There was a rock. Strange that a rock would catch her attention. But this was a different rock, kind of white and gold, and it looked like a mountain. A tiny mountain, perched on the side of the road. And it wasn’t like it had been there forever. Or even for a while. No, it just appeared one day. Right there, on a route she’d taken twice every day for four years.
Maybe they cut the grass and weeds away from it. It had been there all along, but she hadn’t seen it. Not till now anyway. What were the odds of that?
She asked her passenger that day. “Have you seen it before?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t come this way very often. Have you ever stopped to look more closely?”
Who said ‘more closely,’ she wondered. Only Jerry. Jerry said very correct things like more closely and please and thank you and he still called the gas station attendant sir. Jerry was 40 years old. The attendant looked at him like he’d grown another head. She figured Jerry got that look a lot.
“No.” It was in a blind curve on a fast road. Stopping wasn’t safe.
He read her mind. “You could park back a ways and walk to it.”
“I suppose. It still doesn’t seem safe.”
“Do you always do what’s safe?” he asked.
Yes. She did. Risk wasn’t a word in her vocabulary. Risk was… risky. “Usually.”
“I suppose you’ll never know then.” He looked out the passenger window and fell silent. Finally he said, “What if it were a calculated risk?”
“Is there any such thing? That seems like an oxymoron.”
“Maybe it is. It does not mean it isn’t a thing though.”
“Risk is risk, Jerry. You can’t really quantify it.”
He nodded. “But some are more dangerous than others.”
“Like, some things you do might kill you, while others might only cause injury.”
“Besides,” her mind was still on the white and gold rock. “It’s just a rock.”
“As far as you know.”
She thought for a mile or so. They were inside town limits now. “What could it be besides a rock? It looks like a rock.”
“Yes. But you don’t know for sure.”
Of course it was a rock. It was too large to mistake. In fact, she thought it had gotten larger. “Maybe it’s growing,” she mused.
“Rocks don’t grow.”
“Sure they do. It just happens very slowly, so we can’t see it’s happening.”
“Well, you’ve just spotted it, right? You couldn’t expect a rock to grow overnight. It takes thousands, maybe millions of years.”
He shrugged. “You should stop and look.”
She dropped him off at his office building. “Do you need a ride tonight?”
“No, I’ve got one, thank you.”
She went through her day, like every other day. But the rock stayed on her mind. She decided if it had stopped raining and wasn’t too dark on her way home, she’d stop and check. She’d park at the little store a quarter of a mile this side of it, and she’d walk in and look. She’d touch it. She’d see if she could move it. It was a calculated risk. It was worth settling her curiosity.
The rain had stopped as she started her journey back home. She parked at the service station, and paused. She thought about the risk. She thought about the rock. She went inside and bought a Dr. Pepper. Only the diet. The diet was sweeter than the regular. She locked the car and started walking.
She wondered what she expected to find when she laid her hands on it and discovered it was just a rock, a rock that had been there forever and she’d never seen it.
She didn’t hear it, the motorcycle. It was one of the Hondas with the quiet engines. Not a noisy hog that would have told her to get out of the way. She was on the gravel shoulder. But the young doe that bounded in front of him caused him to swerve, and maybe he didn’t see her. Maybe he saw nothing but his own death.
He missed the doe, and she watched it run between her and the rock at the same moment she felt the impact, felt herself flying forward through the air. There was no pain, only flying. She was gone before her body thudded on the asphalt and slid. She thought she smelled fishy wet pavement and motor oil and fuel fumes, but it was probably anticipation. She did see the rock, though, below her. It didn’t look very large at all; it looked like an ordinary gray rock. It looked very much like a calculated risk.