Melissa Ostrom: Rocky Life

Ingrid had big plans for her future, thought maybe she’d become an astronaut or forensic scientist, but she grew up to become a pebble and not even a pretty one. She couldn’t figure out how it happened. She must have done something wrong. Nevertheless, her pebbled existence was not unpleasant and not uneventful.

The years spent by the ocean were soothing—indeed, smoothing, and Ingrid had the waves to thank for that. Also, the company was often interesting. She met a lightning stone once and, another time, a meteorite fragment, black, beautiful, magnetic. Ingrid, herself, carried a strange ache at her core: a fossilized shark’s tooth, she often claimed, and it could be, right? Shy of breaking her open, there was no way to prove otherwise.

Plus, she had a terrific view of sunrises and sunsets, magnificently mirrored by the ocean. Blue bowls of sky. Nighttime domes, like sieves straining countless stars. And the moon, especially the moon, a waxing, waning companion. Her kin, she fancied. When she was lonely (sometimes she was lonely), she pretended the moon was her mother and its pulling of the tides, a drawing up of a blanket, a tucking-in and sleep tight.

Over time, she might have been sea-tumbled smaller, wave-raked smoother, turned and tossed into nothing, except a child picked her up, stuffed her in his pocket, and carried her home. That was interesting. She spent five weeks multitasking. Sometimes, she was a magic rock, privy to the child’s (Allen Lang’s) wishes, which were usually hopeful of disasters, like that the school might burn down or he might contract a disease that would keep him home from school forever. Other times, she was a tiny pet rock with a thread tied around her middle and pulled alongside Legos, led up and down stairs, drawn through blades of grass, and bathed in the bathroom sink overflowing with shampoo bubbles. There were worse things than being maneuvered so. Ingrid grew tender toward little Allen. She didn’t mind all the rubs and scrubs. Human touch was better, she realized, than getting dragged by the sea.

But Allen eventually forgot about her. She stayed in a coat pocket for a while, then fell out during the wash. Allen’s mom found her and, being the creative type, put her in a pathway mosaic. These were hard years for Ingrid, “The Stuck Years.” People walked all over her. For a poor pebble mortared into place, all weather was bad. No hand held her warmly; no wave rocked and cooled her. Same company, same old position, day after day.

But Allen’s mom was a better designer than mortar mixer. Ingrid popped free one evening when the Langs were hosting a dinner for their artsy friends. A guest stepped on her, and Ingrid found herself wedged between the arch and heel of a scarlet stiletto. She was transported to a gorgeous apartment, discovered, declared, “A lucky stone!” and tossed onto the vanity, among a jumble of jewelry.   

This was how Ingrid ended up living with Fabiana Vera, the soprano. Sopranos, Ingrid learned, knew how to live. There were inventive, hardworking lovers and languid mornings with Fabiana’s “Oh, my goodness, why not another crepe? Just one more,” and “Ooh, I’ll take the filled croissant,” as well as lively parties, exciting performances, and songs.

The songs! “Un bel di vedremo,” “O mio babbino caro,” “Vissi d’arte”: love, longing, loss. Deep within Ingrid, she felt that shark-tooth ache. She knew this musical life wouldn’t last forever, for her friend Fabiana wouldn’t last forever, and this made her sad. But even the sadness lilted somehow—piercingly, like a gloriously produced soprano C—and moved Ingrid in the sweetest fashion. 

What a life Ingrid had found, becoming a student of melodic passion. What fun, to sometimes (faintly and except for the highest notes) hum along. What a joy, to simply listen. Yes, mostly Ingrid listened. She delighted in serving as audience. She paid attention and was present. She thrilled and thrived in this way.   

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