Daniel J. O’Malley ~ Stones

She liked the feel of it—dirt—warm under bare feet in the gar­den, though it wasn’t hers, it was the neighbor’s dirt. The woman had no gar­den of her own—no car­rots, no let­tuce, no pep­pers, pota­toes, onions, toma­toes. No ros­es. The stones, the day she swal­lowed the stones—they were small, like peanuts, or lit­tle can­dies, but gray, just three stones she found first with a bare foot and felt the heat, odd for a day so mild, the sun gone in the clouds. No rea­son came to mind, noth­ing at all, but the way it hap­pens some­times can’t that be rea­son enough? Right away, though, she knew—she swal­lowed one, two, three, and felt the mis­take of it. There came a rum­bling in her stom­ach. Then a cramp. She crawled through the gap in the fence, where three slats had fall­en, into her own yard, then up the stairs to the kitchen at the back of the house and ate bread, most of a loaf, slow­ly, slice by slice, imag­in­ing the neigh­bor had seen her out there on hands and knees, sniff­ing the air, the dirt, lick­ing a waxy yel­low pep­per from stem to tip before she stood and found the stones and swal­lowed, then dou­bled over again. But the neigh­bor was away—the woman was sure of it. Gone, two more days—she count­ed once more in her mind. And the bread damp­ened noth­ing, she went on with a sharp ache, the stones turn­ing inside of her, grinding—growing, it felt like—all that night, the woman awake, groan­ing in bed in the dark, then on the floor in the hall, almost to the bath­room. She got her pants off. But then she stopped. She lay still. It was morn­ing. In the day­light, the cur­tains drawn, she felt bet­ter, some­what. A lit­tle. Slowly she got up on her knees. Never again, she thought. Deep breath. Never again. Then onto her feet, a short walk around the house, and lat­er a longer one out­side, a stroll. All day she wait­ed for hunger, but it nev­er came. Yet somehow—from somewhere—the woman felt a grow­ing strength. She slept well that night, had no dreams, anoth­er day, anoth­er night, then an after­noon with the neigh­bor, wine on the patio, the uneven bricks beside the gar­den, this the day the neigh­bor came home, and she fol­lowed him that evening, at dusk, into his house, and soon—not a mat­ter of days, per­haps, though it seemed that way—soon after the day with the stones, anoth­er day she woke with that old feel­ing again and reached around, pat­ting where she could reach, and found her­self in a new home alto­geth­er, and in the new home it hap­pened some­how that she had three sons.


Daniel J. O’Malley’s fic­tion has appeared in Best American Short Stories, the Kenyon Review, Subtropics, Granta, Gulf Coast, Alaska Quarterly Review, Ninth Letter, and Meridian, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He cur­rent­ly lives in Huntington, West Virginia, where he teach­es at Marshall University.