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.   


A new student moved into the single by the stairwell where Annie Apuzzo had lived until the letter with the bad news came and called her back to Columbus. Luis, peeking into the hall, wants his roommate August to knock on the door and introduce himself.

Because if we don’t do it now and enough days pass, it won’t happen. We can’t say, hi, I’m Lu, by the way, and you are…? Not to a person we’ve nodded to a hundred times. That’s awkward.

After several weeks of hearing we need to clean this shithole and we ought to order a pizza, August understands that by we, Luis means August, but since Luis is burrowing into his hankering with the tenacity of a tick and won’t let up, August sighs and closes Introduction to Ancient Cures for Common Maladies and Disturbances of the Soul. At the end of the hall, he raps on the door.

The newcomer answers.

Hey, August says with a downward gaze, not because he’s bashful but because her shoes are remarkably sequined.

Hey, she replies.

They exchange a few words, then August returns to his dorm room and picks up the splayed book.

Well? Luis leans over him, an indignant umbrella.

Gable Gray.

What kind of name is Gable?

What kind of name is August?

Are you sure she didn’t say Gabrielle?

Maybe. August scans for where he left off.

How did she look?


Like wet silver, he thinks, then squints at the page, ignoring as well as he can the patter of Luis’s hopeful speculations. He reads about mercury and alchemical transmutation. He falls asleep. He dreams he’s still reading and learns Gable transferred to UT from the moon, skating on the tail of a comet. He half-awakens when Luis sighs, I hope she’s hot. This dorm could use a hot girl. There is a serious shortage of hotness on this campus. I bet hot men outnumber hot women, four to one. That’s unfair.

Luis’s monologue sends August back to sleep, and in his dream, Gable answers Luis with a glower and points to her sequined slippers, as if to warn, Shut up or I’ll kick you.

At some point in the near future, August will begin to listen for the opening of the door beside the stairwell. He will keep his own door open. He will wait for stepping slippers, for the flash of tiny coins. He will think to look up from the shoes. He will still see the sparkle. And he will pay for the watching, failing two philosophy classes in one semester, ending his relationship with Tina back in Camden, pissing off Luis, too, who will feel jealous and abandoned.

He will discover her name is, in fact, Gabrielle. But he will call her Gab and sometimes think of her as Gable. She will envelop him. She will come to mean something like home to him.

 Melissa Ostrom

Melissa Ostrom is the author of The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, 2018), a Junior Library Guild book and an Amelia Bloomer Award selection, and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, 2019). Her stories have appeared in many journals and been selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, Best Microfiction 2020, Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2021, and Wigleaf Top 50 2022. She lives with her husband, children, and dog Mocha in Holley, New York. Learn more at or find her on Twitter @melostrom.