Ines’ beloved mother dies, then she suffers a health emergency requiring surgery, which leaves her with a nasty wound and reconstructed navel. (This reminded me of the character in Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’ who also loses his navel in an operation, which the protagonist sees as a severance from birth, “a breach in the succession.”) This double separation from her mother seems to manifest in an even more dramatic physical transformation. Ines’ incision fills with stone, a “glossy hardness” that quickly spreads. She is becoming something other than human — a creature out of legend, she learns, with the help of an Icelandic stonecutter who recognizes what is happening to her. Ultimately she must leave behind the world of people, but this is, unexpectedly, a joyous development. A beautifully eerie look at the way grief can force a metamorphosis.
First published in The New Yorker, October 13, 2003, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Little Black Book of Stories, Vintage, 2005)