Between half-filled composition books, dust bunnies and balled up socks, the skeleton eases its way out from the space beneath Rosie’s bed and asks: ‘Are you gonna tell him?’
Rosie tugs her baseball tee at the neck and pulls the paisley-patterned comforter higher. She’s can’t count how many times they’ve done this. Maybe sixteen, since summer started. It’s the first time the skeleton has had to hide under her bed, though.
‘I can’t tell him,’ Rosie sighs.
Outside, the engine of Pop’s 86 Ford Bronco growls as he reverses the SUV down the drive. He’d nearly caught Rosie and the skeleton fumbling under the covers. Claimed he’d forgotten his lunch of beef sandwiches and beef jerky and drove back from the auto shop only to make a b-line for Rosie’s bedroom. Rosie hadn’t planned on that. Not when she’d called the skeleton and told it to come around.
‘He might not care,’ the skeleton says, reaching back under Rosie’s bed for its jeans. ‘He might think it’s okay.’
‘You don’t know my Pop,’ Rosie sighs.
After a lipless kiss to Rosie’s cheek, the skeleton leaves the way it came, wandering through the wind-rippled corn fields that brush the back of Rosie and Pop’s house.
Pop doesn’t ask about what he nearly walked in on. Not later that night, when he watches a re-run of the 89’ NBA final, or in the morning as he brews his coffee for work. Still, Rosie senses something’s up, because by the early afternoon he pitches up with a diagnosis of a migraine and settles himself on the front porch like a snoozing pit bull till the sky dilutes to a blush pink and all Rosie’s plans with the skeleton are cancelled.
The cicadas are buzzing something fierce when the skeleton tips up at Rosie’s front door the following Saturday. It’s got a bouquet of flowers gripped between its slender fingers, the petals flaking at the edges. Gas station, she thinks. There’s a lopsided grin dripping uneven across its face and a wonky bowtie round its neck.
Rosie’s skin prickles with gooseflesh as she takes the skeleton by the arm and hustles it out onto the porch, pulling the door semi-shut behind her. It’s the first time Rosie’s seen the skeleton since the incident with Pop.
‘What are you doing!?’
‘Who is it?’ Pop hollers out from the kitchen, voice scratchy like burlap. They’re having steaks. Pop has his bloody.
‘No one,’ Rosie shouts. The skeleton’s face falls.
‘I thought I’d surprise you.’
‘Now isn’t a good time.’
‘Because your Pop’s here?’
Rosie bites her tongue.
‘I’ll make a good impression,’ the skeleton petitions. ‘I promise.’
Rosie doesn’t doubt it. If Pop was different, then maybe. But he isn’t, and the skeleton needs to head home before Pop sets down the cast iron skillet and walks his heavy step towards the front door, which he’s about to do anyway, because Rosie hasn’t had a chance to stop him.
‘So, you’re the skeleton that was hiding under Rosie’s bed, huh?’
Pop breathes heavy as a dragon.
‘You gonna answer me?’
‘Yeah. Yes, that was me, sir,’ the skeleton stutters.
‘You like steak?’
The air inside Rosie’s lungs constricts.
‘You don’t have to –’ she interrupts.
‘Don’t be rude, Rosie, the skeleton’s got a voice. Let it speak.’
The skeleton nods. Pop invites it inside and begins to fry it a thick cut. Medium rare.
‘How’d you know Rosie?’ he asks, fat spitting on his skin.
The two of them sit together in the kitchen at the baby blue Formica table. The skeleton’s brogues squeak a little on the lino floor and Rosie pushes her slivers of steak around the plate.
Pop sniffs. Rosie used to work there on Friday nights.
‘What were you doing in her bedroom?’
The skeleton goes to answer but Rosie jabs her foot to its raw-boned leg. When Pop serves the meat, the skeleton confesses that Rosie had told it not to come.
‘That right? Even though you got all dressed up.’
‘Yeah. She said you wouldn’t like me.’
‘What she say that for?’
Because I know you, Rosie thinks.
‘Not sure, sir.’
‘You didn’t think of listening to her?’ Pop asks.
Later, as Pop stacks the dishes in the sink, Rosie leads the skeleton back out onto the front porch and says to never come back or call her again.
‘Just don’t. We shouldn’t have started this. I’m sorry. And you shouldn’t have come, I told you. I told you. Not while he’s here.’
The skeleton claims that Pop isn’t all that bad.
‘Maybe I’ll come back,’ the skeleton says, a little petulant. ‘Just to hang out with him.’
‘Please don’t,’ Rosie begs. ‘I mean it.’
The highway that runs out of Rosie’s town rolls as straight as the silk line of a spider web. Next to Rosie, sat high in the SUV, Pop taps the wheel to the rhythm of the Heart track on the radio, but before the intersection, where the road forks out – left turn for the lake (where they’re headed), right for the mountains – he eases off the gas and dips the tires onto the rumble strips, slowing to a crawl.
Rosie spots it before Pop points it out. The bones – the bowtie – strewn out on the red-dust verge.
She sucks her cheeks between her teeth and chews the flesh until it punctures. Pop lets the Bronco linger, like he wants Rosie to savour the view.
‘I’m sorry,’ Pop says, a poor liar. ‘But you did try to tell it, girl. It shoulda gone ahead and listened.’
As Pop drives away, Rosie watches herself in the wing mirror – hair twisting with the breeze – and imagines the skeleton rebuilt by her careful hands. Spine, sternum, scapula, skull, secured with her touch. Together they could command the highway in a new coal-black Camaro. They could be like the two girls in that Aerosmith music video, the one MTV keeps playing.
Emily uses writing as an escape from reality and doesn’t drink enough water. She has had work published or upcoming with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren Magazine, STORGY Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Coffin Bell, Retreat West, Nymphs, Idle Ink, Tiny Molecules and Gone Lawn to name a few. She can be found on Twitter at @emily__harrison