Mathew Allan Garcia
All the Pretty Bones
“We don’t fuck anymore, June,” Margaret says, as the bus pulls away from the curb. The back, where we’re sitting, fills up with exhaust, as the baby kicks. I try to listen, I really do, but it’s hard when Margaret’s jaw just hangs there, like a pendulum, all connective tissue and sinew long rotted away, dangling by a bit of muscle or something that refuses to go, refuses to die. “It’s like…things changed after I lost the baby. Like I’m dirty, or something.”
Just die then, I think, but I take it back. That’s the disorder talking. I’ve seen the dead as long as I can remember. Or rather, I’ve been able to see how they die. Sometimes I forget they are real, living people. That I’m the weird one.
From what I can tell, Margaret gets butchered. Her long brown hair is pulled back in a clip, bloodstained and sticky. The cartilage in Margaret’s nose sticks out, the tip worn down as if filed, skin peeled back, like the frog I refused to dissect in high school. Her cheekbones, high like a model’s, stick out through her skin, bleached white despite all the blood.
I don’t wonder who does it, when her time comes. I’ve been down that rabbit hole. And I’m sick of it.
“What?” Margaret says, looking at me as though she just remembered I was there. I always said she could talk endlessly in a room, so long as something cast a shadow, or moved every once in awhile. No filter on her, either, which is why we’re having this conversation while tucked into the back of a loaded bus with a bunch of strangers, elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder.
I touch my swollen belly. “He kicked.”
Margaret coos, but I can see the twitch in her eye, which is hard, since…she doesn’t have eyelids anymore, just a canopy of mold over her shriveled up eyeballs. Mostly she just stares harder, if that makes sense.
“What’s wrong?” She asks.
I shrug. What could I say to her? That I was afraid of giving birth? That I was afraid to look at my child for fear that I’d see him, all of him—his tiny, fragile bones. I was terrified. Of course I was. I was terrified for the same reason I was terrified of walking in the mirror, of seeing my own face, or seeing a photograph of Dan, my husband, and me—to see the face of my death stare back at me.
At least with Dan I could look at him and almost slip into a daze, look into those light gray eyes and think I have an almost normal life. He’s one of those lucky people who probably dies in their sleep. Sometimes, when I see him from a distance, I think for a moment that it’s passed, that I’m like everyone else. It’s when I notice his eyes are a little too light, his lips just a little too purple, skin a little too ashy, that I know nothing’s changed.
Margaret grins at me, the right corner of her lip wilting up, like a movie curtain, but the left is too shriveled up to move. She rubs my shoulder. I instinctively pull away, just a little so she maybe won’t notice, but her blood still stains my blouse. I’d have to wash it later, I think. I think that even though I know it’ll never come off.
Margaret sighs, looks out the window. “Maybe I should get some work done.”
“Work?” I ask, looking at her. It’s hard to read her expressions now, but I try anyway.
“You know…work,” she pulls the corners of her eyes, cups her withered breasts, pushes them up. “Work.”
I frown. I look up the bus aisle as the doors swing open and a woman and child walk in. The boy, maybe thirteen, looks like he’s melting—one eyeball oozing, cheek sagging. He smiles up at me as he passes, skin shiny and pulled taught over his stained teeth. The mother looks almost normal as she ushers him over to a seat in the back, but I see the wrists for a moment before she sits down.
“I hear they can make your face defined, all sharp angles, like a goddamn bird,” Margaret says, laughing, sounding hollow, like bats fluttering in an empty ballroom.
“Why?” I ask, but I’m not really listening anymore. I just want to go home. “You have such pretty bones.”
My baby kicks again.
• • •
“I’m not ready for you yet,” I whisper, my voice all echoey, the bathroom faucet running, bare feet doing a little dance on the tiles as the pain shoots up my back and then, slowly, drains away.
Dan’s up. I can hear the bed squeak the way it does when he sits on the edge, stretching his legs before turning on the lamp and getting ready for work.
I grit my teeth for the next contraction, scratch a layer of paint off the toilet seat. Breath in. Breath out.
Maybe I am ready, I think. Maybe I have to be.
“Daaan,” I say, my voice sharp, cracking. My eyes blur from the tears. “I think…I think it’s time.”
I can hear him shoot up out of bed, crashing into things, flipping on the light.
And as the pain grips me again, I imagine myself there in the white delivery room, bright lights on me, my body hot and sticky. Maybe when my baby comes it’ll be a pile of bones, devoid of expression. Devoid of wants, pain, disappointment.
Maybe that’ll be best.
I’ll lay there, all dumb smiles and fake tears. I’ll hear it—him— cry his first cry, and looking at him, as everyone around me says how adorable he is—how he has Dan’s eyes, my ears—I’ll fall in love with him just the same. And they’ll take turns holding my child, my baby, my love. All of me.
All those pretty little bones.