I whisper hurriedly to the rock as I run. We’re almost there. It’s so smooth, balanced in my hand. It is a dead weight: solid, strong, dangerous. How must it feel, to contain such potential power, both to create and destroy? How many times have you been lifted and hurled at an enemy? How many times have you just barely missed an innocent bystander as a wave thrust you in anger toward the shore? It doesn’t answer, but I know it hears me. I run faster.
The sandy rubble is sprinkled with large, ill-shaped chunks of cement tile. The only smell is the stale scent of old furniture, and with each breath I inhale a mouthful of choking, dry dust. The heat squeezes against my skin, like a drugstore blood-pressure machine on my arm, my other arm, my legs, around my head… The sun’s glare pinches at my cheeks and nose, though the sky is overcast, and only a weak glow pushes against the deep, low-lying cloud: a mottled glass windowpane. Looking back quickly, I catch the shadowy shape of her silhouette against the few truncated pillars that stand obstinate in her pathway. But she will overcome them. Already, I feel her presence drawing near. I will my legs to move faster. The crunch of colliding pebbles groan at the sudden pressure and mean friction under my feet. The sound is deafening. I can hear nothing else.
The rock grows sticky in my hand. I apologize to it under my breath. It doesn’t deserve to be drenched in my sweat. How many times have you served nobly as a city for an army of ants? And for how many years have you dutifully housed a Bacterial Nation? – in fact you still must, this very moment. I cannot let her catch me. She will only take it away, and how will I know what she will do to it next? I’ve seen her work. I’ve seen what she can do. I can feel the sweat collecting on my neck and under my armpits. The soles of my feet feel raw, and alternate between an icy cold and searing heat, as if they cannot make up their minds how to feel. What shaped you – who shaped you? What raindrop carved the last micrometre into that crevice of yours, near the centre? My knees feel week under me. Which river were you flung against the stony bank of, only to rush back into the water again, amongst the turbulent eddies, and be thrown once more against the other shore, a few feet further downstream? The yellow bits of sand cling onto you – when did you meet them? I can no longer feel my legs at all. She draws closer. I feel her shadow shield me from the heat. The fabric of her clothing creates a static spark against my skin. I twist away in time and ignore the gnawing pain in my chest as I run.
I hold in my hand a rock, a chunk of cemented earth. I hold in my hand an assembly of microbes: struggling life, forgotten carcasses, spores in eternal hibernation. I hold the memories of the passers-by who kicked the particles onto and off of it among the gravely beach. I hold a gemstone of life and history.
I look over my shoulder to see her stoop down, plunging her hands into the brittle sand: the rocky grain. She lifts up a handful and hurls it at me. He eyes shoot right at me, but she doesn’t see me. I brush off the spattering of pebbles, and rub the drops of blood from my already red, sunburned cheeks. Instinctively I reach out my hand as if ready to pass a baton, overhand, to the next runner; there is no next runner. My arm swings back in a circle, with surprising force, and the stone is flung backwards; it clicks as it lands. Dust flows at my feet.
She bends over and plucks the rock from the ground with her index finger and thumb, with sickening precision and calm. She walks toward me, her grey hair falling to the ground as she moves; I watch the grey strands flit in the dusty breeze, then land with a sigh, caught in the grip of an outstretched pebble. Silver rainfall. The ants collect around the strands of hair, scoping out each freshly discovered specimen. She had been waiting all along for this moment; she had been waiting for me to fail. She lifts her hand and slips the stone into her mouth. I watch the stone disappear – that rock, that tiny part of the world – and I wonder if all the other parts can possibly contain this much life.