Issue 93 - Annie Mountcastle

Tiny Little Nothing
(Winner of the Robert Watson Prize)

by Annie Mountcastle 

     I stole the doctor's stethoscope. I pocketed it on my way out of the ER. It was an awful, impulsive thing to do, but I did it anyway. Now the river is screaming across the rocks, maybe asking me something, maybe not.
     The Roanoke River is spectacular and gross. My father used to bring us here to skip rocks. He said God made this river and people polluted it. We weren't allowed to go in it.
     "It's dirty," he said and skipped another flat stone across.
     I'd like to press the stethoscope against the water's surface, find our if the old thing has a heartbeat, but I know the answer already and settle instead onto a silt-covered rock, just beyond the reaches of the river. I don't want its dirty fluid fingers touching me. I'm sure it would infect my own newly stitched finger, driving me back to the doctor and his endless questions. "Does it throb or just ache?" I don't know.
     There's a 3AM show on church radio called Yoga-Jesus. Dennis the Christian Menace hosts from a little radio station in the back of a truck stop in Virginia Beach. He's always saying, "Your body knows what it needs." I listen to the show when I can't sleep and want to hear someone else's voice. "Ask your body," says the radio man, "what do you need?"
     Whatever brings me here, it isn't the nasty leftovers forever littering the place, remnants of past strangers who stopped here too. There are beer cans, the occasional used condom, pieces of tires, biggie cups from drive-thrus, and always a stray sock, somehow a different one every time.Today the sock is gray, with yellow stitching at the toe, like some awful promise of brighter days ahead.

     My mother says everyone has their mountain to climb. Some time ago she suggested that maybe I've climbed mine. It was another way of saying maybe I've suffered enough.
     It's an absurd notion. After she said it, we laughed.
     Who has suffered enough? What does that even mean?
     If it does mean something, it certainly doesn't apply to me. Unless you're willing to concede that privilege is a kind of suffering---in which case, yes, perhaps I've suffered enough.
     I was nineteen when my life imploded... 

...Read more in issue 93