Bones on Doilies (short story)
Sola is unprepared. The word “memories” is superimposed across a flatscreen TV, glowing the color of a stuck-out tongue. Since Leon kicked the bucket, Callie and Susanna’s place has been empty― except for the lilies and bleached coral crowded along the mantle. I pick at a purple croissant on a plastic plate made to look like glass, knowing I should feel bad for someone. Susana doesn’t even feel bad for herself. I didn’t know that Leon was dead until last night when Susanna picked me up from detention. and I overheard her rejecting someone over the phone saying nah thursday won’t work i have to go to my racist grandpa’s funeral and silence. head tilt. mouth hanging open and eyes rolling the longer he talks. cutoff- its fine she snort-laughs don’t worry about it.
She hangs up and shakes the pack of Marlboro golds in her lap. Loose tobacco spills onto her leggings as she fumbles the thing out with her teeth. I’m like Holy shit Suse! You’re crazy, handing her the lighter. She side-eyes me, swerving across the double yellow line. She inhales and coughs. Rookie.
girl...leon legit died.
Blow it out your ass!
I am not!
It’s not a big surprise that nobody in our immediate family mentions death anymore.
The ride to my cousin's house has never been easy. It was not easier with a casket in the trunk, explaining to our family why they had to walk behind the Hearse and keep left on Main Street, and when you come to the tracks throw a stone across to alert your uber driver. Cheron will be arriving at your destination shortly in a 2004 Honda accord. Across the tracks, there is a brick building marked by The Enigmatic Loaf, a vague, foreboding blank oval sign. You may find yourself at the door standing in a woodpile of twigs and branches and they will snap under your boots. Like in high school, you rang the doorbell and slipped on newspapers piling up on your date’s doorstep. Her mother is inside, but absent. Would you strike a match and drop it at your feet?
At Susanna’s, the smell of baking bread rises through the carpet. Susanna said it is hard to explain why she let the funeral procession march through the bakery, umbrellas open inside cutting between people waiting in line in front of the glass display case. We disappear upstairs. At the dinner table, Callie whispers in my ear I would hate to die during pisces season and sets a loaf of Pugliese on the table, her cold-cracked hands in mine as we say grace.
Beneath the glass display case are bones on doilies, dusted daily as they wait to be taken home like shelter dogs. There is some buttercream marrow, some paper mache, some fox skulls, turkey ribs, and a few deer antlers. There are fewer coyote teeth and no rabbit feet. Some are pets and some are roadkill. The witches strip flesh off the bones of squirrels and donate hamburger meat to the town cops every Sunday. Once an anonymous witch came forward in a public statement criticizing the wife-beating, wide-eyed men with brakeless cars. “We are not going to put a dead squirrel in the cake if you ask us to, sicko. We still operate under the Board of Health as all good bakers and citizens do” (Spook Daily, 2003). Susanna was right, it was hard to explain. My own memories become bleached like a coral reef and white bread and- Susanna begins.
In high school, there was a rumor that a witch girl gave her boyfriend the ribcage of a deer. He played drums in a punk band. She said it was A) pretty B) better than taking the pill C) protected him from his enemies. But sure enough, he rat-a-tap-tapped on his old drum kit with two of the deer bones, breaking them one-by-one the louder the band got. Susanna became friends with her. Susanna, I heard that was you her sister says. I was still gay in high school.
On a Saturday morning, townspeople crowd into the bakery, waiting for their trains to the city. All the witches are here. Callie has an eye on a dentist who pays for his spray tans by keeping adolescent girls’ braces on for too long. Margaret, a new employee, charges him for cracked wheat but gives him Amethyst White (chunky). The dentist loses his two front teeth. Margaret has a crush on Callie. Fifteen minutes before closing, Margaret pulls the Eight of Cups from her tarot deck and places it in a conspiracy theorist’s hand, blue and yellow. The moon with baby cheeks looking at the pilgrim. He leaves the cups for the dessert, Omelas, a lost penguin in the Arctic, all these things are not without their meanings. May the man who thinks the Earth is flat also believe in death. memento mori. The moon is a dragon egg and I read it’s craters like palmistry, waiting for it to crack. May it bear a dragon girlfriend and may they consummate their love on a comet and may she claw her way out of fishing net bridal veils. May the eggshells fall from the sky and write more fortunes on the skin of Earth.
And I have learned a few things about how to be burned at the stake from my cousin Susanna, the owner of the witch bakery. How the sun is aloof and when she hovers close to Earth in the summer she is trying to whisper a secret in your ear. Lemon tart fingers and splinters from the grapevines in summer. Bathing in salt water with my knees scraped up. And in winter voices condense into streetlamps at 5 pm and the train howling on the rails like a banshee. Places that I went to once and can never return to: they tore down my old house and built a condo and scraped the axemarks off the trees. She, sun, looks at herself fondly on the frozen pond which makes the back of the bakery glow softly. Heart shaped shortbread pulsing and flour on a black cat’s nose. Nostalgia is a good liar, she must have strict parents or something. I grow hemlock under a black light, in a closet that the cat cannot reach.
Oh, breadmaking is an art, unpretentious and magical in and of itself. My grandfather is dead and Susanna and I are okay. The sun reminds her muscles of the making of daily bread and the offering of a body. May I remind you: one day you may awake beside a witch. She pummels pillows and crinkles sheets like a cat kneading its mother for milk.