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 wouldnt see
it. I dont 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 Id gone to get the milk, Id 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 hadnt 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 Id
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 shed been
fighting with Dad. I finished my cereal and filled my bowl again. Mom glared
Youd better eat all that. Youre always going off and leaving
a half bowl of cereal.
I will, I will. Give me a break.
Dont you talk to me like that. Im 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
I sat on the porch swing and fitted the rock into my hand. There was another
dented place I hadnt 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
* * *
On the bus, I showed the rock to Jeff Abbot. Hes a couple years older
than me, a sophomore in high school. Hes 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 hed cut her eyes out, but its 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, Thats a good rock. What you gonna do
I dont know.
Well, itd 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.
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
I nodded, but I knew he was full of shit. Everybody knows Jeffs a pussy.
Hes 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
thats 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. Id 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 wasnt trying to hit me.
She was just playing around.
Most of my teachers didnt 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 dont know the answer,
his mouth gets even tighter, and his nose scrunches up like hes just
caught a whiff of fart. I imagined sneaking up behind him with the rock and
waiting until he turned around. Hed see me, and his face would start
to scrunch up. Whats this kid trying to pull, hed be thinking.
And before he could say anything, just as he was opening his mouth, Id
let him have it right in the face. Right in the mouth! Id shove it right
in his mouth and make him swallow his false teeth.
After class, Mr. Fitzgerald didnt want to give it back.
What do you want this for, anyway? he asked.
I dont 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.
Its just a nice rock. I thought I might start collecting them.
I think I wouldnt mind keeping it myself. Its 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 Id 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 didnt
mind because it was over The Odyssey, and Id really liked that
book. Id 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. Shes got really nice tits. I started thinking about one of
Dads porno movies Id 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 Id take her blouse off. Shed
reach behind and undo her bra. Itd fall away, and her breasts would bounce
a little, like in slow motion. Id slowly kiss her, run one hand down
her warm back, slide my hand beneath the elastic band of her panties. Id
feel her nipples against my chest and her tongue in my mouth. Shed 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 hadnt 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 ones hand, doesnt it?
Thats 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
* * *
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, hed use his belt on me. For something like this, hed 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 didnt go to
work this morning.
I couldnt see why she would be upset about something like that, but I
was glad it wasnt 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 dont 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
Id come to the highway. Then that woven wire fence. Id have to
climb over that, or maybe Id just walk through it like it wasnt
there. Then there was Myers cow pasture, then the Kelso woods, and after
about four miles Id come to the lake, and Id keep right on walking.
Id 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 Id 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, Im 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 hed offer me a job.
Mr. Potts leaned back in the seat a second, tilting his head back, then said, "Well,
no, I dont think so.
Nothing against you. I just cant 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 didnt really need any help.
Hes 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, dont they? he said.
I laughed too. I looked back toward the house. I hadnt walked all that
far away, but it looked small. I felt as if I didnt 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 dont
reckon itd kill me to raise one more.
OK, I said, If they kill each other, Ill give you a call.
Mr. Potts spat on the tractor tire.
Okey-dokey," he said, You do that. Well, Id 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 hadnt
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.
Dads 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 Bradleys
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 couldnt 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 wasnt sure. It had been a long time ago. They
hadnt 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 hadnt
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
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 shed pound on it some more. I really
didnt 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, Id
pick it up and walk south. I would walk until I came to the lake, and Id
throw the rock far out over the water, where it would sink to the muddy bottom
and never be touched by anyone ever again.
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 lots
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.