A Pounding Stone with Two Pestles
He stood peering beyond the clouds, glimpsing the shadow of a surfacing turtle, then reached into the cracks between rocks sprouting star moss, the pounding stone always at the center, the mortars filling with leaves and bugs and creek water and pounded only by rain for over a century, the smooth cups in the stone his only evidence. A slightly haunted satisfaction washed over him even though he found nothing but dirt or slime under his fingernails, even though merely sitting by the creek as the breeze stirred his hair, the leaves, the languid water.
He had experienced, in this life and another, the two signs of the final terror.
Once he had driven toward the obscured mountains, straight on an avenue past orchards where a snow of blossoms revealed budding leaves, the road suddenly straying from the grid and veering northeast into the grasslands at the base of the foothills, across a canal that contained in concrete most of the San Joaquin River heading south now instead of north in its natural course to the delta, the road winding over a ridge into a small foothill valley. He knew they would pursue him until he paid, but he kept accelerating into the curves, noticing a slightly opened gate.
He felt an uncharacteristic desire to trespass, so he turned around, parked the car, opened the loosely chained gate, and dashed down a short trail over a berm with large boulders meant to hide a once-oiled road, now cracked, eroded, and quilted by cow droppings sprouting red maids and miniature lupine. After hiking down the hill about half a mile, he wandered off the road onto a path next to the creek. At dusk alone in the foothills, the woods breathing peacefully as the air darkened and cooled, the bats looping soundlessly overhead and crickets chirping in the still-warm grass, he saw a flock of wild turkeys, resembling small dinosaurs, scurrying along the bank about fifty feet away. In the quiet, his chest heaved slightly from an inexplicable rage.
It wasn't just that he was trespassing, which he was considering an act of civil disobedience, or that he was six months out of work. He had walked straight to a pounding stone, the mortars in the rock black with slime and decaying leaves. He suddenly knew without a doubt that he would find a path leading to another pounding stone. He stumbled a few feet and found the path right away and followed it. He soon found another pounding stone about two hundred yards away on a ridge overlooking the creek.
The two pounding stones were close but blocked from view by a slope on the north side where the creek bends. He went back to the stone and sat near a shallow mortar, which someone had not had time to deepen. Feeling the coolness of the rock and trying to empty his mind, he closed his eyes and felt the breeze and in spite of himself heard the laughter of women. He opened his eyes to the stone that had not changed in over a century, only now there were no people.
Picking up an oak branch to use as a walking stick, he was suddenly seeing through the eyes of someone else, bent and dizzy and deeply troubled, ready to lie down forever. The walking stick was in his hand which was also someone else's hand. He had someone else's face or no face at all. He held the stick away from his body, imagining himself stretching out on the earth many years before as the trees turned, everything passing away except the stone and the sun, and then his arrival.
Listening to long, almost human groans of utter despair, possibly from a bullfrog being swallowed by an eight-foot garter snake that ruled the evaporating creek, he returned to the pounding stone with the feeling that he was on the verge of remembering something. All that surfaced was the overwhelming urge to find his way to the top of the opposite ridge. He hopped over the rocks without getting his feet wet and climbed up the slope, avoiding poison oak, seeing nothing at first but dry grass and gray pines and a few bare spots with a little rosinweed. He strolled back and forth on the ridge several times, sure he was missing something, until, sweaty and tired, he surrendured to the shade.
He looked first to his right at a large stone under an old oak tree, and then to his left, seeing poison oak near a stone that the earth had nearly submerged. He looked down and realized that he was practically sitting on a shallow mortar. Suddenly drawn to the oak tree, he discovered in the stone beneath it that a large pestle was plugging a mortar. With oak leaves needling his fingers, he cleared the pounding stone, finding ten other mortars. Looking back, he decided to check out the other stone and discovered that it also contained mortars, filled with earth and grass. He was in the middle of another ancient village site, the round hollows of the house pits still faintly etched in the earth.
He felt suddenly like a woman. Before he could begin to cope with that feeling, a terrible sorrow overcame him, as if he had lost someone he had deeply loved. Even though he had suffered many times from loss, this grief was different, right on the surface. He felt the emotional surges of a teenager coupled with the maturity of an adult. He found a trail down to the creek, and suddenly imagined that he was in some procession, and that he was about to say goodbye to someone for the last time. The grief was different from any he had experienced, nearly unbearable, impossible to suppress. He felt compelled to go on, as though it were out of the question to stop, crossing the dry creek and following the trail up the hillside to a level stretch of land where he found more round hollows in the earth.
He knew right away that the round hollows were house pits, which confused him at first, until he remembered that the Yokuts often buried the dead under their houses. He felt an absurd desire to keep anyone from being buried there. The woman in that other time must have fought with all her strength to stop the burial. He imagined that others, overcome by their own grief, did what they could to comfort her. Somehow he knew that she had remained inconsolable, and he had no rational explanation for how he knew this or why he had found his way to those house pits.
Open door number one.
Open door number two.
Open door number three.