Not Bones, Not Blood
It feels like sharp opal, skinny ceramic. It feels like splinters, chunks. I have to excuse myself,
you say, my braces are breaking off inside. Locked in a room apart, you gather into a tissue
everything you’ve taken from your mouth and find it is a mingle of bones and small slivers of
nothing, the sight of it as hectic as a handful of sand under a magnifying glass. The taste lingers:
stone, frayed and brittle, coming apart like peeling paint in an old house. You consider the
artefacts you retrieve with the curious spirit of a scientist, because that is the only thing
that will save you from retching. The following things flash through your mind: teeth, porcelain,
abandoned seashells, granite that glimmers on the beach and in the cliffs and in the low waves
of summer. Never liquid things, always hard, always liable to pierce and stab. As your dream
braces come apart and you lean forward to examine them in the sink, the bones you see
are small, bird-small. A child’s idea of bones, twig-thin and suspiciously even, bound on both
ends by the upper half of an artist’s view of the heart. You remember driving back
from the beach with your mother and stepfather, sand stuck to your toes and legs, resistant to the
relentless scraping of fingernails. Someone says: there is a car in the ditch there. Your mother
is a nurse, so she goes, and you, you just follow, useless. Men and women stand around the
wreckage with gravity, sorry animals spared for no good reason. The car is totaled,
the closest you have ever stood to the personal destruction of a stranger. Violent, obliterating,
and completely undeniable. The car has shed parts of itself that are sprayed in the greenery around.
The way it has ended its flight, facing the road, it is as though the driver is observing traffic, idly
—birdwatching. In movies you have noted a trend lately: people are driving, seen
from within their car, when a car or a truck or a freight train sneaks into the frame, fast and
silent. For a second no one in the car knows it is coming. Just you. You can already feel the taste
of iron and blood and broken teeth in their mouth, and you say a silent prayer in your head:
please never let this happen to anyone I love. When you ride in cars, you wonder, would it
crumple like a hated first draft in a wastepaper basket? and would the shock rearrange your
bones as if it knew better? superior and cruel?
Inside the shattered car is a girl, conscious, with curly hair like your own, roughly your age.
Your mother calls out to her. Her voice climbs in through the open window but the girl just sits there in
her broken fish tank. Sometimes she moves her head, and you know what she’s thinking. She’s
thinking: I am, still. You see her mottled forearm, speckles of brown blood lost on the wrong side
of her skin. The engine is fuming and oil is dripping into the thorns and the dried grass. On the
inside of her forearm is a tattoo that says “Don’t bring me down”. Later you look at your own
skin under the sunlight pouring in through windows you’ve opened in a room that’s not yours.
You don’t see the veins, you don’t see the bones. Your tongue runs along the back of your teeth,
and they don’t splinter, and you wonder,
how do I know we’re still alive?
Marie Baleo is a French writer born in 1990. Her work was nominated for a Best of the Net award in 2017 and has appeared or is forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review, Litro Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Split Lip Magazine, Cease, Cows, Gone Lawn, The Nottingham Review, Five 2 One Magazine, Hypertext Magazine, Five on the Fifth, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Spilled Milk, and elsewhere. She is currently on the masthead of Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel.