The rock tumbler clattered inside the linen closet. Celia put her pillow over her head to drown it out; it sounded like a blender trying to make daiquiris out of marbles. When she bought the rock tumbler for her son, she thought it would have to run for a couple of hours, maybe a full day. She had no idea she was in for weeks of tumbling, weeks of constant abrasive clank.

Her sleeping son dug his toes into her sweatpants. Brian had no trouble with the sound; he slept through her crying jags, he slept through this incessant grind. She pulled her leg away. Some threads, snagged in his sharp toenails, snapped, but he didn't stir.

Celia slipped out of bed and tiptoed over to the linen closet. When she opened the door, the decibel increase sent goose pimples up her arms. She threw a mattress pad over the tumbler and carried it over to the coat closet. It felt alive in her hands, a snarling, breathing animal. The bright orange extension cord, still tethered to the outlet near the coffee machine, thumped behind it like a tail.

In the last week, Celia had moved the rock tumbler from the kitchen counter to the kitchen cupboard to the bathroom counter to the cabinet under the bathroom sink to the closets in hope of lessening the noise. She was beginning to run out of hiding places; their one-bedroom apartment was far too small for this kind of racket.

She jammed the tumbler into the closet, fortified it with a ring of galoshes and snow boots. Rubber won't burn, she told herself. If the engine caught on fire—and how could it not? How could such a crappy little engine withstand such work?—it would just melt the rubber. She stumbled back off to bed, half convinced. The noise wasn't any better. If anything, it had grown more fierce. She buried her head under her pillow, dragged the pillow under the covers. She felt as if she was full of ants, full of bees, as if she was going to burst out of her skin. When Brian shoved his feet between her legs again, she let him keep them there.



In the morning, Celia dragged herself to her dentist appointment. Dr. Haverford's gloved fingers brushed her lips on their way into her mouth, and tears sprang to her eyes. She wished Dr. Haverford would take off his gloves. How long since she had felt grown up skin on grown up skin? She pressed the tip of her tongue to the latex. The surface was powdery, surprisingly bitter. Saliva pooled inside her cheeks. Dr. Haverford suctioned it out. He was always so gentle with his instruments.

"When did you start grinding your teeth?" Dr. Haverford stretched the corner of her mouth with the stem of a mirror.

"I didn't know I had," she said.

"They're wearing down." He ran his fingers along the ridges of her molars. She half expected them to bend and vibrate in the wake of his touch, like sea anemones, or the teeth of a comb.

"You've been under a lot of stress," he said. "It's understandable."

His glasses made his eyes look three times larger than they were. They made him look like a Keane painting. A Keane painting of a paunchy middle aged dentist. She wanted to lick his eyeballs, dig her hands in his curly hair. So strange and unsettling, these flashes of desire.

"Have you been experiencing any headaches?" he asked her. "Any jaw aches?"

"Headaches," she said. She could hear the rock tumbler rasp under her skull.

"I'll make some impressions," he said. "I'll fit you with a bite guard so you won't grind these beauties down." He touched her shoulder before he left the room. She felt the heat of his hand linger in the weave of her shirt, then dissolve.

Celia wondered what her teeth would look like all ground down. She imagined her mouth full of pointy quartz nubs.


Brian had wanted a rock tumbler because he wanted to know what his rocks looked like inside. He had amassed an impressive collection of rocks. He found them everywhere—parking lots, the school yard, the soccer field, the courtyard of their apartment building. His pockets were always full of gravel; Celia's purse was, too.

Brian liked to bring the rocks home, hold them under the kitchen tap cupped in his palms. He liked to watch their hidden colors emerge. Some were banded with red; others had hidden brown blotches, greenish speckles, pearly swirls. Then they dried and looked dull again. He wanted to polish them up, take that dullness away for good.

Celia found a tumbler on clearance after the holidays. She was a bit disappointed with the quality of it—the base, which looked like solid metal on the box, was just molded plastic, painted silver; the red plastic barrel seemed too flimsy to hold stones. Brian was thrilled until he found the bag of dusty rocks inside.

"Do I have to use these, Mama?" he asked.

They flipped through the instruction booklet together. "Looks that way."

She read "These stones have been specially selected for tumbling. Do not mix with different materials. Sorry, honey."

"But I want to use my rocks," he said. He had specially selected a number of rocks, himself, had arranged them in an old Frango Mints carton. The rest of his rocks were in shoe boxes under the bed marked Igneous, Sedimentary, Metamorphic. Whenever Celia saw the words, she misread them as Ingenious, Sedentary, Metaphoric.

"Tell you what," said Celia. "We'll do these rocks first, just to make sure it all works out, and when they're done we'll do your rocks. Deal?"

"I guess so." He slumped against her.


