Stone Telling

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by Ursula Pflug

In my village the swollen creek lapped at the edge of the sidewalk. Your young friend and I squatted there, dipping our fingers in. It wasn't just plain water, lapping over the edge of the sidewalk, it contained secrets. The secret of where you were. The secret of why we missed you. Your friend and I dipped our fingers in and sucked off the secrets one at a time. Then I put my fingers in your friend's mouth and he put his in mine, and we sucked each other's secrets. Both my secrets and his secrets were about you. The secret of who you are. The secret of how to get you back. When we were done doing that I told him to go in and iron your lace collars.

What with no ironing to do I swept the stairs from top to bottom and bottom to top. I went back into the bathroom and looked at the untouched stack of wrinkled white collars, at the iron, at the tiles on which you had painted animals. You and your friend and I used to keep busy painting broken dishes with birds and flowers, creating not fake antiquities but relics from a time not yet. "I'm not a good person," I remember telling you, "I'm a bad person with healing powers."

This story connects to all the other stories. Am I ready to finish it now? You had already been gone for a long time before I painted the stars. I could have told a different story. I could have picked a different staircase to follow down from the freshly painted stars. Out of this story. I could have sat at the sewing machine today and sewn words. I am making a yellow quilt. It is hard work and time consuming. If only I could type on my sewing machine. The sun faded the curtains in streaks. I take them down and cut them into squares. The soft white stripes, irregularly shaped, were made by the sun. I lay these stripes crosswise to one another. I affix things to the squares. My mother's face. Transparent silk. Coyotes. Pine trees. The great grey owls. Your face.

We are the moment that we need. This time it's easier to repaint the stairs than to try and clean them yet again. Today I even abandoned my quilt and went outside to remind your friend he promised he'd help with your ironing but he was already gone, his big flat tail thwacking the water loudly to announce his submergence. Just before he dove I saw he wore one of your white lace collars. Underwater it wouldn't matter whether they were ironed or not.

Ursula Pflug is author of the novel Green Music, the story collection After the Fires and the forthcoming collection Harvesting the Moon. She currently has short fiction in, or forthcoming in, That Not Forgotten, The Broad Universe Sampler, Bibliotheca Fantastica, The Lion and the Aardvark, and other anthologies. She is also an editor, playwright, book and art reviewer and creative writing instructor. She has recently started Cat Sass Literary Nights, a reading series in rural eastern Ontario, beloved by giant beavers and funded by the National Public Readings Program of the Canada Council.