The Rock – A short story by Kris Kristofferson
Ft. image is rock art by Emily Gmitter
“Well I’ll be gone to hell!” my father said. He stood there with his hands on his hips and his Stetson pushed back far on his head.
Then Harve Ginn said, “I was checking the flood damage to see what we’d lost when I saw the damn thing. It must of been covered mostly with dirt and all before the water come up here.”
“Well, I imagine there was some mesquite around here to cover it up before the flood. And you wouldn’t notice it unless you came up on the right side of it anyway,” my father said.
“No, I don’t suppose you would at that,” Harve said. “Boy, it’s really something, though, isn’t it?”
Well, I had to admit that it was really something, all right. I couldn’t hardly believe my eyes when I saw it. What Harve had found was a big rock, oh Jeez, it must of been forty feet high, I guess. About the same size as the other big smooth rocks around there near the canyon wall. But this rock looked just like a big, naked woman. No kidding, that’s just what it looked like. She was lying on her back, sort of leaning up against the canyon wall, in a kind of embarrassing way, and she had a sort of smile on her face. I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anything like it. My father kept saying, “Goddamn!” like he couldn’t believe it, either. He and Harve decided that nobody could of done it, I mean made the thing, and that it must of always been there. “It’s just a freak of nature,” I remember he said. Well I didn’t care what it was, but I was sure going to let people know about it when we got back to town. I mean to tell you this was really some rock. I went up and rubbed my hand on it, and it was rock all right. I think they say the rocks around there are some kind of granite.
“Come on, Kenny, get away from there,” my father said.
“How come?” I said. “What’s the matter with it?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s such a good thing for a boy your age to be seeing.”
Well that kind of stuck in my craw, and all the way home in the jeep I said “hell” and “damn” and talked as old as I could until I said, “That sure is a hell of a damn looking fence ol’ man Palmer put up.” They both stopped talking and looked at me, and I felt a little silly and didn’t say anything else the rest of the way home.
When we pulled into the driveway my father said, “I’m going to call up Earl Bright from the Herald and take him out to see it.” I jumped out of the jeep and ran across the yard to the house. My mother was standing outside handing up clothes and I said, “We found a big rock that looks like a naked lady,” and I went into the house.
My father and mother followed me in, and my father was saying, “It’s the damnedest thing you ever saw, a natural rock formation, and it looks like some sort of dirty statue.” He was dialing the phone and said, “It’s damn near thirty feet high—really a big thing,” and my mother was saying, “What? What? What are you talking about?”
I said, “It’s at least forty feet high, and it’s a rock that looks just like a naked lady.”
“Do you mean…all over?” she said, with a worried look.
“Yes,” I said, and I was going to go on when my father motioned for us to be quiet.
“Hello, Earl?” he said. “This is Len Tipton. Howdy, yes, I’m fine, say, we’ve run across a thing out here that you might be interested in looking at. I think it was uncovered by the flood. It’s a big rock formation that’s in the shape of a nude. Yeah, a woman. No, this is really big, and it looks as real as any sculpture.” He listened for awhile, and said, “Well, actually, what it looks like is a prostitute,” and he laughed, and my mother sent me out of the room.
Well, Earl Bright came out, and he and my father drove back out to the rock and took pictures and things, and the next day there was a big story about it on the front page of the Wheatonsville Herald. Of course by this time the whole school knew about it, and they all thought I’d found it, and I guess I was sort of a hero. A lot of us went out to see it after school, those of us that had bikes, because that’s just what everybody seemed to be doing. And when we got there, there were people all over the place. Why I’ll bet half of Wheatonsville was there, and the other half on their way. They were all in a sort of half circle in front of it, staring, and pointing, and talking a mile a minute. A lot of the boys started making nasty remarks about it, and laughing, and the women carried on something terrible. A lot of them acted mad, or embarrassed, and a few of them left, but most of them stayed.
Well, the crowds kept coming to see it for a few days, and the women never stopped talking about it. The way I understand it, some of them were downright mad, and said it was a disgrace and all. So they decided to call a town meeting and talk it over, and my father was supposed to go, seeing as how it was on our property, and I finally talked them into letting me go too. My mother said she didn’t know if it was a thing for children, and my father said, “What the hell, he won’t hurt anything,” and so I went.
I’d never been to anything like that before, except maybe Sunday school. Everyone sat in rows facing up to the front of the church, which was where it was, and my father and I sat in the front row. The place was full of smoke, and hot, and everyone was red and sweating. They started right off when one man got up and said that something had to be done and he wasn’t letting his children see that filthy goddamned thing and what were we going to do about it. And everybody started saying “Yeah,” and “That’s right,” and about then I decided I had to go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t leave since I was in the front row and my father motioned me to be quiet every time I’d go to say something about it. Another man got up and said it was a slap in the face of every decent woman in Wheatonsville, and he looked red in the face and all hepped up like he wanted to fight somebody. I thought that over awhile, about the slap in the face, but I never did get what he meant.
