Old Pointy Bones and Big Ears
by Mira Spindler
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Inside, in her own dark room, in her own pillowed bed, Big Ears woke to the yapping sound of a beast outside. The digits read 6:07. Big Ears rolled onto her stomach, pulled the blanket over her head until the yapping stopped. Her body pulsed with the familiar ache. She named it this way: she ached to be alone.
6:07. The morning coiled ahead of her, a grating symphony of “give me” and “do for me” and “hold me.” She hadn’t asked for a child, especially not a Special one. Like EenyMeeny, the boy had somehow just fallen on top of her and, by the time she had come to understand the full dimensions of the catastrophe that the boy dragged into her life along with the afterbirth, she was staggering even lower under the still-mute burden of what the girl would become. Every day, from dawn to dark, the weight of those needy bodies wore her down.
The children dispatched at last to sunny schoolrooms, Big Ears sat at the end of a vast marble counter in her twice-renovated kitchen, swiping and pointing and clicking and liking, watching 9:43 turn to 10:11, each digit sticking too long before rearranging its pixels to announce another minute passed.
She thought of the girl, sitting in her little school desk, reading aloud with the teacher, raising her hand. So bright. So smart and pretty. All of it would have been different, Big Ears told herself, if the secret combinations of genes and proteins had worked their magic properly. Girl alone she could have loved with abandon. Girl would have been joy, lightness. A sweet companion.
At 2:46 she walked to the schoolyard and stood at the gate, staring at the glowing seconds clicking past on her screen. The bell rang at last at 3:01, releasing the girl into her embrace. Those moments of waiting were always so full of anticipation, full of promise.
And yet, this day as on other days, the girl she was waiting for seemed ever to be elsewhere. What arrived in her stead was a changeling, dirty and tired, whining for snacks and complaining about playground slights. Big Ears stumbled back along the ruts that led from school to home, the girl scampering from tree stump to fence to post, always just out of view. The wind was picking up, blowing dusty linden leaves into her eyes. The boy would be home soon. Big Ears felt the familiar headache coming on. “Go upstairs and play,” she said, shooing the girl away.
She retreated to the shade-darkened cocoon of her bedroom. She heard the Special bus roll to a stop on the street outside, the Special door open wide, her Special child stumble from the dry stale air of the interior into the stuttering sunlight of the street. 4:22 glowed red on the clock. She was so weak at this hour, exhausted from a day filled with not seeing EenyMeeny and not thinking about the Special boy. She could barely lift her head to shout, “Open the goddamn door for your brother.”
Big Ears did not scruple to use such language with her children. It was the way of the world, to be harsh, to be rough. They would both learn it soon enough. Especially the boy. Keeping him safe, it was all she could hope for. He would be grown soon, and then... at the thought of then, a pinch of panic grabbed hold, but she pushed it away with an angry shake of her head.
She reached blindly for her phones, snuggled them back in place. With a swipe she could be anywhere: soothing waves lapping, birdsong, samba music, the pings and pongs of outer space. The ear cup perfectly molded to the side of her jaw, sealing out the nattering shouts and slamming doors of the children, the beast’s joyful yowp and clatter on the stairs.
She must have dozed. A rude shake at her shoulder snapped her awake. She pushed off the ear cups to hear the girl’s urgent cries: “Mama, Mama, takes us to the playground!” She squinted at the glowing numbers, willing them to have increased past the hour of outside. Not to be so. Out they paraded, the girl at the head, followed by the boy and Big Ears with EenyMeeny, lunging toward freedom at the end of its leash.
* * *
At the other end of Linden Place, Ricracrex was also lunging, in its own lethargic way, sensing the time had come for the late afternoon walk. Old Pointy Bones clipped the leash to Rex’s collar and called to Husband to put the soup on for supper. Ricracrex ambled next to Pointy Bones along the familiar route, stopping only briefly to sniff at the linden.
Pointy Bones gazed left with her rays and gazed right, clearing the way so that Ricracrex could pass unprovoked. But perhaps this day her attention wavered. Perhaps her power was at an ebb. For as they approached the house of Big Ears, Pointy Bones sensed too late the girl and Special boy coming down the walk, and behind them the eager whimpering of EenyMeeny.
Big Ears’ back was turned to lock the door. She touched her hand to her ear cup, thinking how her bubble was strong, solid. She was staying inside her head, keeping the outside out even if, as now, she was forced to venture outside. So she didn’t sense anything, not the creep of Pointy Bones’ shoes, not the whiff of Ricracrex’s hair. And so she failed to call to her children, to protect them, to draw them away from the approaching Ricracrex.
The sound of Ricrac’s piercing yelp whirled her around, key jamming in the lock. It happened so fast, she lost track. EenyMeeny strained at the leash, tearing hard at her shoulder. Where was the girl? The Special boy? Where they had been standing, she could see only a swirl of shaggy fur, lunging and snarling, a flash of color where the leash whipped one way and the other.
