By: Brian Smith
My wife Vivian inherited this strange ashtray from her grandparents: it has a rocky black surface, and it looks like those inner ear models that sit in doctors’ offices, only cracked in half and filled with cigarettes. It’s great for parties. We keep it on our back porch so people stop tossing their butts in the damn yard. Better yet, it’s a reliable topic of conversation, which is rare in these parts of Ohio.
People are always guessing what it is—coral reef, volcanic rock, prehistoric bone. Some of them mistake it for modern art; you catch these guys looking at it thoughtfully or giving a BS interpretation to their friends. I think it looks like a giant peanut. At least the basic shape of one. I always just assumed it was a chunk of some mineral dug up in Russia, where Vivian’s grandparents are from. I really wish I could have asked them where they got it, but they died when Vivian was young, before she knew what an ashtray was.
You want to know what the ashtray really is? You really don’t. A couple months ago my brother finally convinced me to take it into a lab and figure out what kind of mineral it was. Turns out it’s a piece of a petrified human fetus, and there’s nothing I can do to unknow that. We’d been ashing into that thing since Vivian and I met in college. 14 years ago. I didn’t tell anybody. They ask about it in polite conversation, smashing their filters into the premature ribcage. When they ask, I lie. I don’t know. It belonged to Vivian’s grandparents. Kinda looks like a peanut. I don’t say anything else.