Well they went on like that for quite a while, each one getting up and saying just about what the other had said and looking pretty pleased with himself when he finished. Then they all started saying, “What are we going to do?” and somebody said, “We could ask her at least to cross her legs,” and everybody laughed. I tried to tell my father I was going to go to the bathroom, but he couldn’t hear me for the noise. Then the man that had said that about the slap in the face got up, redder than ever, and yelled that maybe this was funny to a lot of people but he had a wife and three daughters and didn’t think it was very funny. Well this quieted the room down just like that, just as I was bellowing to my father again that I was going to go to the bathroom. It was like bellowing at a funeral, and I was so ashamed I felt like never going to the bathroom again, but I went out anyway, and when I came back they were still going at it. Mr. Ludlow, the Baptist minister, got up and said that it was the something-or-other of Sin, and that any fool could see that, and that it was up to my father to do something about it, since it was on our property.
Well my father hadn’t said anything as yet, but I could tell he could’ve said plenty. He got up slow and said, “Look, this whole thing’s getting out of hand. It’s nothing to get excited about.” He said it was just a natural rock, and it didn’t seem to him there was anything anybody could or should do about it. If you didn’t like it, he said, you shouldn’t pay any attention to it. “I didn’t ask anybody but Earl Bright to come see it, and no one has to see it that doesn’t want to,” he said.
A man got up and said, “How can we ignore it when that image of a leering strumpet is always over our shoulder? What kind of thing is that to show our kids?”
I didn’t know what a strumpet was, but I agreed with him, it was a pretty hard thing to ignore.
My father stood there, working his jaws like he does when he’s about to blow up about something, but he didn’t, and he said, “Well, let me know when you decide what to do.” We stomped out of the church.
After that there were a lot of articles in the Herald about it which my father read out loud to my mother, and it looked like they were hearing about it all over the state. More people than ever came to see it since the meeting, and the kids were always sneaking over to take a look. My father read us where a board of censors was studying it, and that they weren’t allowing any more pictures to be taken. One minister said it was made by God and couldn’t be bad and we should leave it like it was, and some others followed him up—ones my father called “crackpots”—and tried to start a new religion about it. He said the nudists were claiming that it was proof that God was on their side, and that Billy Graham said it was proof that we were all going to hell.
Then one day a bunch of men and women came storming up in pickup trucks, and the men had guns. A man got out of the first pickup and I saw it was the man that had said that about the rock being a slap in the face, and he came up to my father and said, “Leonard Tipton”–which sounded funny because no one ever calls my father Leonard–“Leonard Tipton, since you refuse to do anything about this, we’re taking matters into our own hands!” And he wheeled around and went blustering back to his pickup before my father could say anything. They all pulled out and went down the road to the rock, and pretty soon all the people started pouring out of there, and one of them told my father that the man with the guns had made them leave, and had set up a guard around it.
My father went into the garage and got the jeep, and I jumped in, and we drove to the rock. The men were standing pretty far from it with their guns, and my father pulled up the jeep. “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” he said. I looked at the rock and saw that they had taken a great big canvas tarp and covered up all but the head of the woman. It really looked silly, I’ll tell you, with that grinning head sticking over the top of the tarp. I’m not sure it didn’t look worse than before. And they had the tarp staked down at the sides so it wouldn’t come off. I thought it looked funny enough, but the men guarding it were serious, so I didn’t laugh or anything. My father didn’t say anything, he just put the jeep in reverse, and we wheeled out of there. Well the thing was up before the state council for about a week, and we weren’t too popular around then. My father said the people were acting like idiots, and he quit talking to them, and they quit talking to him. My mother said that maybe even if he was right, he ought to be sympathetic with the neighbors’ feelings and tell them he’d do whatever they wanted him to do about it. He said, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Alice, they’ve completely lost their senses. They’re making this thing into some goddamned monster or something.” Then he laughed and pointed to the newspapers. “Or if they’re not doing that, they’re practically worshipping it!”
He said, “It’s only a rock!” and she said, “Oh, Len, do you always have to be so difficult?” and I said, “What’s so only’ about a rock?” and they sent me to bed.
Well, we didn’t have to worry about it for long, because some men from the state came up in trucks and one of them showed my father some papers and they drove back to the rock. They set up a bunch of dynamite and commenced to blast that rock until it didn’t look like much of anything, and believe me, that was a show. So I guess that’s about all there is to it, and there’s nothing there anymore. And everyone feels a little better. But when you think about it, and I don’t guess I’ve thought much about anything else since they started making the fuss over it, that was some rock all right.