Excerpt from The Lives of Rocks by Rick Bass, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lives of Rocks

Stories

By Rick Bass

The Lives of Rocks
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2006,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2007,
    224 pages.

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They peeled the hide back to the ribs, as if opening the elk for an operation, or a resuscitation — How can I ever eat all of this animal? Jyl wondered — and again, like a surgeon, Bruce placed twin spreader bars between the elk’s hocks, bracing wide the front legs as well as the back.

Ralph slit open the thick gray-skin drum of fascia that held beneath it the stomach and intestines, heart and lungs and spleen and liver, kidneys and bladder; and then, looking like nothing so much as a grizzly bear grubbing beneath boulders on a hillside, or burrowing, Ralph reached up into the enormous cavity and wrapped both arms around the stomach mass — partially disappearing into the carcass, as if somehow being consumed by it rather than the other way around — and with great effort he was able finally to tug the stomach and all the other internal parts free.

As they pulled loose they made a tearing, ripping, sucking sound, and once it was all out, Ralph and Bruce rolled and cut out with that same sharp knife the oversized heart, as big as a football, and the liver, and laid them out on clean bright butcher paper on the tailgate of their truck.

Then Ralph rolled the rest of the guts, twice as large as any medicine ball, away from the carcass, pushing it as if shoving some boulder away from a cave’s entrance. Jyl was surprised by the sudden focusing of color in her mind, and in the scene. Surely all the colors had been present all along, but for her it was suddenly as if some gears had clicked or aligned, allowing her to notice them now, some subtle rearrangement or recombination blossoming now into her mind’s palette: the gold of the wheat stubble and the elk’s hide, the dark chocolate of the antlers, the dripping crimson blood midway up both of Ralph’s arms, the blue sky, the yellow aspen leaves, the black earth of the field, the purple liver, the maroon heart, Bruce’s black and red plaid work shirt, Ralph’s faded old denim.

The richness of those colors was illuminated so starkly in that October sunlight that it seemed to stir chemicals of deep pleasure in Jyl’s own blood, elevating her to a happiness and a fullness she had not known earlier in the day, if quite ever; and she smiled at Bruce and Ralph, and understood in that moment that she, too, was a hunter, might always have been.

She was astounded by how much blood there was: the upended ark of the carcass awash in it, blood sloshing around, several inches deep. Bruce fashioned a come-along around the base of the elk’s antlers and hitched the other end to the iron pipe frame on the back of their truck —the frame constructed like a miniature corral, so that they could haul a cow or two to town in the back when they needed to without having to hook up the more cumbersome trailer — and carefully he began to ratchet the elk into a vertical position, an ascension. To Jyl it looked like nothing less than a deification; and again, as a hunter, she found this fitting, and watched with interest.

Blood roared out from the elk’s open carcass, gushing out from between its huge legs, a brilliant fountain in that soft light. The blood splashed and splattered as it hit the newturned earth — Ralph and Bruce stood by watching the elk drain as if nothing phenomenal at all were happening, as if they had seen it thousands of times before — and the porous black earth drank thirstily this outpouring, this torrent. Bruce looked over at Jyl and said, “Basically, it’s easy: you just carve away everything you don’t want to eat.

” Jyl couldn’t take her eyes off how fast the soil was drinking in the blood.

Against the dark earth, the stain of it was barely even noticeable.

When the blood had finally stopped draining, Ralph filled a plastic washbasin with warm soapy water from a jug and scrubbed his hands carefully, leisurely, precisely, pausing even to clean the soap from beneath his fingernails with a smaller pocketknife — and when he was done, Bruce poured a gallon jug of clean water over Ralph’s hands and wrists to rinse the soap away, and then Ralph dried his hands and arms with a clean towel and emptied out the old bloody wash water, then filled it anew, and it was time for Bruce to do the same.

Copyright © 2006 by Rick Bass. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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