There is a heap of stones. At first the seemingly twiggish boy chooses the largest of the bunch. But giving all his back – “all” save tearing lean muscles from thin bone – he can’t shift the thing; not one grain. He tries his hand a few times beyond reason but not so much to waste the day, then goes about choosing a better stone. This one, the second or third largest, is a better shape: a gigantic arrowhead. Lifting this rock will prove a brutal task, but when it slid a foot across the pile with his second push, he was certain.
Second or third largest? It is the largest that he could budge, and budging is something completely different from lifting and carrying. As pretty as the stone is it is awkward: taller than the boys torso and head, blinding him or forcing him to walk sideways; wider than would allow him to wrap his arms around the front, to squeeze with elbows, chest and hands; thick enough that his hands can’t pinch the edge. The “point” of the stone – the corner that can be imagined as the point to the arrowhead – should face downward, leaving boy with the most manageable width and a sloping edge that would let him cradle near the base without having to work his fingers between the stone and earth – no pinching or crushing – though the angles would quicken his clock against gravity – slipping, not just the anticipated weakening grip. And the task of setting the stone onto this point is its own challenge: brutal of course, but delicate too. Precise.
Right the thing. Turn the stone to its edge. You might expect that he would try once and barely lift an edge, and the second time he would lift with grimaces and spitting exhalations and muttered cries from his navel, driving up with more steam as he can get a full arm and shoulder under the beast, then using his thighs, calves, and toes push the stone to the edge, too forcefully past the edge on the uneven ground, trying to catch the sudden falling away with outstretched arms and an already overexerted back…
Yes, once. The second time (third) after recovering exhalations, panting, pacing away and back again with hands on hips and head tilted back, he fashions a surface for the edge to sit, and a line of rocks to aid in the catching. And with an effort no less dramatic he rights the stone – to its side…
Now to the point. Learning from these previous efforts he kicks smaller rocks into place and others out of the way. He even unearths a perfect divot for the point to sit in. And again with anguished faces and grunts and spit, sliding feet, dropping knees, and strength unimaginable from this waif of a boy the thing finds herself balanced on her narrow point, always threatening to topple mercilessly.
Boy hugs her, wide legged and desperate to catch any breath that might regain his balance let alone the wide stone’s. Exhaling through closed loose lips, he understands the horse working hard, and laughs that he’s made the same sounds. Even after he is done laughing about it, he breathes like a horse, and closes his eyes, holding the stone, feeling his sweat and the breeze. And with his hands wrapped around the thickness, toes pointed east and west, his chest and cheek pressed firmly against the granite slab, and eyes to the budding canopy, he lifts the rock.
Buckling, burning, failing, so quickly, three, maybe a fourth step and he lurches forward and the stone stops in the exact place it lands. He arches back amazed by the relief and in so much pain, everything screaming.
A few minutes to breath and build the will back up. Then right the stone, to its point, rest, breath like a horse, rest, keep the toppling at bay, wrap hands, point toes, press chest and cheek, look to the sky, lift, walk forward, lurch, toss, and scream in agony.
This is not manageable. A half-mile would take a day! If he could even repeat this for hours. Maybe right the thing onto a ledge, step below it and carry it on his back? Risky, yes, but he might walk a dozen yards or more that way. There. There is a short wall. With some struggle he can slide the stone onto the top slab. It is not becoming easier. Grit, grimace, spit, strain, under the edge, push again, back, thighs, calves, toes, and will, the stone reluctantly slides on top of the wall. “Christ!” And he paces back and forth breathing out like a horse again, even shaking his head back and forth and screaming out a little to keep from feeling sick. Right it onto its edge. The same. Breath and curse. Needn’t bring it to its point, fit it to his back instead, cupping hands under the edge, belt below the edge as well, head tilted forward for the bulges in the stone. Let it topple slowly. Slowly! Cry and carry! Carry! Carry! Stumbling steps. Carry! Carry! Shuffling, jerking feet. Carry! Throw the thing off, oh God! God! Fuck!
That was further. That was not a good plan. Boy is sitting by a tree staring at the stone. This stone is heavy. This stone is so much to bear. He feels sick. He feels terrible. This is the right stone.