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Bones of the Heart
Anne Howkins

Empty eye sockets peek at her from high-shelved vantage points. She lets her hand trace a sequence of unmatched vertebrae. They form a rudimentary snake slithering silent across heaped anatomy books, following some undefined prey. She fingers the contours of a tiny bird skull. Wonders at its fragility. Ponders how the bird met its fate. Nothing flitting through her head changes the feeling she is poised on the cusp of something.

He bids her sit, hands her a glass of manzanilla so dry it sucks at the marrow in her jaw. The taste of a distant sea dances on her tongue.

Do you like it? Only sherry worth drinking.

It’s different, she says, but yes, I do. Your choice of interior décor, that’s a bit...

Unexpected? Gory? Childhood hobby, every time I think no more, someone brings me another little corpse.

So, they’re already dead…

God yes.  I couldn’t… my granddad used to shoot, pheasants, rabbits. All those sad little bodies hanging in the pantry.

Sherry glasses emptied, he leads her to the dining room, makes the candles gutter as he shakes a pristine damask napkin over her lap. The leg of lamb, roasted with gin and orange, is surprising. Delicious. Unexpected.

She quizzes him about the skeletons while she mops up juniper-scented sauce with forkfuls of potato.

While he talks through the process of skinning, gutting, de-fleshing, boiling and bleaching, she watches the bedrock of him move. Sees sinews tighten, muscles flex and contract as he pours more wine. Every movement is necessary, sparse, considered.

She imagines the pair of them, skeletons intertwined, femur rubbing against femur, radii wrapped around xylophone ribs, fingers held so tight her knuckles might crack and pop inside his fists. She wonders about being an exhibit in his collection – would he place her skull on the topmost shelf, jostling against the curling horned ram’s head with the delicate skull of a small rodent within her mandibles…

What about a human skeleton she asks should I be worried?

He picks up her hand, lets his explore the contours of carpels, metacarpals, phalanges, never taking his eyes off her.

Do you want to be?

Anne started writing flash fiction in 2019 and relishes the challenge of writing very short stories. Her stories have appeared in print and online, most recently at Retreat West, Flash 500, Reflex Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, National Flash Fiction Day, Lunate, Strands International and Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 2020. She is an active member of Fosseway Writers Group who are amazingly tolerant and supportive.