By David Ellis Dickerson
Underwater, the millstone spun slowly as we plunged together into the deepest part of the river. The millstone led the way down. It was a beautiful day, even below the river, with sunlight daubing everything as if to hold this moment forever: pebbles, moss, darting shapes. The stone tumbled along the floor, kicking up sand that bloomed brown and flowed past my eyes. It rolled a foot or so and then stood, tilted slightly against the strong current but refusing to topple. I was bound in a fetal position, pressed warmly on all sides, attached to the millstone with the light at my back. It was like being in the womb again.
Hey millstone, I said. Where were you born?
The millstone said nothing.
When will you die? I asked.
The millstone refused to answer.
What have you done all your life? I persisted. What did you do before you were a millstone? Were you part of a great mountain? Were there monsters? Ancient skeletons in your womb?
Light speckled the millstone, giving it a curious expression. But it didn’t move. My hair, I noticed, was flowing behind me, as if it still believed I was falling.
O millstone, were you sad when you were separated from the land that birthed you? Or was it an exciting new life? Was it a smaller existence or a freer one, or both?
The millstone listed slightly to the left. What this meant I couldn’t tell.
Did you crush the grain because they forced you to, or was it something you took joy in? Do you feel any guilt at all about your life? Is this the first time you’ve ever killed anybody? Would you like to make confession?
From its silence, the millstone implied that it would not.
And when you’re done with me, where do you go next? What does the future hold?
The millstone shuddered—or perhaps that was my eyes growing weak from lack of air–but declined to answer directly. I thrashed a little so I could face upwards, toward the light, as the weight of a riverful of water rushed past my face and the universe, which had once seemed so expansive, narrowed to a tunnel that grew darker and darker, until all I could feel was the tether from the millstone, tight against my belly, tense and eager for release.
David Ellis Dickerson is a regular contributor to “This American Life” and the creator of the YouTube series “Greeting Card Emergency,” which has led to a lot of interviews on public radio (Weekend Edition, Studio 360, Talk of the Nation, et al.) His memoir, “House of Cards” (Riverhead, 2009), details his years writing greeting cards for Hallmark. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, and is forthcoming in The Believer.