Day 8: Stem, Stone, and Bone by Deb Taber
Sometimes when I read a story I think I can identify the kernel of the story, where the idea sprang from with the rest to be built around it. In Stem, Stone, and Bone, I think it was the idea of a woman giving birth to a stone
Jacinta, however, was nothing but Jacinta, a woman and a worker who could couple with the city men or a visiting stranger, and at the end of nine months, out of her belly would drop nothing but a stone. She’d done it only once, before forsaking the company of men entirely. Nine months of hope and discomfort followed by the wretched agony of a rock the size of a cacao pod ripping her insides outward to lie bloody on the end of her bed. Once was enough.
Jacinda lives in the Shining City, a city made rich on the cacao trade. Instead of enslaved children on the Ivory Coast harvesting cacao, in this world the exploitation takes the form of a magic that changed the cacao seeds to beetles and made every animal within the radius of the spell infertile. Women, dogs, bird all give birth to stones of different sorts. Jacinda was one of the last children and the realization that her home is dying smacks her in the face one day when she is speaking with the last child, Xoch.
She thinks maybe she can seduce one of the Mineral Men who cast the spell and get them to break it, then she heartbreakingly spreads the blood of one of the cacao beetles on her own stone, her child that wasn’t. Lastly she tries to conceive another child away from her city but that fails as well.
Message stories so very often look like MESSAGE and
story but Taber doesn’t allow the message to overwhelm the story, and does so without pulling punches – so if you are thinking there’s a happy ending, think again. (But she really nails the last line – Charlie Finlay once told me that 30% of the impact of a story was in the last line and I think that’s true here.)
This is their present. This is their future. There is no hope.