- A Hard Place
We went as far as Richelle could drive before the need for sleep overtook her. Her poor little Elantra had sputtered around the bends and curves of the road that meandered through the mountains, the moon whizzing in and out of focus as the clouds parted and joined and parted once more. From the passenger seat, I watched April and Lily, their shapes distorted in the side mirror. They were asleep at last, and I felt myself relax. At ten years old, the twins were full of the wild, untrammeled energy of unbroken colts, and these days, more often than not, I found myself unable to tolerate their presence. I'd like to blame my illness for it, but I suspect my emotional hardness was a preexisting condition, even before I started turning to stone.
My sister slowed the car and pulled into the small parking lot for what during the day was an overlook, but in the night had become little more than a white-striped patch on the edge of an abyss. In the deepening silence, the twins rustled awake.
"Are we there yet?" one of them asked, her voice obscured by a film of sleep.
"Did something happen?" asked the other—that had to be April; she'd always been the worrier in the family. "Is everything okay?"
"Not much farther now, and everything's fine. Your Aunt Richelle just needs to rest her eyes. Go back to sleep, you two," I said. But it was already too late. They'd settled into wakefulness.
"I'm just going to take a quick power nap," Richelle said, and I heard her turn in her seat to look back at them, as if she could see anything in that pitch darkness. She was a schoolteacher and had always been good with kids, knew how to find just the right words to keep them calm. Funny that I was the one who'd ended up with kids of my own.
"Now don't go making any trouble for your mother."
I would have given anything to take over from Richelle and to drive the rest of the way. I would say I'd have given my right foot for it, but I suppose I didn't have one left to give. I had become a veritable invalid ever since my body started to turn to stone. My right foot and ankle, my left elbow, and both earlobes were gone for good, now just dead weight reminders of an easy mobility that was no longer mine, an ever-present twinge that represented the bleak, still future that awaited me.
"Did you know it's a waxing gibbous tonight? That means we'll have a full moon soon," I said, feeling a pressing need to fill [End Page 118] the silence and grasping for something, anything to say. "You're learning about phases of the moon in science, right?" I knew even as I said it that I was being painfully transparent—I had no idea what they were studying; I never asked them about school.
"You don't have to entertain us, you know. We'll be fine," April or Lily said, and I wondered if Richelle could tell them apart, or if my ear canals were turning to rock, the membranes and cochlea and the earwax too, calcifying, cutting me off from them, cutting me off from the world.
When I first began to turn to stone, I thought it was just a sign of my advancing age, a deep-seated ache from overused and under-stretched muscles, the stiffness of a body no longer limber and lithe, grown rigid from too much sitting—all the perils of turning forty. I tried foam rolling and taking Epsom salt baths, saw an acupuncturist, slathered on Bengay and smelled constantly of camphor, anything I could think of to ease my pain. But nothing worked. For weeks, I felt an oppressive weight inside of me, an overwhelming heaviness that seemed to have no discernible cause. I prodded my body to check for lumps and swollen lymph nodes, ran my hands over my skin, spent what must have...