A journal of narrative writing.
Page 2

He picked up the skull and replaced a tooth that had fallen from the jaw. He arranged the segments of vertebrae in a snaky line, and then placed the sternum and ribs over them. The two broken ribs were on the left side. He studied them for some time, absently pressing and pinching his own left side until it felt warm and bruised. He began to reconstruct the upper limbs, the long bones of the forearms, the delicate knobs of knuckle and thumb. He ran his hand over the narrow cradle of pelvic bone, pitted and cracked like an old platter, then the leg bones, still solid as clubs, the spidery web of skeletal feet, more bird-like than human. He rocked back on his haunches and surveyed his work, then got up and hobbled over to the cot that stood along the wall.

He picked up the thin pillow and gently placed it under the skull. In this position, the upper and lower jaws met, giving the skeletal face a more lively expression. He rose unsteadily to his feet, too quickly. The basement spun darkly in front of him. He stumbled over to the cot and fell facedown onto the musty quilt. He was sinking into the mattress; his stomach lurched and he clutched at the metal bed frame, to keep from being swallowed up. Soon the sensation of movement stopped. He rolled carefully onto his back and slept.

"You'd better come up and have some supper," his mother's voice said from the top of the stairs. The he heard the creak of footsteps on the risers and when he unstuck his eyelids she was standing at the foot of the cot, her arms full of swimsuits and damp towels. A bare light bulb glared above her head. He shut his eyes.

"Where's Dad?" he said.

"Seth," she said crossly, "Wake up. You know your Dad's gone."

He swung his legs off the bed and sat up.

"I mean what did you do with him?" His voice felt used up. "With the body." She studied the ceiling, her lips pressed tightly together. Her face was a mask of shadows. She walked over to the washer, opened the lid and dropped in the armload of towels.

"You know how your dad loved the sea," she said finally.

It seemed so long ago now, but it must have been just last summer, he and Dad had put the last coat of fiberglass on the hull of the Ima Joy, tacked the rubber backed carpet under the bunk, bolted on the mount for the big Evinrude outboard. Mum had been furious at the expense and refused to set foot on board. Just the two of them, he and Dad, had put the Ima Joy into the water. Mum and the three other kids stood on the wharf and squinted into the sun as the boat pulled away from the harbour.

"Stupid cow," Dad had said, smiling and waving at them from a distance. Seth could still feel the pressure and heat of his Dad's hand, shaking his shoulder, the sudden roar of the engine opening up, the rough salt spray on his face. After Dad was dead, Mr. Nellis and another man in a suit had come and stood on the doorstep for a long time, talking to his mother. They had passed a sheaf of papers back and forth, then hitched up the boat to the back of a big Chevrolet and had taken it away.

"I took his ashes with me onto the ferry and scattered them over the side," she said.

Upstairs, the toneless ding-dong of the doorbell sounded. His mother trod heavily up the stairs as Glen yelled in his reedy voice, "Mum! It's the. . .there's a policeman at the door!"

Seth's stomach dropped. They had come for the bones.

"Seth!" his mother shouted.

"What?" he shouted back. He wrapped the skull in the pillowcase and lowered it tenderly into the washer, dumped in a cup of detergent and started the cycle. He lifted a corner of the drop cloth, disarranging the skeleton into an untidy jumble.

"Get up here!"

The officer was in the kitchen, still wearing his hat.

"You can't keep those remains, son" he said.

"It's just a pile of old bones," Seth said, "maybe a bear or a deer."

"Let's have a look," the officer said.

Seth led him downstairs.

They gathered around the rumpled tarp. The policeman poked at the ribcage, picked up a leg bone and made a show of examining it. He pointed it at Seth.

"These are human. Didn't you find the skull?"

The washing machine chugged away.

"Maybe an animal dragged it away. Maybe it's still in the ground. I can show you where."

The officer deposited the bones in a stiff plastic bag and carried them to his car. Mum and Glen watched from the doorway as Seth followed him. The officer directed him to the back seat and put the bag in the trunk. Seth could see a control for air conditioning on the dashboard but the officer didn't switch it on. The car jerked to a stop at the lookout and the officer took a minute to admire the sky before letting him out of the back. The horizon was filling up with purple clouds, edged with orange from the setting sun, and the wide dark sea was tipped with froth. An electric breeze touched Seth's hair. A storm was coming and its weight pressed against his heart.

"So, where did you first see the body?" the officer said, friendly now.

Cheater or cheated, Seth thought, and kept his eyes on the ground.

"There's a place in Alberta," Seth said, "where anywhere you dig, you dig up bones. You ever been there?" Without waiting for an answer he jogged a few steps ahead, then turned and jogged backward, watching the rising, darkening tide, feeling the freshening wind at his back and in his ears. He crossed the sand bar and led the officer up the old trail to the resting place of the bones.

"Watch the thorns," Seth said as he ducked under the blackberry canes. The officer took out a flashlight and looked over the disturbed earth. Even as they stood there, more clods dropped and crumbled and fragments of root and shell crunched underfoot. Seth kicked at the bank and another section fell away, revealing more root and shell. Overhead, the alder branches creaked and dropped a shower of soft green leaves.

"If the skull's here, we'll have to dig for it," he said raising his voice against the wind. He punched at the bank, dislodging more clumps of dirt, clawing them apart with his stubby fingers. The flashlight beam made several passes across the earth then rested on Seth's face.

"I'll take you home now," the officer said.

He dropped Seth off at the top of the driveway. "Stay away from that bank," he said before pulling away. "It's unstable."

Seth nodded and walked as slowly as his anxious legs would let him into the basement. The tarp still lay on the concrete floor, bare now except for a sprinkling of broken shell and sand. The washer, laboring through the last moments of the spin cycle, thumped a few times and was still. Seth opened the lid and dug through the mass of towels until he found the pillowcase. He climbed the stairs, and trod softly past the living room, where his mother was watching television in the dark. Glen lay beside her in his sleeping bag, on the floor.

Seth took a clean blue towel from the bathroom and spread it out on his bed. He spilled the broken skull carefully onto its soft surface, examining the rounded plates of cranial bone, the fractured segments of cheek and jaw, the scattering of teeth. The pieces were all there in front of him, each as anonymous as the pebbles on the shore. He closed his door and wedged the back of his desk chair under the knob. From the drawer of his bedside table he took a crusted tube of LePage's glue.

Thunder rumbled in the east; the night ahead would be sleepless and noisy and split with light. He began with the largest fragments, forming the eye socket and the dome of the forehead.

His bedroom curtain billowed in the wind, like a sail.