My boy wakes and shows me that his index finger has become a fairy chimney of seafoamyst, banded white to blue-green. The webbing between, an alluvial fan, where fossils are buried and later born. We lie on the floor together and I press my lips to his finger again and again, how cool it is to the touch. I pull him so tight, compress his every cell.
My boy rarely speaks—his mouth is filled with tumbled stones, his teeth are the teeth of dinosaurs, and his tongue is a sierra—but tonight he asks me if I feel the flood of his love for me. He puts his hands in front of my eyes: feel it, don't see it.
I say, Yes, I feel it. I can see only dark but his smile sounds like an earthquake and I love it nonetheless, always.
This place has been called a desert worked-over by paintbrushes of wind and time and sand and ash but in truth it is haunted, its ghosts lingering beneath my feet in every petrifaction. We live in a graveyard and I carry my boy around too much, afraid to let him run alone for what he might find in the sand: aberrations of his future self.
I carry him to the wash when it flows. I carry him on our daily hike to the pools that supply our water, and where we used to swim. He grows heavier every day for all the wrong reasons.
My boy misses his mother and that is all right. Missing is an okay human thing. We stand in the middle of blue gama prairies and we listen to her speak through every stalk like they are the white nothingness hairs on her chin. The mesas, her eyebrows. Her mouth is nearby, hidden: a secret crawlspace. Her body is all around us.
She makes him this way, we say, sometimes, and then take it back, palms capped across mouths.
Still, the idea works tectonics on me. I understand why she would want such a thing: turn him solid and he will not shatter at the dawn of every day without her.
My boy shows me his right eye become cardinine, seemingly impossible perfect cube that glows bright red in the morninglight. I try looking as if I might see another kind of inside-him: where tumble his dreams, tastes other than iron and stone, the memory of his own skin.
He says he still remembers the day his mother named the mineral in honor of her love for him, and his love for that red-winged flutter. How later he held that perfect cube in his mouth and tasted it, his mouth stained red for weeks afterward.
My boy thinks that might be why he is turning mineral now, but I tell him no, there's no telling for these kinds of things. He cries copper-green. The mucus-gum in his mouth when he speaks looks like stalactites. His mouth is a cave: all I want to do is step inside.
A short history of his mother: taxonomist for all these rocks because we are the first to live here permanently. She named them all after things our boy loved best, creatures and moments of his longing: owlium, morningite, cloudular.
As these figures sprout across his body, muscles into stiff aggregates, it feels like she is naming him again and again. And how I wish she would stop. And how I wish he could be named only boy. Only mine, and hers, too, if she still wants him. His bones are static to her codex. His heart is in a lockbox of her naming.
My boy aches for stories of those who have become stone only to be transformed back, and so I give him three brothers and a sister who build themselves a palace of such beauty, and yet it is not enough: they need a talking bird, a magical tree branch, and a pail of life-water. All locked away inside the mountain. And how each brother goes in search of these treasures and find a giant who warns: once hiking the mountain pass, ignore the rocks that will accost and insult them—one look and they will turn to stone. And how they each turn their proud eyes at these accusations, their bodies flash fossilized. And how my boy will have to wait another night for the ending.
I tuck him into bed and he is smiling: his lips are two cylinders of roselite and he is so beautiful to me as he cups his left hand over his one remaining eye. He doesn't want to look and risk being turned to stone and neither do I. We don't want this to end.
When he sleeps, his breath sounds like the foot of a waterfall.
The one story I will not tell him: of his mother, who lost her way in one of the many caves beneath this desert, her wandering in the endless dark for a piece of eclipsite, black core deep enough to contain its own stars. She left months ago and has not yet returned and no matter how many times I put my ear to the desert floor I can't hear her voice anti-echoing as she looks for an exit. I would go and search for her or her silicate body but I could never leave my boy alone, never risk that he might lose both his parents to the graveyard beneath our feet.
Down there, she has become a walking museum: one could make such beautiful jewelry out of her fingerbones.
My boy's hair has become spaghetite: hexagon strands in white all tumbled, arching through each other, cleaved deposits of deep red. I make him a bowl of the real thing in celebration and we both try to break pieces off with our fingers. Our skin gives first and we bleed that same red. He is indestructible; he is falling apart.
A monsoon comes and the wash bleeds. I carry my boy there and together we admire creosote in our noses. I hold him beneath the water and scrub at his boy skin and his jackrabbitite skin because in tales, water is miraculous, healer of all stone.
But in the desert, water is the ingredient for the creation of minerals. My wife explained this to me once before she succumbed to the same processes. Here, water preserves what might otherwise decay so that minerals can leech in.
I yank my boy from the water, dry him clear with one hand as I hold him with the other. Sometimes I wish she were here to tell me what to know. Sometimes I feel that I have to choose: my son as fossil or as falling-apart. Most of the time, I don't know which stories to believe in any more.
I take my wife's books out into the wash and begin to dig. I bury her taxonomies where I know they will be buried again and again by floods because this is the only story I know any more: the sheathing in mud, the leeching of minerals, the creation of fossils. Perhaps she will find the petrified pages beneath the sand. Perhaps she will thank me, someday.
The stories I tell my boy always end in rescues but I fear our lives are ephemeral in a way not even water can cure.
I drive my fists into the sand until my collarbones feel clear as lacetine held up to a sunrise.
I wander the desert at night in search of basilisks. I find fossils and rub them between my fingers until they bleed. I grind up purpled and glasslike puddline and pour it into my coffee. In the sand I find the bones of long-dead beasts and I hold them in my mouth as did my boy long ago. Copper lingers on my tongue all day.
My boy's forearms become campfirine, his skin yellow-cored surrounded by wisps of orange. His ears become foxite: white earlopes and chestnut across the rest. His toes become blue-to-orange morningite, each toenail a sunrise. He stands naked and I struggle to find the boyskin that remains among the minerals. I find a place on his shoulder and I kiss it. I find a patch on the bottom of his foot and whisper into it you are still mine.
He can barely speak but when he does it is of joy: he has become all the things he loves most. He is what is mother made him.
When he walks the backs of his knees compress the smallest of diamonds.
My boy asks me to finish the tale. I tell him of the youngest daughter who goes out in search of her brothers, meets the giant, heeds his warning. She keeps her eye true to the task ahead, ignores the taunts, reaches the life-water and the magical tree and singing bird safely. And how, on her descent, she uses the pail of life-water to free her brothers from their stones. And how they count their fingers again. And how they fan up their eyelids.
My boy lies across my belly and he is lighter than he looks but heavier than he should be.
His smile erodes me; he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
I crack open a geode and drink the ancient milk inside, blue-tinged of owlium. I swallow all stone and I am always waking to become a man and nothing else.
We sleep outside in the dirt because there is not much time. The last of his skin has turned into papatate: the color of my own. I listen to his heart and hear the shift of a thousand faults.
I pile our figures with all the blankets I can find, their weight compressing us together: me and him, me and her, her and us. We put her sand into our mouths and laugh. I hold him so close his every cleaved outline divots into my skin. I tell him tales in geologic time and he giggles a rockslide.
Together we dream of someone coming to rescue us with a palm full of water.
Rain begins to fall.
Joel Hans is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and the managing/prose editor for Fairy Tale Review. His fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Caketrain, Redivider, Booth, Nashville Review, Necessary Fiction, and others. He is also a co-editor with Cartridge Lit, an online literary magazine devoted to literature inspired by video games.
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