One Cool Rock

Dev Murphy


Old fears: the dark; hell; loneliness. New fears: coughing; the future; fireworks; motorcycles; the dark; crowds; loneliness. In the new world with the new changes I am suffering. I am saying to everyone, Did it just get louder in here or is it me?And everyone is saying, It is you. (Of course, when we exchange words, we are adding to the noise: it is not me.) / Nick is suffering, too. He was adopted during the pandemic, you see. 24/7 access to me is his norm, and now that the world is returning to its norm his little heart is broken. / I usually sleep with tiny lights shaped like stars on but they hurt S’s head sometimes so we shut them off and I feel so crushed by darkness I believe I will die. I admit: sleeping in the dark is an impossible task when I am alone. / My older sister who lives out of state has trouble leaving the house so I tell her Go to the woods and don’t come back until you have found One Cool Rock. Giving advice on how to act less like myself makes me feel less like myself. But I think there are more people who need a mission in order to leave the house than we realize. / My apartment is swathed in beige so I bought plants and colorful rugs and now I want to leave the house even less frequently. / I get a remote job as a copyeditor. I spend the day editing self-help books in my pajamas while Nick sits on my lap. / When I tell people about the copyediting job, they say, That sounds easy. Can you get me in on that? I want to say, Slow down, I have a Master’s degree! but the reality is that doesn’t matter. I’m not doing much that is special. I know, logically, that does not mean I am not worthy of love. / Because I often feel overcome by the weight of my failures, E advises me to construct a comfort list, which is what her therapist advised her to do. So this is my comfort list: star-shaped lights, colorful rugs, nice-looking rocks, the singing mice from Babe, the old man who walked into the mummy wing at the history museum once and said It smells like a church in here. The rest of the day all I could think of was that man, and of the care given to a dummy’s plaster foot tucked away under a turning wheel: the flour-soft tan line veeing the top of the toes. / I read an article recently that said rats love to drive tiny cars. They wanted to see if they could teach the rats to drive; it turns out they not only could, but it took very little motivation. The rats love to drive! It makes them happy. That makes me happy. Later I read an article that said when scientists study rats they often only study male rats because female rats are too hormonal. That ruined the rat car story for me a bit. / I suspect in the next few hundred years animals will be treated entirely as equals to humans. I don’t think that means we will stop eating each other. / S thinks that my adopting a cat is a sign of maturity, but that I still need to buy a car in order to be caught up in life. Even the rats have little cars, I think. I’m behind even the rats! / I love S but I think he has some boomer tendencies, if I’m being completely honest. Sometimes his work ethic depresses me. He doesn’t put enough stock in luck. I think this hurts him deeply; when I fail, the pain is acute, and I put a lot more stock in luck than he does. / I’m not sure the notion of marching into the woods for One Cool Rock would make any sense to S. I should simply be able to go. / S calls the shelf where I put all my tiny objects my Curiosity Cabinet. My curiosity cabinet is an old hardwood office mailbox: three tiny boxes by seventeen tiny boxes. I found it on the side of the road shortly after the pandemic began and S lugged it into my apartment for me. I have stored many things in it, such as:

  • rocks
  • dried clementine peels
  • pencils
  • dried flowers
  • a matchbox car
  • a lump of coal
  • corks
  • unused sparklers
  • a token for a free game of minigolf
  • feathers
  • seashells

