The Skeleton’s Wife
(c) 2012 J.D. McLaughlin
His body leaves a disjointed imprint in our bed. The sharp lines of his ribs form wrinkles in the sheets. But if I draw a line around his skeletal form, it still makes the image of a man.
I know this because I outlined him once in yellow paint on our crisp white sheets. He watched as I did it, and though he cannot talk, he must have known that I needed to remember that he had been a man before he was a skeleton.
“I’m going to eat dinner now,” I say. He is hunched over a page in an old music book.
Charles nods; this means he will follow.
The house is too large and still I’m not used to the quiet corners. Charles has been this way three months, built of silence and pacing bones.
I turn the faucets on in the three bathrooms I pass on the way to the kitchen. The water adds echoes. Next, the kitchen faucet and the faucet used for filling pots over the stove.
I’m three bites into my microwaved spaghetti when I hear him tinkering down the hallway, his toes tapping against the hardwood. He enters as quietly as he can and sits in the seat I’ve pulled out for him. I no longer set him a plate.
I look away as he flexes his hands in front of him, and yet I still hear the bone grinding on bone.
I clear my throat, push my food away. “How is your book?”
He nods, and so does every disk of his spine. They flex along the rose pattern of his high-backed chair, each disk a petal unfolding.
Charles points at my plate. His bones are smooth. I know this because he let me touch them once, so that I knew I wouldn’t bump into sharp corners in the middle of the night.
Still, he spends most nights in the library chair.
“I’m not hungry.”
His bones pull in two directions when he gestures with both hands; this is when I see his soul peek between his ribs. It lingers for a moment, and he opens his mouth to say something, but he’s forgotten again that he can’t talk.
“It’s OK,” I say.
He pushes away from the table, and the carefully placed marigold centerpiece tilts to the side.
I stumble out of my chair and onto my feet. I follow the rhythm of Charles tapping down the hallway. He turns off all the kitchen faucets and lurches down the hall to grab the rest.
“What are you doing?”
He shakes his head and enters a bathroom, wrenching the faucets shut with squeaks. His bones make a tinny sound when they hit.
“What are you doing?” I ask again, following him down the hall. I catch a glimpse of the picture of him on our wedding day, back when he was pink flesh and white teeth. He still has white teeth, white everything.
“You can’t do this,” I say. I’ve followed him from one bathroom to the next. At the last one, the one with the blue sky wallpaper and the cracked-open window, I flip the faucet back on. “I need that sound.”
He nods his head. He reaches past me, his bones brushing my skin as he turns the water off.
The feel of his bones touching my hand lingers behind. His bones were as warm as the air, and I touch the metal faucet. It is cold. This is normal. I sigh.
Charles stands in the door. He holds up his hand, palm out.
Wait, he is saying.
He steps towards me, then past me to the open window, towards the draft entering in.
Then it starts.
A whistling between his ribcage. His upper ribs sound like the deep notes on a harmonica, the lower ones the tinkling of wind chimes.
I gasp and grab the faucet with both hands. An anchor to the world; cold.
Charles sways side to side in front of the window. He pauses to bend his knees.
I close my eyes.
I listen to the notes whistling through his bones, this music that sings from him and slides across my skin.
J.D. McLaughlin writes technical things by day and fantastical ones by night. She lives with her long-time boyfriend and two dogs, is learning how to fix her broken typewriters, and loves all things that come from myth. She believes that the best story is full of lies and is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel. You can contact her at her work-in-progress blog at http://jdmclaughlinbooks.wordpress.com.