saw Mom was standing behind the picture window, watching me walk up the drive. She was still wearing her waitress uniform, and from the look on her face I decided that she must have found the cigarettes I had stashed in the garage. I hoped I could keep her from telling Dad. If she told him, he’d use his belt on me. For something like this, he’d use the buckle end for sure. I laid the rock on the porch swing before I went in. She was waiting behind the door.

“Do you know what that bastard father of yours did? He didn’t go to work this morning.”

I couldn’t see why she would be upset about something like that, but I was glad it wasn’t me she was mad at. She turned away and walked to the window, then turned and walked back to me again.

“Tracy saw him going into that trashy Tuxedo Lounge, and he had that Spencer woman with him!”

I just stood there looking at her. Her face was bright red and ugly. All of a sudden she slapped me. Then she walked back to the window.

I went upstairs and threw my backpack on the bed. My face was still stinging. I wiped my eyes.

I snuck down to the kitchen and made myself a ham sandwich as quietly as possible. I could hear her in the other room, talking on the cordless phone, bitching to one of her friends. As I stood by the sink eating, it seemed really strange to be eating flesh, to have dead life in my mouth. I don’t know. I have weird thoughts like that sometimes.

I finished the sandwich and drank a glass of water. Mom came into the kitchen, still talking on the phone. She glared at me and I went outside. I stood on the porch for a while. It felt really nice outside, like spring just beginning to be summer. There were a few clouds to the south, and I could feel a light breeze on my face. I thought about walking in a straight line, due south. First I’d come to the highway. Then that woven wire fence. I’d have to climb over that, or maybe I’d just walk through it like it wasn’t there. Then there was Myers’ cow pasture, then the Kelso woods, and after about four miles I’d come to the lake, and I’d keep right on walking. I’d walk into the water; it would rise up to my knees, my waist, my chest, the mud in the bottom sucking my shoes right off, and I’d keep right on walking until the water closed over my head. I could see it like I was standing above it, my dark hair moving beneath a swirl of water, continuing southward.

Mom was back in the living room. I could hear about half of what she was saying in there, all about Dad, and how she was going to leave the bastard this time. I picked up the rock and walked out to the garage to get some cigarettes from my stash. Then I walked out to the field behind our house. I
could see Mr. Potts disking with his old John Deere at the far end. I set off walking across the field.

When I got close enough, Mr. Potts waved with both hands and killed the motor.

“Hey, hey, Mikey!”

“Hello, Mr. Potts,” I said, lighting one of my cigarettes.

“Well, that reminds me, I’m ’bout due for a chew,” Mr. Potts said. He pulled a pouch from his back pocket. I got an idea.

“You need somebody to work for you this summer?” I said it like I was joking, but I really was hoping maybe he’d offer me a job.

Mr. Potts leaned back in the seat a second, tilting his head back, then said, "Well, no, I don’t think so.”

“Oh.”

“Nothing against you. I just can’t afford to pay nobody.”

“Well, you think I could help out once in a while for free?”

He pursed his lips. "Maybe so,” he said.

I was embarrassed. I could see Mr. Potts didn’t really need any help. He’s retired, and just farms a few acres to have something to do. I took a drag off my cigarette.

“My mom and dad are ready to kill each other again.”

Mr. Potts laughed.

“They sure do like to go at it, don’t they?” he said.

I laughed too. I looked back toward the house. I hadn’t walked all that far away, but it looked small. I felt as if I didn’t live there. Suddenly, I wished I was Mr. Potts’ son.

“Hey, if they kill each other, do you want to adopt me?”

Mr. Potts laughed again.

“I went through hell raising two boys,” he said, “But I don’t reckon it’d kill me to raise one more.”

“OK, I said, “If they kill each other, I’ll give you a call.”

Mr. Potts spat on the tractor tire.

“Okey-dokey," he said, “You do that. Well, I’d better get back to it.”

He started the tractor, and I headed back toward the house. Halfway there I remembered I had the rock in my hand. It seemed funny that Mr. Potts hadn’t said anything about it. I wished I would have shown it to him.

I stood there looking at the rock. Its plain brown surface showed nothing. It seemed there should be fingerprints, or that it should be worn smooth from all the handling, but it was the same. I could leave it here where I first found it, and maybe nobody would ever pick it up again.

Dad’s car still was not in the driveway. I stood around in the backyard a long time trying to decide whether to ride my bike over to Tommy Bradley’s house. But I had to stay. I was afraid of what would happen while I was gone.

I snuck upstairs and closed the door to my room. I lay down and tried to read, but I could hear her stomping around and bitching downstairs. My stomach started to hurt like it always does when they have a really bad fight.

I held the rock against my forehead and tried to be numb. I remembered things. I could barely remember Dad hitting Mom. I couldn’t remember where he hit her, or how old I was when it happened, but I remembered the dull sound of his fist against her body. I could remember another time when Mom chased Dad across the kitchen and into the living room with a knife. Maybe the knife had blood on it, but I wasn’t sure. It had been a long time ago. They hadn’t done anything really crazy like that in a long time.

I heard the car in the driveway. The front door slammed. Mom screamed. There were no words. She just screamed. Before I could think about it, it seemed to happen all on its own, I raised the rock and brought it down, hard, against the side of my head. I heard the dull knock of it like something breaking inside. Then I was curled up on my side with my hands over my head. But I knew I hadn’t killed myself. It hurt too much for me to be anywhere near dead. I heard a dull whumping sound. Mom would scream, something would go whump! and Mom would scream again.

I got to my feet and almost fell over. I had to stand with my hands to the sides of my head like I was holding my brains in. I got to the window and saw Mom was pounding on the hood of the car with my baseball bat while Dad stood to one side, watching her with his hands in his pockets. She hit it a couple more times, then fell across the hood, panting. I thought she was probably just resting. In a minute maybe she’d pound on it some more. I really didn’t care what happened next. It was like watching something on TV. From now on I wanted to watch everything like it was on TV.

Somewhere in the room behind me was the rock. It must have bounced off my head and landed on the floor somewhere. It was old. Maybe I was the first person ever to touch it, but it was around a long time before me or anybody else. And I knew what I would do. As soon as the pain in my head let me, I’d pick it up and walk south. I would walk until I came to the lake, and I’d throw the rock far out over the water, where it would sink to the muddy bottom and never be touched by anyone ever again.


John Colvin’s Comments

I was walking across a gravel parking lot in Terre Haute, Indiana, when I found the rock. It was brown and a little smaller than my fist. It really looked out of place there amidst the parking lot’s finer white gravel. I picked it up and noticed it had a depression on one side where my thumb fit nicely, as though it were designed for my hand.

I started to remember how I used to take weird things to school when I was a kid and carry them around all day, just to see how people would react. Then out of nowhere I remembered a conversation I had overheard—someone talking about how one time his mother chased his father around the house with a butcher knife. The story started to come together in my head, and I ran home and typed up a complete first draft. I wish they all came to me that easily. I still have the rock.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 13 | Summer 2006