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A Grave of Flesh and Bone, a Short Story by Kylyssa Shay
The following story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons or events is entirely coincidental. All locations and products are used fictitiously.
A Grave of Flesh and Bone
Lindy sat on the edge of her bed, holding the tablet displaying her sonogram in hands quaking with disbelief and primal fear. She hadn't made love to a man in over seven years. She was also seventy-two years old; there was simply no way she could be pregnant, even if she had.
The tiny fetus was perfect in every visual respect, its features detailed and vivid beyond the usual for such images. The scale marked on the edge of the page showed it to be about two inches long. Her doctor had explained that, over time, the cells of its body had been replaced with minerals from hers, turning it into a tiny stone monument for its own terribly brief life. It was calcified, frozen in time at three months from conception.
Her doctor told her it died long ago, decades ago, surely. Her insurance wouldn't cover removing it without a solid medical reason. It hadn't caused her any real trouble anyway, so there was no hurry to get it out. He was wrong about that, but he was probably incapable of understanding that the tiny, harmless relic made her body feel like a grave. Lindy had never had an ultrasound before; it could have been there over fifty years or for as few as twenty-five, a fossilized reminder of someone. If only she knew who, maybe she could fall asleep.
As her mind shied away from two utterly dreadful possibilities, she considered another, still dreadful in its own way, but much easier to bear.
Belinda Anne Pillar met the first and second to the least dreadful possibility when she was only seventeen. Jacob Frates worked at her father's liquor store on the kindest end of Chicagoland. He fell in love with both Lindy and her father's liquor. They got married just before her twenty-first birthday and alienated her family immediately afterwards by moving out to the Michigan countryside instead of going on the honeymoon at Niagara Falls her relatives had all chipped in for.
Jacob soon had her isolated and spending her days barefoot in the kitchen, but alas, not pregnant. After two years of trying and failing to produce a much-wanted baby, Lindy finally went to the doctor. Unfortunately, it wasn't to ask for advice or aid in conceiving a child, but to find out just what was causing the hideous, unbearable itch in her drawers.
Before getting treated for a galloping case of unspecified VD with a walloping dose of antibiotics that left her pale and puking, Lindy had desperately wanted to have a baby to make her husband happy with her. After it, she just wanted someone who would really love her.
She was cut off from family and friends. Leaving him wasn't an idea her mind could even come up with, because it was the sixties and divorce just wasn't something good girls did. Lindy was nothing if not a good girl. So she decided, by damn, she'd make somebody who pretty much had to love her.
Jacob eventually grew tired of Lindy's sighs and her infertility. He grew increasingly unfaithful to her, but never to his other first love, alcohol. Jacob drank more and more heavily, leaving Lindy home alone more and more often. That was a good thing because he had a tendency to remind her what blood tasted like when she got on his nerves. Some weeks, the bruises on her pale skin even had a chance to yellow before he replaced them with fresh ones. Unfortunately, it also hid the fact that he'd stopped showing up to work from Lindy until the factory called for him at the house.
Crappy things kept leading to other, crappier, things.
Jacob beat her senseless and left. He sold the farm out from under her and Lindy bitterly remembered her father's advice, that she should have refused to live with him without having joint ownership of the house.
Lindy knew how to survive in the city, but she'd been kept away from work by her husband for years. She'd made no friends of her neighbors a quarter mile down the road nor with anybody in the small town ten miles away. Most of them had never even seen her.
Things went downhill fast.
Just after her twenty-fifth birthday, Lindy found herself homeless and suffering from seizures that were a parting gift from Jacob Frates on their last day together, delivered with blow after blow to her head with fists numbed by liquor.
Lindy set the tablet on the bedside table and sighed. Curling up under her blankets in bed she decided the idea of the strange fossil in her womb being a marker for the child she'd so desperately desired when she had so needed someone to love her was oddly comforting. Even if Jacob would have been a terrible father there were definitely worse possibilities.
She only slept for a few hours and woke as she often did, shaking and sweating, her pulse racing. She'd had dreams about other possible fathers of her dead unborn child.
The second to the worst possibility was more of a spectrum than a single person. It had many heads and arms, many hard and bruising hands whose actions somehow overlapped until they could not be separated. Their unwanted intimacy, their indelible imprints on body and heart shared the same bit of space in her mind. The intensity of the terror she felt made remembering them like trying to identify the location of a pain so intense it feels like it's coming from everywhere. So many assaults occupied far too little real estate in Lindy's overflowing memory files of trauma. Flashback overlaid flashback like transparencies she could somehow see, smell, and feel all at once.
