The Bone Chaperone: A Triptych by Len Kuntz
The ghost was hungriest at night. Groaning from starvation. Scraping the walls. Dizzy and running into furniture.
Sis said it was Dad, drunk again, but I knew better.
The ghost liked me least and would never let me sleep. Its scorched-milk breath washed over my face. It pecked out all of my eye lashes. It stole the ribbons I’d won in Pee Wee off the cork board. It told me I was a dead snake and a dolt.
In the morning, at the breakfast table, I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I hadn’t forgotten the secrets I knew, what I’d discovered.
The ghost sat at the head of the table, sipping coffee and staring at me, fangs flashing.
“How’d you sleep?” Mother asked, setting down her cup.
When I couldn’t answer, she added, “Nothing to say? Or has the cat got your tongue again?”
Mother’s sour bones rest against the mantel like a set of moth-colored mallets.
We’re not allowed to touch or speak to them.
The cat keeps its distance, fur on end, looking electrified, and that parakeet in the cage could be bloated, or dead.
Father sits at the table, his face a steaming maw, cigarette smoke writing cursive in the air.
Yesterday our older brother set another fire and that town is still burning.
Sis reminds me we are young, we are twins, that grace might be on our side this time.
A family like us, you can’t find anywhere. Not even in a story like this.
When I wake I find Mother’s eyes are imbedded inside the mirror, frowning at me. One eye is bigger than the other, and it’s pulsing like an organ, weeping viscous liquid.
In the kitchen, I open the cabinet for a cereal bowl and discover that is filled with Mother’s kettle corn teeth, all of them the color of earwax. When I exhale softly, the molars and incisors click like a set of hyperactive castanets.
In the car, Mother’s fingers grip the steering wheel, all eight, and two thumbs, each severed at the roots and dripping blood on my khaki work pants.
When I go to plug my phone into the charger, I find the last of Mother, her heart a nest of ash that smells like nostalgia or freedom, but nothing resembling forgiveness.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently a poetry collection, THE DISHONESTY OF CERTAIN MIRRORS, out from Cervena Barva Press, and the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, forthcoming from Ravenna Press in January of 2019. You can also find more of his work at lenkuntz.blogspot.com