At the top of the shelf is a little sign that says LIBRARY. People are always giving me small things to put into the curiosity cabinet and this is one way I know that I am a part of the world, even if I do not feel it sometimes: a compact antique autograph book from J; a snail shell from S (Like the giant pink snail shell in Dr. Doolittle, he said; I have stuffed feathers into the shell, and now it looks like a bird has made a home of it); a tiny tin from C with the words ESTEEM THE GIVERcurled up on the top; a rabbit figurine that belonged to E’s mother. What do I do to support my friends? Not enough, I worry. / My confession is this: the world is reopening, I am safe, I am well, and I am still afraid. I am afraid of the government, and of money, and of coughing. I am afraid of standing up for things. I am afraid of what it means that half the country showed themselves to be comfortably indifferent to their compatriots throughout this last year. And—this is a small fear, you will say my priorities are out of order—I am afraid that I will continue to only feel safe at home, and that I will be swept under the rug and forgotten, as everyone else moves on with their lives, or doesn’t. / Other items on my comfort list: I Spy books; jasmine tea; the swallow in “Thumbelina,” how he smiled for her when she got engaged to the fairy prince even though he would be so lonely without her. Hans Christian Andersen’s stories are full of good-hearted losers. I think this is what I like best about them. I read that Andersen was so afraid of dying he would attach a note to his shirt when he slept that said Not dead! Only sleeping! / Someone online took a poll: what animals are introverts? I thought instantly of several different animals—spider, mole, mouse, centipede—and then thought further about the different ways there are of being alone. Spiders, I think, are content to be alone. They wish to be by themselves: confident loners. Mice and centipedes are simply too anxious to be extroverts. And moles are so full of resentment and disdain towards the world aboveground that they would seek to shame those who rightfully belong there into remaining secluded with them. There is a certain type of loneliness that is so lonely, it wishes to make others lonely too. Sometimes I worry I have that loneliness. / My bigger confession is that I only felt safe at home before the pandemic even started. I find somebody I love or admire and I want to contain them in my palms always. My palms, thankfully, are not big enough. / My biggest confession of all is that I never feel truly safe or at rest, even when I am home alone. In fact, when I am alone in my house I begin to believe sometimes that I am the only person who exists at all. / I have never been much of a meat-eater, but when I adopted Nick I felt an even stronger conviction than before that maybe I ought to stop eating animals. Then he dropped a dead mouse in the hallway in front of my door. He looked at me so proudly! After taking a second to process the shock of a tiny dead body in my home, I scooped Nick up in my arms and deposited him in my bedroom and shut the door on him and fetched a plastic bag and tongs. I came back to the mouse and stared at it. It looked perfect, like it was only sleeping. I wondered, if it had not died, if I could have taught it to drive a tiny car, or a tiny motorcycle, like in The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I wondered how Nick had killed it—battered it to death, crushed its little bones, I supposed. Wary, I poked at it with the tongs, but it didn’t move, its skin only gave in a little, like a pillow for a doll, or a baked potato cooked too long, or a little balloon that has begun to lose air. Taut but malleable, flexible. I plucked the tiny corpse with the tongs and deposited it into the grocery bag and threw it into the garbage outside. When I released Nick from the bedroom, he circled in confusion the spot where the mouse had lain, looking around for his present to me, and I felt a small tug of mourning, and the mourning was not for the dead mouse, but for ignorant, murderous Nick, whose valentine was met with a look of horror. / I have trouble sitting in one spot while I talk on the phone. I wander about the apartment or go for walks. The other night I delivered library books while talking to E on the phone and I saw a young deer sitting on the lawn by the library steps, eating some flowers, completely content. It was such a special sight. But since the day I discovered the dead mouse, I have found myself on multiple occasions talking on the phone and distractedly lying down on the carpet in the spot where the mouse once rested. I rise quickly mid-conversation upon realizing, and then days later I do it again. I don’t know what draws me there. I would rather be drawn to a spot of matted grass on the library lawn, by the flowers and the book drop. / During the pandemic, the place I wanted most to be was in the poetry section of the Carnegie Library, by the window where you could look down into the dinosaur wing of the history museum. But although the library has been open now for a month or so, I have only been there once, and I barely spent time by that window. I suspect what I actually missed during quarantine was one moment of sitting by the window, drinking coffee, and reading Šalamun. It wasn’t the window at all. Or maybe it wasn’t even that moment of reading Šalamun on a day that happened to be unrepeatably perfect. Maybe it was just the belief that people could be good and kind and safe with one another, which has died, or perhaps only shut its eyes for a minute.


Dev Murphy’s writing and art have appeared or are forthcoming in Diagram, The Rupture, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, The Indiana Review, The Guardian, and elsewhere. She lives in Pittsburgh with her cat, Nick. You can find her on twitter and Instagram @gytrashh, or at