Margaret was seventy-three years old when the doctor discovered the stone inside her.
After the operation, the surgeon asked her if she wanted to keep it, this rock they had taken from her body, that had lain there within her for decades. This thing that had once been something living.
She surprised herself by saying yes.
She kept it in the drawer of an end table beside her bed. Sometimes she’d take the stone out of its dark room. Stare at it in fascination, cradle it in the palm of her hand, whisper to it.
Her husband told her she was disturbed—sick—and needed to throw it away, his voice so odd and foreign now that Parkinson’s was settling into him, a raspy, buzzing sound like a nest of disturbed snakes.
“Just flush it down the toilet. If you don’t I will,” he said, looking like a withered old tree caught in a windstorm as he creaked into his pajamas, slid into bed—his back to her—and yanked the blankets up under his chin.
“Don’t you dare,” she said, turning the page in her romance novel.
“Slut,” he grumbled. “Bitch. You fucking cheating whore.”
She kept reading, ignoring him. She was used to it and knew it was only the sundown syndrome talking, this strange and malign dementia that would come over him at night. In the morning he’d have no memory of any of it. After fifty years of faithful marriage this is what she was reduced to: the accusations of a mad man and her only child a lump of stone resting in a dark drawer.
As Martin began to snore, Margaret’s mind drifted. She thought back to that strange day she’d been gripped by those awful pains—a searing sensation like her insides were being rendered with a jagged blade—and the bizarre X-ray that followed. There, on the illuminated, milky-white photo of her insides, was a tiny, perfectly-shaped fetus. A lithopedion, or stone baby.
It was so rare that the doctors exclaimed it a miracle.
A child had once resided within her, caught in the folds of her abdomen, far from the protective confines of her womb. There, her own body, which had created it, layered it in cartilage, calcifying its tissue, it to protect itself from its own creation. It lay hidden in the dark recess of her body, a tiny rock that had once been her baby, and only now did it want to escape her, to be born to the world.
She put her book down within the ring of photographs. Switched off the light. She pictured her stone baby there in the darkness of the drawer, safe, its perfection—angelic face, tiny well-formed fingers—forever frozen in rock. She marveled over it as she let her eyes slip shut and sleep began to creep across her. All this time she had been a mother and never known it.
She needed to give it a name.