90. The Skeletons

Father had been long gone from them now. As time passed, Mother grew more and more frightened of brittle things, things that broke, items that had the consistency of sand.

She told the boys, It’s bones I fear most.

Which intrigued them, as fear intrigued the boys. As it happened, one day, while playing in the arroyo at the back of the house, the sun high and white, they dug up a skeleton. At first they were shocked. Then they propped the skeleton up and made it say things, things like Hey buddy and Woah Nellie and Hey, you got a smoke?

Mother went to bed early as she always did. They waited for the moon to crest the mountain. With glee at the back of their throats, they carried the clinkety bones whole into the house, into their Mother’s room, laid it on the mattress, and covered it with the other half of her sheets, then went to bed. At sunrise, they waited for Mother’s alarm to buzz.

As it happened, the boys in the arroyo, the sun high and hot, they watched Juan, a concerned neighbor, bring Mother home in his truck. He assisted her into the house. After a while, he came out, backed out was more the truth, which they thought strange, scanned the desert, called for them, got in his truck and drove away.

The boys crept into the house for dinner. They apologized. They told Mother they didn’t think, hadn’t thought, didn’t really understand, were very very sorry. But no matter, she had their favorite tacos ready. Milk shakes, too. She danced about the table and gave them hugs and told them, Oh it was a great joke, you boys being boys. You boys and your skeletons. At bed time, she read them ghost stories, tucked them in, and told them that tomorrow they’d go for ice cream in Mesilla, and they went to bed with feelings of satisfaction, vindication, and, yes, longing.

They slept later than usual. They heard the desert birds, the engines of trucks on the dry road. For some reason they had a hard time opening their eyes and they had a hard time moving. Mother came into the room and said, Come, we have things to do or Oh is there a problem? Come, boys, what’s the problem? One of the boys raised his arm, and what he saw he couldn’t believe, for his arm was nothing but bone and his brother was nothing but a raw red skeleton on his bed and oh how to scream without lips and how to express fear in a state of lidlessness?

Come, boys, Mother said, get out of bed, we have so much to do today. Or is there a problem, boys? Come, boys, is there a problem?

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