Nothing was clear in the chaotic, terrifying mass. She'd suffered so many sexual assaults while homeless she could barely remember any of the perpetrators as individuals anymore, although tiny details like smells and sensations perversely remained fresh and indelible.
Her terror surged in her blood vessels, heart pumping, ears roaring, stomach falling, and sight dimming with it. Could one of them have left behind such a reminder, unknowingly tagged her like a sheep, left a gruesome little trophy in her flesh? Was it the fat guy? The older one with the cross around his neck? Was it the guy who had seemed nice, offering her a sandwich and watching her eat it before slamming her down on the office's carpeted floor and taking away the rest of her faith in human kindness with sweaty, implacable strength?
Lindy sat watching television and drinking tea, wishing her roommate were awake to talk to. She very slowly made and drank cup after cup of the stuff, more for the soothing ritual of it than for the beverage itself. Her thin, age-spotted hands moved confidently on the tea service, rendering fresh, steaming cups she sipped until her doctor's office opened. Her doctor had mentioned the possibility of more tests. After all, he'd been looking for the cause of twinges of pain in her lower abdomen when he'd ordered the ultrasound. She called and left the requisite message on the machine there and settled in to wait for a nurse to return her call within the next day or so. She fell asleep sitting in her easy chair, her mobile phone on her chest.
This time her dreams contained nothing more sinister than a shocking absence of toilets in the dreamscape and a very real and insistent need to urinate.
When her full bladder forced her to return to the material world and its lovely indoor plumbing, she woke groaning and sighing under the combined pains of stiff muscles and consciousness. After using the bathroom she chewed up two antacids and swallowed a big, oval ibuprofen. As she puttered about her apartment with the phone in her pocket, the stiff muscles relaxed and ceased to pain her so much. Unfortunately, her consciousness did not.
Lindy gave up on the idea of getting a prompt call back from her doctor's office and decided she could shower without concern of interruption. She could do all the tasks that needed doing in her small, shared apartment on autopilot, so she thought a slight change of scenery might help her avoid too much thinking and dwelling. She bathed and dressed with the phone always nearby and left home on a walk more to stay busy than to run any real errands.
It was an overly optimistic plan, but it did give her something to do to fill the time until her roommate and best friend Sydney was up and ready to hear her strange news. She'd grab his favorite donuts and a carafe of coffee to go and pick up a bottle of rum at the convenience store on the way back from the bakery. They could talk over coffee and pastries and she could have a tot of rum at bedtime to help her sleep if nothing eased her racing mind before that.
It was a pleasant morning. The trees were coming into leaf and the daffodils were in full bloom. The ground was still a bit squishy under the sprouting grass, but Lindy was unlikely to walk off the sidewalk. It was just cold enough that the wind reddened her cheeks and made her nose run little, but she found it bracing rather than uncomfortable. She lived in a nice little suburban Michigan neighborhood near Grand Rapids and didn't often take the time to enjoy the bits right by her apartment. The fresh air and pleasant surroundings buoyed her spirits so much she was determined to treat her condition like an adventure when she discussed it with Syd.
By the time she got back home, her arm was sore, she'd dropped the donuts twice, and she'd had enough adventure; she just wanted the doctor's office to call already.
Sydney was awake and working on the routine tidying tasks Lindy had abandoned when she got back. She explained that she was expecting a call from her doctor's office while the two set out mugs and plates for coffee and donuts like a pair who'd been doing so for a long time.
"What sort of call are you waiting on the doctor's office for?" asked Sydney, sipping from his sugar-laced cup.
"It's complicated. I'd like to hear about how your date went last night, first," she replied.
"I can't talk about that while I'm all worried about you," he said.
"It's nothing bad; it's just weird is all. The doctor promised it's nothing serious."
"C'mon, you tease. Now that you've said it's weird, I have to know. I can tell you all about Mr. Boring if you have trouble falling asleep tonight."
"Mr. Boring can't have been that bad; he kept you out at least until three. Isn't he as pretty as his photos online?"
"Oh, even prettier, I'd say," Syd replied, "but you aren't going to distract me."
"Don't say I didn't warn you. It's complicated and weird and probably doesn't matter to anybody but me."
"If it matters to you, it matters to me," he said, stopping her right hand on its way to the sugar dish to cover it gently in his own big dark hand.
Lindy swallowed and blinked hard before picking Sydney's hand off her own by using her left hand like a mechanical crane and said, "You don't really know how much I appreciate that."
