“Meteorite”

We were asleep when the meteorite hit. Horrible rumble, cindery smell. Everyone ran downstairs in rumpled states of slumbered dress. There it was, looking like a burnt pot roast in a shallow hole in the kitchen floor.

Unco spread his arms. “Don’t touch,” he snapped. He gazed up to the ceiling hole, singed with an ashen crust. Up above the night’s sky was darkening through.

“Goddamn roof,” Unco muttered. “Insurance gonna pay for this?”

“And my floor!” Auntie exclaimed. “What about my floor!”

We crept closer, but Unco shooed us away. “Get to bed,” he said. He grabbed an old towel, some nails and a hammer, and patched the hole in the ceiling with a terrycloth bandage. Then he marched us out of the kitchen and turned out the light.

We could hardly sleep, and when that first glimmer was spotted over the horizon, even before the sunlight could lick our windowsills, we leapt up from our beds and blew downstairs. The rock sat where it fell, brave but weary.

We sensed in its presence something new. As if the house had shifted somehow. Color reached the corners.

Unco stomped in like a lion tamer, but when he got close to the meteorite he paused. He grumbled about the unfairness of it. He told Jonah to pick it up, and Jonah did, like a delicate but heavy egg, and set it—on Unco’s orders—atop a pile of newspapers in the kitchen corner.

Unco set to work repairing the roof. Auntie swept up the broken kitchen tiles. We watched the rock on its newspaper nest. It was at once the quietest and the loudest thing. Either way, it could not be ignored. It had come. It was here. It had pierced through the house.

When Unco and Auntie weren’t looking we ventured to pick it up. It was as heavy as the moon outside our nighttime windows, so bright and impossible. We passed the meteorite among us, cradling it in our arms. We felt its coldness against our cheeks, let our faces press its surface. We put it to our noses, to our lips, to our ears to hear the distant waves of the universe.

“Get rid of that thing,” Unco spat. “You’ve had your fun. I want it out of here.” We asked him where we should take it. “Hell,” he growled.

We took the rock upstairs and set it on Jonah’s bed. We stared at it, sure it was trying to look back, sure that it would speak to us, tell us it was here to save us. It had come for that reason—it must have—the manifestation of our dreams, the hole-maker that spilled the darkness into the painful light.

The next morning we crept downstairs. Unco cooked his Unco’s World Famous Eggs, which he often made the day after a horror. Auntie poured orange juice.

Jonah was still in bed, and Unco asked, “Where’s Jonah?”

“Asleep,” Sis said.

“Not like him to sleep in,” Unco frowned. He favored Jonah. Had it been anyone else, you bet he would have made sure our butts were up and out of bed. Instead, Unco said, “Go wake him up. I’ll keep some eggs warm in the oven.”

We found Jonah sitting on the side of his bed. His hair was a mess and he was rubbing the back of his neck. “Must’ve slept wrong,” he said. “Got this crick in my neck. A bad one.” A bruise ran down it, a long deep stain. Jonah lifted up his shirt and the bruises were there, too.

Jonah could hardly move. He was stooped forward and bent down, and he walked like that down the stairs to the breakfast table.

“My God!” Auntie cried. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Must’ve slept wrong,” Jonah said.

“You can’t go to school like that.”

Unco took one look at Jonah, but wouldn’t look again. He sat, eyes sewn to his plate, masticating his World Famous Eggs. “You still got that rock in here?” he said.

Jonah took a seat at the table.

“It leaves today,” Unco said.

We did our morning chores and followed Jonah to the secret place to bury it. He mounded the earth gently on top and said, “It was meant for us. It wasn’t just chance. We brought it here.”

The trees were bare. School was brown. Unco slept, Auntie watched her TV. We would go by the gravesite, pass close, knowing what was under there.

It went like that. But one morning behind his three-ring binder Max Hubble whispered the rumor that Jonah had broken off a piece of the rock, put it on a necklace chain, and had given the necklace to Beatrice Lascoute.

It was true. On the way home I spied Bea showing it off.

The next day the police were on the porch. They put Unco in handcuffs. Auntie cried, yelled at the policemen to leave poor Unco alone. Unco said nothing. He grimaced and glowered like he did when he got his sour stomach. We squeezed each other’s hands, statued ourselves as Auntie heaved and spat, spun conspiracies, cleaved at the evils that circled and snapped at her very being. Her very being, she cried, since the day she was born! In our room we put on her act, pulled our hair. From the day we were born! we cried, From the day we were born!

But we knew the truth, and the next day at school we blinked our thank-yous to Beatrice Lascoute.

It was all true. It was here for us. Jonah dug out the meteorite and brought it back inside. Auntie glared, the glow of the TV turning her tears to long blue burns that dripped into the chip bowl. Jonah set the rock right on the kitchen table, right there where we could gaze into its infinity.

Oh, we should have known. Known what was too much in us to be saved by a simple thing like that.

It was the kind of thing that is barely perceptible, like when you live with someone and don’t notice them aging, or growing taller, or developing breasts, or their hair changing color, or growing a manly little mustache. But suddenly, there it is. Auntie grew, and the meteor was growing smaller.

Auntie stayed frozen in her spot, cursing and weeping on the couch. We’d brought the meteor down, she hissed. We’d kept the horrible thing. We’d shown it to others. It was all our fault! Poor Unco! Poor, poor Auntie!

In this way she grew. Auntie. In girth, in stature. She absolutely loomed.

 

Like the meteor, we seemed to be shrinking. It affected Jonah the most. He was slimming, diminishing. Soon he was a fraction of what he had been before, slashed through the middle.

We tried to stop it. We showed the meteor to everyone. We rubbed its stony skin, we buried it again. Had it been an accident? A streak of light that should have dissolved before it broke the wrecked and wicked world?

By now Auntie’s arms reached both ends of the couch and we were so miniscule that we could barely keep ourselves from being pulled into the cracked and gaping kitchen floor.

It went like this until one day it was another family moved in, one of them for each of us. We stuck to the syrup-sticky corners and crouched behind the couch. We moved through them, and they moved through us. But for the patched ceiling and the strange whirlpool of kitchen tile, there was no way to know the meteor had ever come. It had shrunk to an unliftably heavy mote.

“We have to go,” Sis said.

Nothing could be more true.

But we couldn’t. We were small but heavy, too.

Days rolled. Jonah stayed by Auntie, held in her folds since Beatrice had returned the necklace. The other family watched TV and we watched through the dark hemispheres of their heads.

Sis showed at the stairs, floated over, touched me on the shoulder, beckoned. I followed her up to the little room we shared.

“I’ve found a way,” she said. She led me to the bed and tossed back the covers. “We have to leave a part of ourselves behind.”

I saw it there, spread across the sheet.

“Cut off a part,” she said. Her eyes were fine obsidian pinpoints. “Just enough.”

I’ve been back to the house. I’ve stood outside its door, wiped the ash from the pane. Auntie’s gone. Jonah soon after. Eventually Sis went, too. She discovered a way out, only she used it too many times, until there was nothing left. I’ve managed to find other ways. But I know Sis had been right, at least that once. And if we hadn’t cut that part from ourselves we would have turned to dust.

About Joel Morris

Joel Morris' stories have appeared in American Literary Review, elsewhere magazine, and The Citron Review. Along with a novel, he is currently at work on a series of translations of Paul Scheerbart’s science fiction stories from the German.