Unsticking The Stones
A Very Short Story
“Don’t even bother trying to say sorry this time.” He belched the last two words. We all thought he might be sick for a moment, or maybe fall down the thinly carpeted stairs. “Yeah, you aint got nothin’ to say,” he was starting to slur pretty badly, his words blending together at either end to form one continuous sound. They practically oozed from him, spilling down the stairs like magma.
My cheeks flushed, and sweat beads prickled at my temples. I handed my untouched drink to a friend, I don’t recall which one, and started gathering my things. I think someone tried to say something encouraging. The words were soft and airy, and they must have floated away because I don’t remember them.
Someone had called Joe into the kitchen just then, and I took my opening, bee-lining for the door that stood just beyond the small landing at the top of the stairs. Joe swung around; the sick, sweet scent of whiskey and aftershave alerted me to this. I hated myself for liking that smell. He was blank at first, and then angry once he realized that I was not coming to apologize for another imagined transgression. He lumbered toward me. I stood, frozen, not wanting to drag the ensuing squabble out into an even more public arena, the driveway.
So I stayed there in the corner, between a coat rack and a hard place, with his hot breath in my face and his barrage of loud and inappropriate words flying toward me. A few of them managed to penetrate and soak in. Most bounced off, though, having been rendered ineffective by overuse. Those ones fell to the floor, breaking into pieces as they landed. Embarrassed, I tried to hide them under my shoes.
When it was over and he lay sprawled and snoring across an old mattress in an unused bedroom, I left. I walked to the bus stop in the dark, connecting the stars together so that they formed sentences to explain things better.
In the morning, his words would be softer – the sharp points whittled away clumsily, some even fashioned into semblances of something beautiful. I had gathered these trinkets time and again, stowing them away in my pocket to bring out during bad times. I would show them to those who questioned my judgment in staying with Joe, running my fingers over the crude shapes to emphasize the efforts he’d made on my behalf.
It went on this way for quite some time; he throwing, I deflecting. I had even started to learn that I could pick up the stony words and send them hurtling back at him - but, quite frankly, it wasn’t my style and I soon tired of it.
One day, I stood up. I think something changed; it felt like maybe there was some sort of planetary shift, an epiphany maybe. Or possibly indigestion. I emptied my pockets of the disintegrating bits of rubble I’d once treasured so, dusted the residue off my knees, and went.