The instructions called for petroleum jelly, which Celia didn't have. She had an old bottle of Astroglide in her cosmetic case, but the thought of it depressed her; she was sure it would be welded shut by now. Plus, she didn't want to have to answer Brian's questions about the name. Is it for astronauts? Is it for meteorites? Questions like the ones Brian's dad asked when Celia first came home with it, excited and shy. Her OB/GYN had told her the dryness she had been experiencing was normal, part of perimenopause; she handed Celia the Astroglide and said "Have fun". Celia was slightly freaked out by the diagnosis, but she followed her doctor's orders well. She and David were silly together that night, giddy with the slipperiness, saying things like "3-2-1 Blast Off!" and "Houston, we have no problem. No problem here at all." Brian was four then, sound asleep on the couch.

Four seemed so much younger to Celia than six. Four was still a baby. Six was a real boy. A real reading, thinking boy. She and Brian had both grown up a lot in the last two years. The last year, in particular.

Celia found a tube of cherry-scented Chapstick in her purse, the rim of the cap lightly encrusted with sand. She dragged the waxy cylinder around the axle on each end of the barrel, swept it inside the rim of the lid. It left a clotty fragrant smear.

"Now the thing won't get chapped," she told Brian, hoping she hadn't just gummed everything up. She wondered if there was another cherry-scented rock tumbler anywhere in the world.


Dr. Haverford carried two small trays of pink goo into the room.

"Open," he whispered, and her entire body softened on cue. He slid one tray into her mouth, pressed it against her top teeth, her palate. The goo tasted of plastic and mint. It felt pleasantly heavy, like amnesia. She remembered having impressions taken as a teenager at the orthodontist's. She had gagged during the process, had almost thrown up. Since then, she had grown accustomed to having large things in her mouth. She thought of David, the heft and funk of him. She felt a stirring between her legs, a wetness. So her body remembered how to do this after all.

Dr. Haverford gently tugged the tray from her mouth. His fingers on her lips. His breath in her hair. Her teeth felt suddenly naked, exposed. She could see the edges of them etched into the pink, a severe half circle. She pictured plaster being drizzled inside, filling the crevasse, hardening.

Dr. Haverford eased the lower tray into her mouth, wrapping her teeth in a humid clinch. He suctioned more moisture from under her tongue.

"The bite guard will be ready in a couple of weeks," he said. "But there are some things you can do in the meanwhile to stop the grinding. You can put a warm washcloth on your face before bed. You can take a nice bath, cut down on the caffeine. Drink a glass of wine. If you relax yourself before you sleep, your teeth should relax while you sleep."

"I don't sleep," she said. The tray made her sound like she had a major speech impediment. His magnified eyes filled with such sadness, she had to look away. She could hear the rock tumbler turning miles away, never stopping, like a heart.


Celia and Brian rinsed the dust off the bag of stones and put them in the barrel. They emptied the bag of coarse black grit over the stones. They covered it all with water. They set the barrel on the base and turned on the tumbler. It started to turn and clank. Water began leaking out of the lid immediately.

"Oh no!" yelled Brian. "It's broken, Mama! It's not going to work!"

"It's okay," said Celia. She remembered reading that leaking was normal. Leaking was part of the process. She felt her own self leaking. Always leaking. A normal part of the process, people told her. "It will seal itself in about half an hour. The grit and water have to form a bond."

Brian curled into her lap. With each turn of the tumbler, a hint of candy and medicine tinged the air.


The first grit cycle was supposed to take two to four days, but when they opened the barrel and took a look on the third day, the rocks were still rough and pitted. They let the tumbler grind for a few extra days before they poured the contents into a bucket, scooped out the rocks, poured the gritty gray water down the toilet. Some of the rocks were smooth, bits of pink and green shining through. Others still looked brown, dull, even after all that tumbling.

The second grit cycle was supposed to take twelve to fourteen days. Celia didn't know how she was going to handle it. "Remember," the instruction book said "in mere days you are doing what nature takes thousands of years to accomplish." Her jaw tightened and clenched. She could feel her mouth fill with dust, the edges of her teeth eroding.


"Would you like to see your impressions?" Dr. Haverford asked at her next appointment, a couple of weeks later.

"I don't know," she said. "Did I make a good one?"

"You always make a good impression, Mrs. Nurenberger." Dr. Haverford smiled before he walked over to the closet, and, to her surprise, every warm feeling she felt toward him vanished. She didn't want her love to be requited.

"I have a surprise for you," he said when he returned. She was worried—what did he have for her? Candy? Flowers? A ring? What would she say?

He set two plaster sets of teeth on the little tray by the chair. She recognized her own teeth, the ones that overlapped a little on the bottom, that had drifted back as soon as she had stopped wearing her retainers.

"Whose are these?" she asked, pointing to the strange mouth beside hers.

"Those are Mr. Nurenberger's," he said softly.

And there they were, David's teeth, the span of David's gums. How could she not have known? The little chip on his front tooth. The slight protrusion of his eye teeth. The filling on the side of his molar. The teeth her teeth had clinked against. The gums her tongue had run across. The teeth that had cradled his tongue, that had been sheltered by his lips. She picked up the plaster and held it to her chest. She kissed every canine, every incisor. She pressed the impressions of his mouth against the impressions of her mouth. The feel of plaster on plaster was an insult. She hurled both mouths against the wall and watched them explode.


