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  • The Gravity of Marble
  • Emily Bradley (bio)

There is sand, hot sand and wet sand, shards of marble, and dislodged shrapnel between the silky sheets that I share with my husband of a year and a half. It disappears during the day, after we cover the battlefield with a soft, green duvet, an imaginary sieve scattering the scalding grains into the corners of our bedroom as Jeff grinds coffee beans in the kitchen and I let the dog out to pee and we both stretch into daily activity.

Jeff told me he had a glass eye the day we met in a rainstorm and I told him that it was okay because I collected marbles. Neither statement was true, but the repartee launched us into my bed where the only things between my sheets were skin and longing. We were both suffering from different deaths: my mother’s slow and cunning metastasis proliferating through her organs and Jeff’s innocence killed in a war he fought in a desert with a battalion of young soldiers who felt just as alone.

In bed, though, we were skin and longing and desperate to escape our own minds. “Don’t ever sneak up on me in the night,” Jeff told me when we married five years later. “In case I’m back in Nasiriyah.”

Sometimes, between sheets, he’s stuck in a sand trap, writhing to get free. Sometimes he’s closing his eyes so he doesn’t see the expression on fallen victims’ faces, and sometimes he’s covering his ears so that someday, he’ll forget the sound of skin falling to sand. There’s a brown-skinned boy, five maybe, who comes in the night. He’s running toward Jeff, yelling, flapping his arms in the air like a swan fumbling toward flight, but as Jeff starts to do something, anything, a gunner shoots through the boy’s linen-colored rags seconds before his body explodes with the “toy” that an Iraqi insurgent wrapped around his small chest before telling the little boy, five maybe, to run toward the Americans so he could be a hero. [End Page 103]

Sometimes, in bed, I am on a Maine beach with my mother, curling our toes into the cool, wet sand. We are staring at other women’s breasts because we don’t have our own, but it’s okay, my mom coos as she traces her fingers over the arch of my young brow, and then: look at where they got me. As soon as we start to laugh, a fog bell rings in the distance and my mother’s eyes grow large and doe-like as though sensing a hunter in the autumn underbrush. She stands, agile and scared. As she runs toward the ocean, pulled by something out of sight, she tosses a salt-stained periwinkle shell at my feet and says, my lump felt just like this.

These one-liners inform my waking vocabulary when I tell both Jeff and my primary care physician that I want a mammogram even though I am only 27. They give new meaning to the blue marble my mother gave me the day I left for college, explaining that the color reminded her of my eyes and the way they caught light the moment she first held me.

When Jeff blinked back thick, glass-like tears on the five-year anniversary of invading Iraq, he told me that, when studying the fallout from roadside bombs, his engineering brigade later discovered why certain soldiers, not directly hit with shrapnel, were slowly bleeding to death days later: marbles infused in the IEDs shattered and turned to dust that, when inhaled, made microscopic incisions in vital organs. I reached to him. “Let’s go to bed,” I said, picking up the pieces we’d left in our seats, knowing that when we woke from different sands in the night, we would still be equally lodged in each other. [End Page 104]

Emily Bradley

Emily Bradley received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire in 2012. Her essays have appeared in magazines such as Yankee, anthologies such as Voices of Breast Cancer...


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pp. 103-104
Launched on MUSE
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