Fiction

Mantle

This is the shape of my grief then. The stone in the shape of a dildo. This stone. It’s grey, this stone. I know nothing about where this stone has come from. Is it igneous? It is not sedimentary, that much I know. It’s very smooth, a pleasure to hold. It took me a long time to hold it, to pick it up.

I’ve opened a lot of drawers. It was in a bottom drawer. This job that I’m doing, it is both simply a lot of disgusting work, these decades of dust, and also this other sort of labour that involves the finding of poems written by lovers, their spectres rising as I read them, all around me, who are they? Are they dead too? I hold this poem in my hand, it’s yellowed, folded small, placed in a little box with things like one dangly earring and a clip that holds membership tags with numbers on them, from a time when they cared about making such things beautiful. An old penny. A dusty bit of jade. Are these talismans? This dust, does it become sedimentary rock, if left undisturbed, if let wet, if layered with the heat of my exhaled breath?

I find every address I’ve ever lived at. They are written on old envelopes, her address on the front, ripped open, it’s not like she has a bone letter opener that lives on an oak desk. They are not in any order, they are not together or placed with care, but I find them as I go through the boxes and boxes of papers that seem hidden all over the house, to taunt me. Each time I think I’ve finished them, there will be another. Scattered throughout all these boxes are the envelopes with my addresses on them.

48 Archibald Street, who was I there? That house was so hot, I’d just wear a scrap of silk scarf for a top, tied in a tight knot at the back. Where the ceiling was spotted with squashed mosquitoes and my blood. Where my neighbour, whose window was but two metres from my own, had a thing for spanking and filled my nights with the sound of a hand-hitting, fleshing. The Fremantle apartment that was mine for only a little while, where I lived with other people’s things, this thing they used to make coffee, these things with colours I’d never pick, a couch of asylum green, a KitchenAid in baby-boomer blue. These houses, they come back to me. I’d forgotten them. But here they are, written in her scrawl alongside other notes: lemons, wire, tissues. Recipes torn out and never made. Maybe she made them? Maybe that’s what the lemons were for, for this lemon tart with too much sugar.

Already, I’ve burnt these. It is very cold. Night is a mantle that settles in the early afternoon and the sunset is not pink or orange but a bright electric blue, there for only a moment before the speckled black comes. There are a lot of stars here. It’s a good place for stargazing, if you like the feeling of the wind trying to get beneath the skin. It’ll try through your eyes. If that wind can just get between the eyelid and the eye, then it can go in and do what it wants with the skull, the brain, the thoughts. What thoughts could it pry from a head, my head? It wants to find its way in when the mouth is open for a breath.

Mantle: a loose cloak or shawl worn especially by a woman, a covering, a bird’s back, especially when of a distinct colour, an outer layer of tissue, especially in molluscs, the bit that secretes the substance that makes a shell. An important role or responsibility that is passed from one person to another, the region of the Earth’s interior between the crust and the core, believed to consist of hot, dense silicate rocks, mainly peridotite.

I hold the stone dildo in my hand. What to do with it? I walk down to the beach. The dildo is very heavy in my pocket. Did the ocean forge this thing? Though forge is absolutely the wrong word. It is not heat that made this rock, well, not after its beginning. This rock, that was put in only the warmest of places. Over how many millennia did the ocean shape it? What was its shape, first, before the sea had its way with it? How was it changed by time? I walk this stone to the beach, and I hold it in my hand, in my pocket. I don’t take it to the sandy beach that curls like the perfect, unplucked shape of her eyebrows. I take it to the rocky beach. On that beach with the stones that make my favourite clattering sound as each wave arrives, like the sound itself is shaping the rocks, smoothing them. I crouch down, and as I dig my hand into the rocks, the deeper I dig, the smaller they get, until they’re pebbles, and then tiny black sand. If I dug deep enough, would they suddenly cease to exist? I laugh at myself, dealing with death brings out the macabre, how could it not. I throw the dildo into the sea and as it plops, I howl “No”, and the wind takes this moment to come on in.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 5, 2022 as "Mantle".

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Romy Ash is a novelist. Her first book, Floundering, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award.

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