By Anna O’Brien
There is a house-sized rock in the woods near my home. “An erratic,” my dad says. A geological term. Dragged to its final resting place by a migrating glacier 12,000 years ago. My dad is disappointed to have missed the last Ice Age. “We were so close,” he says, measuring most things now in relative time. The last Ice Age was close. His last doctor’s appointment, a year ago, seems to him only days past. Mom’s death is sometimes a week, sometimes a month back. On bad days, it occurred just hours ago. “Can you picture what it was like,” he says, his words wrapped in wool like the mammoths he regrets. “Megafauna we can’t even imagine.”
I cradle the phone against my shoulder, sip coffee, and stare at the rock from the back deck. It’s always visible except for in summer, hidden among the leafed maples and oaks. It sits motionless now without an ice vehicle to push it. It is dark gray and disconcertingly rectangular. Visitors find it looming.
There’s a knock at the front door. I have to go.
“How big?” Dad asks again. He’s asked before, forgets.
“House-sized,” I say.
“Well, what kind of house? Are we talking trailer or McMansion?” Everything is relative. It drove Mom crazy. It taught me to be specific.
I hear him rustling on the other end of the line, cursing under his breath, trying to find his notebook and a pen.
The knock comes again, more urgent. “Dad, I have to—”
“Peanut, how big do you think it is?” His voice is softer now, the edge gone. Notebook and pen have been found. Factoids comfort. They provide hard evidence, something to hold that won’t change. Won’t ever change.
And I can’t answer. Not because I don’t know its exact dimensions; not because I don’t go out most evenings and lean against it, exploring its pocked surface with my fingers; not because I press a damp cheek against it in the dark.
The erratic is 20 feet by 78 feet by 80 feet. It is made of mostly quartzite. It tastes of dirt and ore and musty time. It holds heat like a brooding hen. Its northeast corner is worn. Its top is covered with a carpet of pale green lichen. It has stolen bits of nail and knuckle, requiring blood in exchange for familiarity.
I can’t answer because of my spoken pet name, because these daily conversations are always the same. I can’t answer because it won’t help. I can’t answer because I’m crying, like I always cry at this point. I can’t answer because I feel like a glacier myself, slowly mashing down things in my path while losing pieces of myself along the way.
Someone’s pounding on the door and I have to go. I wipe my nose and repeat the measurements from memory, like I do every day. Dad jots them down in his notebook, murmuring to himself. Time is relative and also repetitive; tomorrow’s conversation will replace this one. My father and I are caught in an infinite loop.
The deliveryman at the front door comments on the erratic when I answer.
“That’s some rock out there.” They always say the same thing, too.
I nod. “We were so close,” I reply.
I take my package and close the door on his follow up question: “Who?”
Anna O’Brien is a writer and veterinarian living in central Maryland. Her fiction has most recently appeared in Cheap Pop, XRAY Literary, and Sweet Tree Review.