The Unchanging Nature of Stones: A Fantasy Short

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ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: Galaxy's Edge, Issue 5

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My grandmother lives among the stones. My family’s duties to her are the duties we owe a dead woman. We lay flowers on her resting spot, we sing songs in her memory, and on Vashmihan we light a candle for her. I shift my basket to the other hand. I do what I can, but she deserves better.

“Tahrie.” Grandmother’s voice hisses like sand in an hourglass. It’s nearly lost in the wind and the calls of gulls. A line of boulders stretches before me, pressed against one another along the beach. Tar covers the cracks between them, and water slaps against the other side. The sea is higher than it was yesterday.

The fat stone near the end—the one shaped like a teardrop—shifts. The fissure in the middle becomes a mouth, the hollows, eyes. She looked more like a woman when I was a child. Now, her nose is gone and she can no longer form hands. “What do you bring me today, granddaughter?”

I pull a honeyed bun from within the basket and place it on the sand, in front of the flowers at her base. “A sweet bun.”

The stone that is my grandmother leans toward the honeyed bun. The tar cracks and a bit of the sea spills onto the ground. She snaps back into place. Once, the sea lived where my village now stands, but the sea fell in love with an island and drifted away. Some say the island spurned the sea’s advances; others say the sea was so amorous that he swallowed her. Either way, when he tried to return home, the stones stymied him.

 “Please. Tell me about the things you’ve brought.”

Grandmother can’t smell the honey, or the warm bread, or the savory scent of the meat within. So I tell her about the bun as I pull forth ribbons and a scrub brush and a waterskin. The fissure that is her mouth smiles as I speak, as I wash her face, as I lay the ribbons across what once was her head.

“Thank you, little one. It makes me remember before…” her voice trails off.

Before she fell in love with a stone. Yes, I know. “I’m nineteen, Grandmother. Not so little.”

“And you haven’t fallen in love?”

“No.”

“It’s a wonderful thing, Tahrie,” she says. “Without love, I wouldn’t have given birth to your aunts and uncles.” Her eyes shift to the right side of her face—toward all the stones standing in a row. “I wouldn’t have had your father.” She looks to me. “And I wouldn’t have been able to protect our village.”

My father speaks differently. To me, she has changed; to him, she has died.

“This,” she says, and she doesn’t need to gesture for me to know what she means, “it’s in our blood.”

“And grandfather?” I lay my hand on the stone next to her. His surface is warm and weathered, crisscrossed by so many cracks, like the wrinkles on an old man’s face. “Was it in his blood?” It’s a silly question. He has no blood.

Grandmother’s eyes grow wide and deep. “I don’t know. But I suppose even stones become lonely.”

A wave buffets the back of Grandmother’s head, and another trickle of water wets the sand. I look to the sky as mist settles on my cheeks. When I open my mouth to speak, I taste salt. “And the sea grows restless.”

“Don’t be afraid to fall in love,” she says. “The stones won’t hold much longer.”

I nod, biting back the words on my tongue. I’m not a fool. I will never fall in love.

* * *

As I return to the thatched huts, I feel the villagers watching me, their gazes like unwelcome fingers on the back of my neck. They watch my brother the same way. They used to watch my sister, before she married a man.

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