Celia had been avoiding going to Evergreen. She hadn't gone since the funeral. Brian, who was sick that day, had never been there. It was time. It was time to visit David's real set of teeth, his teeth and bones surviving underground while the rest of him rotted away, his lips, his tongue, all the parts of him she had touched. Celia felt nauseous. It took them a while to find his site, Celia plowing forward, Brian trudging behind. When they finally found his name chipped into gray granite, Celia shivered. The thought of a chisel against stone made her teeth hurt.

Brian reached toward the rocks on the gravestone. Celia wrapped her hand around his wrist and pulled it back.

"Those are Daddy's rocks," she said. "You need to leave them there."


"To show that people have been here to see him. To show that we remember him. It's what Jewish people do." She wondered who had been there. His parents, probably. His sister. Cousins. Friends. Not his wife. Not his son.

Brian nodded. Celia knew to Brian the word Jewish meant candles and potato pancakes and matzo and a funny language that made his mother cry. It meant family. And now it meant gravestones; now it meant stones. He started to pull rocks from his pockets, dozens of rocks, and set them on his father's marker. Rock after rock after rock.

"Where did you get all those?" Celia asked him.

He didn't say anything. He just kept unloading more rocks, laying them on top of the granite. She didn't know how he could fit so many in his small pockets.

"Did you get those from other people's graves, Brian?"

"I didn't know," he said. "I didn't know you were supposed to keep them there."

Celia imagined she should tell him to put them back where he found them, to spread them back over other people's markers, but as she watched him lay down one stone after another on top of his father's gravestone, she thought "David, these are all for you."



When they got home, Brian asked "Where's Daddy's rock?"

"We left the rocks at the cemetery, honey," Celia said. She felt drained. The rock tumbler growled and rattled in the closet, jangled and clacked.

"No, the rock that was in him."

"The gallstone?" She had almost forgotten about the gallstone, had pushed it to the back of her mind the way she had pushed the baby food jar holding it to the back of the kitchen cupboard.

It was supposed to be an easy operation. Laproscopic, one day in the hospital, minimal recovery time, minimal scarring. But there was a problem with the anesthesia and David never woke up. The dark jade stone was the only part of him she was able to bring home. That first night, she put the stone in her mouth, hoping for a last taste of his body. The stone tasted chemical, as if it had been soaked in formaldehyde. She spit it out and shunted it as far away as she could. Her tongue felt numb for days.

"Can we put it in the tumbler?" asked Brian.

They were going to start the polish cycle soon. They had to scrub out the barrel, rinse off the stones, prepare them for their final week-long fling.

"I don't see why not," she said.


Before David's operation, they had looked up the word "gall" in the dictionary. It meant many things. "Something bitter to endure," for one. "Bitterness of spirit," for another. "A cause or state of exasperation." Also, "to wear away by friction, to become worn by rubbing."

"I am getting rid of my bitterness," said David. When Celia kissed him, his mouth tasted like soup—salty, savory, not the least bit bitter.


The bite guard was not easy to get used to. At Dr. Haverford's office, it felt smooth, simple between her teeth, but at home it felt like she was biting down on an airplane wing. She couldn't sleep—not only because of the noise, but because she was sure she was going to choke on the plastic.

When it was time to start the polishing process, Celia could barely keep her eyes open. She asked Brian to tell her about the different kinds of rocks as she poured the contents of the tumbler into a bucket. She hoped his voice would keep her awake.

"Ingenious," she said. "Tell me about Ingenious rocks."

"Igneous," he corrected. "Igneous rocks are rocks that were made from lava. Lava that cooled off."

"And Sedentary?" She ran her hands through the wet stones.

"Sedimentary. Those are rocks that are made from pieces of other rocks."

"What about Metaphoric?"

"Metamorphic, Mama," he sighed. "Those are ones that change. Like they end up in a different place and it makes them change. Like they're buried underground and they get hot and they melt and change."

"Sounds metaphoric to me," said Celia. She tried not to think of David underground, melting, changing. She felt like she was melting, herself, she was so tired. She scooped the stones from the bucket, the stones that had grown smoother, more colorful, during all the tumult—marbled shades of magenta and cobalt and amber and emerald. She poured the dirty water down the toilet. She rinsed the bits of grit off the stones. She washed the inside of the barrel with soap and a brush. She climbed up onto the step stool, and pulled the baby food jar down from the kitchen cupboard, knocking down a box of corn meal, a bag of split peas, in the process. She left the spill, a spray of sand and pebbles on the counter, alone.

The gallstone, released from its jar, was a much deeper green than any of the stones from the tumbler. How could a body produce such a beautiful, painful thing? She rinsed the stone off, pressed it quickly to her lips, and handed it to Brian. He solemnly placed it in the barrel on top of the other stones. He poured a cup of clean water over them, then the bag of polish. He closed the lid and turned the tumbler on.

The familiar clanking filled the room. Celia's lips tingled. This time she didn't find the noise so jarring. It sounded rowdy, robust, alive. This time David was there inside it, after a long, long silence, making himself heard once again.