We Are All Michael Stipe in his Rolled-up Shirtsleeves

Beth Gilstrap

Pigeons rise in a flurry of wingbeats. In their former spot, a stone, brown and unassuming—only its sheen of note. I roll it in my palm near the base of my thumb. Lifeline. Motherline. Mount of Venus. Where I’d singed my skin on an oven grate. Never drink and bake, I think, but the booze and alchemy of melting sugar and butter, chocolate and egg yolk and salt, and wine on wine on wine is the only way I’ve found to breathe through waking hours. When the blister cools, I touch the stone to each shoulder. Pinked and freckled. Following a bit of Cottonwood fluff farther into the forest, the path goes ragged, rewilding. It whips and flits up nearly catching in a branch but the air settles and the puff of a thing drifts into a clump of unbloomed thistle. The stone has no right to be smooth here amongst jagged things. Its texture is for another walk grafted onto another shore where my heels scale less, where my hair hits my elbows. Anyone else would say God speaks here, enunciating in English, It thrums. It still thrums. I know better. I know we’re all Michael Stipe in his rolled-up shirtsleeves falling on the floor, flailing our arms, a splinter of shock in the larynx, feeling blood return. A lover who overdosed places feathers in my collarbone, trying to release the pain: Here in the auburn light. You’re not parent, not child. Mother and I are twins here. She holds a piece of Chinese Jade, flipping it over her knuckles as father did coins. She palms it in her right hand, I close my stone in my left. We join free hands, skipping along, rocking them back and forth with force. There should be a child between us, she says. Heaving the rock back into the wood, I raise my shoulders, raise my feathers, and turn. By now, wind or water or animal has changed the stone. It’s shifted a few inches east or west. At Mother’s bedside, scratching puncture wounds on my clavicles, I watch her sleep, count breaths—they are too few. I dab rosewater on her wrists. Turning her hand, I puzzle over her long lifeline, crosshatches in the heartline, the mark of trouble in her headline, and wish will alone could bend the continuum.

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Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction.Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Wigleaf, among others.