She was in the gas station bathroom, her mother and brother waiting outside by the car — not waiting the way she imagined, still and huddled like horses in the cold, breaths bursting from their nostrils or now, now wolves, feet pawing the ground — while she looked down at the paper-clogged toilet and the stones that had fallen out of her.
Ruddy. Brown. Smoothed dull by her thirteen years. She dared not flush.
Later her mother would take her to the doctor to learn she would always be small, her pelvis broken by a simple wish for a child and so she would remain. Childless. And her mother would say, Well start a rock collection.
This phrase a substitute for her own broken heart. Burying phantom grandchildren, already. Tiny graves, though. The size of a finger poked in the dirt to make a hole for three sister seeds. Corn. Bean. Now squash.
And had she not already done that a million seasons? But her daughter had not.
Each month she threw the stones away, out of her pocket on walks to school, in the trash. She tended other things. Squirrel on the feeder. Rabbit she fed sugar to from a Dixie cup on the back porch that her brother eventually shot. She buried it and considered the tiny teeth that had nibbled at the thick skin of her thumbprint.
It was not so thick, her skin, and so she resolved to toughen it. Black leather, jagged hair. Boys. Men, even. But this, this neither, could keep her from a truth. Not of the stones but of the place from where they had come. That bathroom. That place. To discover that there were a million ways to be a mother except for her. Its dinge, promise of vagrance, smell of bleached shit. She felt like that. Childless always and now. Junky. Like the rabbit’s bones under the dirt. Rotten. Body stretched thin by needles until.
How long will a rabbit live unshot?
And when she had had enough, she was back there squatting over the toilet that her mother had told her was too dirty to touch. Her own body too dirty to touch, the stones crumpled into her blood. Sooty blood. Heavy blood. And now the shapes of meager horses gather, cold small clouds of breath in the night.
And she the wolf. So tired, the wolf.
About the illustration: Detail from the statue of Mars at the north entrance of the Hotel Des Invalides in Paris. (Source: The Supermat/Wikimedia Commons)