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.