The Bones / by Cathy Ulrich

The bones are uncovered when construction begins on the new mall at the far end of town. Everyone comes to see. The skulls have been laid out in a row, and we wander among them.
Doris from the convenience store is the first to recognize one.
That’s Little Jimmy, she says. She picks up the skull and holds it like a precious thing. I’d recognize the shape of his head anywhere.

Little Jimmy was Doris’s kid brother, or maybe, she thinks, a nephew. It’s been so long, she says. She remembers stroking his fine hair as he drifted off to sleep, tucked up against her chin. She remembers his fluttering eyelashes and his stubby nose. Little Jimmy’s been a long time gone. Wispy-haired Doris from the convenience store cradles the skull to her breast, and won’t let anybody else get hold of it.

Nobody knows his head the way I do.

Now that Doris has found long-time-gone Jimmy, the other skulls are claimed in the same way. We find our grandparents and our wives, and know them, the way we had done before they were only skulls. We give the bones their names; we lay them down together. There’s Deborah Butterman, and there’s Charlie Pedersen and Leonard Gates, Amelia Cooke and blacked-eyed Baby Susan, born small and dead right out of her mother’s womb. We lay the bones down. We make our dead whole.

That’s not me, says Amelia Cooke from the back of the crowd. I’m just fine.

Hush, says her mother. I’d recognize your skull anywhere.

She lays the bones down till they have come together in the shape of her daughter. Amelia Cooke runs round to the rest of us, tugging at our sleeves, begging look at me look at me. She’s only a ghost now, and we pay her no mind, and then, finally, she has gone, and we are left alone with the bones.

Cathy Ulrich once found a mouse skeleton when she was hiking. Her flash fiction has recently appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Spelk Fiction and Crab Fat Magazine.