Big Ears snatched off her phones and heard Pointy Bones barking, “Down, Ricrac, down!” But her command was washed over by another sound, louder, insistent. It was the girl screaming.
The screaming was like jagged fangs, tearing at Big Ears’ heart. Her girl. Her charm. Her jewel. She tasted fear. And then she spit it out as fury. “What the hell!” she shouted, her rock voice pounding down the walk to Old Pointy Bones. “Did your goddamn runt bite my kid?”
Old Pointy Bones backed away, pulling at the leash and shaking her head, but Ricrac was still barking and snapping its jaws. Rex joined in with snarls and roars, a pandemonium of beastly fury.
The girl’s screams stabbed the air again and again, short and piercing. Yet despite the cries, Big Ears saw no wound, no harm to the girl. She hesitated. The girl was afraid. But she ought to learn the lesson Big Ears knew so well: how to need no one. How to be alone. Big Ears raised her foot, poised between forward and back. EenyMeeny felt Big Ears waver, felt the slack in the leash, the loosening of his bond. EenyMeeny reared back, then wrenched past her, knocking her down.
In two leaps the beast was on Ricracrex, pinning the smaller one under its forepaws, snapping with slavering jaws. Ricracrex surged free in a flurry of hair and claws. EenyMeeny lunged again, and the air filled with the flash of fur against feathers, the slash of unsheathed paws, the thumps and snarls and strangled cries of animal rage. Big Ears cowered behind her hands, the girl forgotten as the wild cyclone of living flesh seemed to lift off the ground.
And then a sudden stillness. Silence. No cry from girl or beast. Then another sound, coming now from Old Pointy Bones’ mouth: a low strangled howl, louder, a bellow of rage and grief and pain. Big Ears looked where Pointy Bones’ eyes pointed: Ricrac’s head was dangling in EenyMeeny’s mouth, yanked clear off its body. All watched in terrible awe as EenyMeeny shook the head hard like a caught raccoon, blood splattering in an arc. Then EenyMeeny dropped the mess at Big Ear’s feet, a precious offering from beast to master.
The boy was moaning too, now, and beating a rhythm with his head against the lamppost. It was hard for Big Ears to think straight, what with Old Pointy Bones howling and the boy’s moaning and the hammering sound inside her skull. She looked down at the mutilated beast head still lying at her feet. Like everything: a ruin. With the hard toe of her boot she kicked it toward Old Pointy Bones. Her voice came now hoarse and savage: “Stay away from my kids!”
Old Pointy Bones kneeled on the sidewalk, sobbing and holding the rest of Ricracrex, trying to press her hand where Ricrac’s neck had been to stop the bleeding. The head rolled to a stop near her left foot. She groped to pick it up, never taking her eyes off Big Ears. The head was warm, soft like Ricrac. Rex moaned, then the beast’s body crumpled to the sidewalk, the blood pooling. Pointy Bones brought Ricrac’s head to her mouth and breathed in the last bit of beast life.
A hot jealous longing began to crawl from the depths of Big Ear’s belly up toward her throat. If it had words, deep inside, it would have said, “I have yearned for such love.” Or “I have sorrowed all my life from loneliness.” But as the longing crept across her tongue and through her lips, it was crushed and transformed. When it spoke its pain aloud, it said, in the voice that Big Ears recognized as her own, “I’m not cleaning up that shit.”
The girl was still sitting where she had fallen, unharmed. EenyMeeny was panting wetly, fetid beast slobber drooling to the pavement. The boy’s moans were quieter now. “Come on,” Big Ears said to him, her jaw tight. “Back inside.” She pushed her phones over her ears, swiped the volume up to maximum. Bubble engaged. She turned and pulled EenyMeeny toward the door.
* * *
That night Husband helped Old Pointy Bones bury Ricracrex in the back garden. The next day the house was dark and silent. Pointy Bones ghosted down the stairs, quiet in case she might hear the echoes of four paws’ clatter. It ought to be time for the walk by now, she thought. She looked at the walnut clock, but it had wound down in the night, the hands frozen. She filled the beast’s bowl and emptied it. Picked up the leash and put it down. Opened the front door and closed it. Without Ricracrex, there was no reason to wonder if it might rain, no reason to step outside, no reason to do anything at all.
After that, she didn’t bother getting out of bed. Husband tried to entice her to the dining room with succulent meats and tender shoots. But Pointy Bones would not take food from his hand, would speak only to say that she would not speak.
Husband shrugged his shaggy shoulders, left weak tea and dry sandwiches at her door, and went back to his lair where the sounds of gunshots and sirens filled the empty space where Ricracrex once lived. As for Old Pointy Bones, she spent the days lying on her back and aiming her most fierce rays at the ceiling. At first, there was only a smolder and a bit of dust. It took some practice, some concentration, but finally she could blast a hole two feet wide in the plaster. She got out of bed, and stood at the window watching for Big Ears. She was ready.
Copyright © 2017 by Mira Spindler