I was lying in bed with my wife when I first observed that my body was turning to stone. We’d been discussing Catholic schools or some such thing, and, to signal my disagreement, I had turned away. With my hand, I traced the inside of my leg as I settled into the new position and found that the top of my inner right thigh was numb to the touch. It was warm but had the smooth hardness of a pebble beneath my palm.
In the bathroom the next morning, I discovered beneath the bright light a second patch on my left thigh, roughly mirroring the first. The areas reminded me of nothing so much as beach stones, and I remember wondering vaguely if I had caught some sort of sickness from the beach. Foolish thoughts! I was tapping away at the areas, trying to gauge how deeply the stone went, when my wife knocked on the door, hurrying me on. I quickly lifted my trousers, deciding with this gesture to keep the matter to myself for the time being.
My neck was next. We were in the kitchen, and she reached an arm about me. Her fingers edged into the collar of my shirt, and I was alarmed to discover no sensation at all at her touch. If she noticed the change in my texture at that point she didn’t show it, and I allowed no sign of my distress to show. Lying together afterwards, my thoughts were busy. Our conversation was slight.
From that day to this, my wife has never made a formal acknowledgement of my sickness – if a sickness it is – so that I am not really sure when she became aware of it. She may even have spotted the change before I did. Who knows? I am forever struck by the extent of her discretion. It can only have been a few days after the first time I took to wearing long johns beneath my clothes, finding my stony areas to rub against the adjacent flesh (for the patches develop irregularly), and she made no comment at all as she might have done. She seems always to have understood. I soon grew tired of hiding myself, of changing in half-darkness and waiting for her head to turn. I accepted her gaze upon me. My shoulders and back were quite rigid by this time and grew easily cold. My neck was soft and human on one side, but I could no longer turn my head, instead having to shift my body awkwardly when speaking to more than one person.
Her first guarded reference to the change happened again in the bedroom and was typical of her tenderness. I lay flat and spent, and she pulled the quilt over us to keep warm ‘that back of mine’. Later she was braver. She would joke about cracking walnuts beneath my arms or tap at my hard surface with a knuckle to get my attention. She would kid me that I was her David, and in the early days I must confess I hoped such an idealization of the figure might be a by-product of whatever process was at work upon me. No such luck. Imagine my disappointment at seeing my slight accumulations of fat rendered so faithfully; the wilt of my underarm preserved, for all I knew, for eternity. Before, I could at least hold illusions of one day getting in shape. Now all I have is my wife’s joking threats of taking a chisel and mallet to my torso. She means the very best of course, but such talk makes me sick with horror. I have developed an odd relationship with those parts of my body that have relented to the change. Each day, another scrap of myself falls cold, but suppose I lost even these to ruin? I pamper my rock body, wear extra layers and avoid physical activity. I’m lucky—I have never been sporty; it might have meant a more serious change of lifestyle. So far, I have been chipped only once, on the collar bone. I fell in the car park. The chip’s edges are softened now, but I find it a grizzly warning of what my fate might be.
We agreed early on that I wouldn’t visit a doctor. What could they do anyway, refer me to a stonemason? She has become my carer. She inspects my body every day and helps me wash. She positions the cushions on the couch the better to support me. We’re like those elderly cancer couples, making the most of our time.
My thighs and calves are now almost entirely stone. They have a striking marble effect that makes me proud. I suppose there must be bone at the middle of it all, and somehow blood still makes its way to my toes, for they retain some movement and feeling. Curiously the joints of my knees, my ankles and elbows seem resistant to the change. No longer flesh, these areas have the quality of damp plaster. We douse the joints every morning, and so far, this has allowed me to retain some movement. I can walk about.
My face is rather a mixed bag. One eye went in the night and is sealed shut. The other continues to function, albeit with a crumbling of powder when I blink. My nose is stone and is the coldest part of my body. The cheek beneath my dead eye is quite smooth and my ear on the same side is a piece of sculptural perfection. The parts of myself that remain flesh I look upon with sadness. They’re fighting a losing game. They’d be happier, I sometimes think, if they gave it up.
While this is not a fate I would have chosen, it is, I suppose, never dull. Each day brings something new. My brain is, so far, unaffected, but we speculate. Will it seize up or continue to live, trapped in stone? Will I breathe unto the end, or shall my lungs one day fall inert within my chest? That I will go one day is clear, and my wife has promised me a place in the garden where the vines may grow around my limbs. I must remember to strike a pose in the last moments of my freedom if I am to become a monument to our love. For now, we are strong. My wife is content to provide the care I need and I, for my part, suppress my growing revulsion at the touch of her soft and imperfect flesh.
Christian Butler-Zanetti is a London-based author, visual artist and musician. He is a member of post-punk band The Pheromoans and sound collage duo The Teleporters. Christian also performs occasionally as preposterous, self-styled poet and fringe figure Mad Headed Octogram. https://christianbutlerzanetti.wordpress.com/