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Skeletal

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They gave the body to the back garden.

”Mabel Martin. Mabel Martin. I’m going into the ground for you,” the man had said. Boy, really, milquetoast white face, faintly curling brown hair, a face that might have been inoffensively pretty if it hadn’t been distorted and ruined by blood and the bone shrapnel of his skull.

They couldn’t call the police. How would they explain it? What happened to Sally; where they’d been; the way Anna’s left hand was only sometimes flesh, sometimes dried and exposed calcium and marrow. That Mabel’s hair was sometimes smoke and flame.

The vines would take care of him, nightshade and wisteria, rosemary and rue. Life and death curled and growing together.

“I don’t know who sent him and why but I will not be bound by obligation. I will not be bound by the death of this man I do not know and I refuse to be warned. I will not slink back into the--”

“Mabel.”

“-- the dark cringing like-- like some kind of prey animal just because someone has spilled blood on my stoop, cast their omen to be my future. I--”

“Mabel!”

“What?”

“No. Just--Can we not?” They were both coated with mud. With blood. The boy’s, their own, the garden’s and Anna was so tired. She couldn’t imagine Mabel being any less worn. “The King is dead. We’re back. Can we just-- one night. One night and then tomorrow we can deal with the boy and whoever sent him and everything else just..”

“You just want to have a conversation,” and there was an edge, a sarcasm in Mabel’s voice as if she couldn’t believe that they were doing this again. “Not us-as-archetypes, not you skeletal and me--”

“I want to make you dinner. You burning. And me skeletal,” Anna said. “I’m not naive, Mabel.”

They were quiet for a moment. The trees creaked. The boy bled. Lavender and basil hung in the air.

“Chorizo,” Mabel finally said in agreement. “Chorizo and smoked potatoes and every dessert in the bakery.”

“Maybe not every---”

Mabel scowled.

Anna laughed, a sound like silver, like swallows. “Okay, fine. Every. God, I love you.”

 

Someone was going to have to buy chorizo. Chorizo, cava-- “Do we even have potatoes?” Anna asked as they surveyed the vine-ruined kitchen-- probably potatoes, garlic, hot smoked paprika, every dessert in the bakery.

The front door refused to open.

Mabel railed. Anna cajoled and only upon the promise of crystal champagne flutes did the house finally swing its front door open.

(The people-- the House knew better than to call them humans-- didn’t understand. Never would. How could they when they spoke of it in such a way? The House. Capitals and definite pronouns, something cold and alien and distant. They couldn’t understand that a house longs for more than timber and wainscotting, Carrera marble and spotless grout. They couldn’t understand that as much the House sought to make them its family, it was seeking in turn to be their home.)

(It wasn’t the champagne flutes that matter. It was the promise in them. That Mabel and Anna would drink cava in the living room until the sparkle and spirit of it chased the nightmares from their veins, the dead body in the garden from their memories, even if for an hour. That they would laugh and maybe kiss and remember something warm happened there.)

 

They did not, in the end, buy every dessert from the bakery, but they did make a valiant attempt- two thick dripping slices of tres leches cake, tops nearly coated with cinnamon, lemon tarts, butterscotch brownies studded with walnuts, macarons in every color-- green, red, white, brown, an electric pink that Mabel was delighted to learn was hibiscus.

When they return, the House had changed. Not...perceptibly. Vines still grew in through the windows; there was still a hole in the wall that Mabel had torn herself through. The dining room was still charred and ash and soot still wafted through the hallways. But it seemed warmer. There was sturdy stoneware, red-brown, all the pieces slightly dissimilar, in the cabinets. There was a cake knife and server in tarnished silver, embossed with feathers and flowers, that Anna had never seen before in the entire time she made Sally’s meals in the kitchen.

“Huh.”
“The House does what it wants. It always has,” Mabel said with a shrug, reaching for the knob of the gas stove.

The electricity fizzled and sparked.

“Why don’t I handle the stove?” Anna said. “You and the House. You have a contentious relationship with fire.”

Mabel snorted but stepped away from the stove. “The House holds grudges. Of course it does, curled up in its thorns and its hallways.”

Anna started the chorizo sizzling in the pan and leaned over to kiss the corner of her mouth. “Who does that remind me of?”

“You like my thorns. Anna. Saint Anna.”

“Maybe I do,” and Anna felt heat that wasn’t just the flame from Mabel’s hair spread across her cheeks.

One burning, one skeletal. The Mouth of God and the Bull in the Maze. Women and archetypes and and a groaning, living home of vines and char and ashes that kept the lights on and the radio playing for a single evening. For chorizo and smoked potatoes, every cake from the bakery. Cava and the promise of champagne flutes.