Her little bit of physical humor softened the worried lines in his brow but didn't touch the creases of concern beside his big, deep brown eyes.
Pulling the tablet out of her purse with her crane-liberated appendage, she brought up the image of the sonogram and handed it to him.
He looked at it for a few seconds and then said, "What?" and shook his head, but he held up one finger to forestall whatever she was going to say in reply. Staring at the display for a full minute, he finally said, "So you're pregnant?"
She burst out laughing, great snorts from her belly, at the expression on his handsome face. "No, no, thank God," she said.
"I'm guessing this is where this gets weird, then?"
"Yep. It's calcified. The fetus is calcified."
"So you're pregnant but it's dead?"
"I... I guess you're right. It's not a fetus anymore but a little wodge of calcium, but I never did give birth."
"Who's the daddy, Lin? Eddie's been gone seven years."
"That's...," she said, and her phone started playing the theme song to a weekly medical drama television show.
"I'll tell you later," she said as she punched the answer icon and picked up her phone.
Sydney got up and turned off the dishwasher because it was loud and he wanted Lin to have no trouble hearing whoever was calling from her doctor's office. She spoke for several minutes on the phone and the nurse told her she'd been scheduled for several additional tests and gave her the dates and times for them.
Lindy looked up at Syd from where she sat at the breakfast nook with a sad smile. "Doctor Burke said it's been there a really long time. It could be as old as, well, it could have happened when I was young."
The tall man strode around the table and knelt to put his arms around her. "Oh, honey, that's so damned weird! I'm sorry."
"I know. What the hell am I supposed to do with something like this?"
"I don't know. Oh, my God, that's creepy! Jesus. Sorry."
Lin came so close to laughing he hammed it up trying to get her over the threshold from tragedy to comedy. They were both laughing and crying and complaining about how long it took to get more information from doctors.
He settled her on the couch, cup of coffee and nibbled donut in hand and they sat side-by-side and talked about it. Lindy felt safe to confide her hopes and worries to Syd and he felt a lot better after she did.
Lindy was off the streets before her twenty-sixth birthday, through an odd combination of dumb luck and a love affair with a man who turned out to be sad, ordinary, and a bit evil. She didn't realize he was attracted to her for her seizures, those periods of time when he could wrap his hands around her throat and fantasize about squeezing until she stopped moving with no ready witnesses to object. Anyone else would have insisted she get medical treatment for her spells but Nigel told her they were all in her head and she'd get locked up in a nuthouse if she went to a doctor about them. She left him seven years later when she finally saw the fingerprints on her throat in the mirror after a particularly bad seizure. It's not that there hadn't been any there before; it just took her that long to be ready to see them and understand what they meant.
For over ten years, Lindy was celibate. She got treatment for her seizures and worked in a gift shop. She also took discarded young people into her home and mothered them for all she was worth, which was a great deal as far as they were concerned. She thought she'd gone cold to romantic love and she truly enjoyed her life. Then she met Eddie.
Lindy was off the streets before her twenty-sixth birthday, through an odd combination of dumb luck and a love affair with a man who turned out to be sad, ordinary, and a bit evil.
Eddie was the first man in her life who pulled her up rather than shoving her down. He helped her to finally pay for a divorce from Jacob to get her maiden name back when he found out she carried Frates like a burden. He asked nothing in return and when she agreed to marry him four years later, they bought a big old house and they all moved in together, Eddie, Lindy, an assortment of young gay men in trouble, and Eddie's spaniel, Lucy.
Lindy got into activism and Eddie supported her in that, too, not in any flashy way, but in small comfortable ways like bringing her hot coffee and hand warmers when she was protesting and holding her when she cried at night. Eddie was calm, quiet, loving, and passionate in bed. He was the kind of man who wouldn't think twice about softly singing a lullaby to a crying young man jilted by a lover or wading into a fight if something or someone Lindy cared about was in danger. He was middle-aged, fat, and losing his hair, but Lindy didn't care; he saw her as a valuable person and proved it to her in every way he knew how.
All the parts of life with Eddie in them were so juicy, so sweet and full of life, that twenty-five years passed like five and then he was gone. He died like he'd lived his life; without a lot of fuss and while doing something for his fellow man. He slipped on ice while shoveling the neighbor's steps. He hit his head on the way down and the paramedics said he was dead before his body tumbled to the sidewalk.
Sydney was the last of the kids Eddie and Lindy took in over the years and he in turn rescued her from the dark well of loss that reached up and threatened to drown her when Eddie died. He was already like a son to both of them before that and they were more like parents to him than the flesh and blood that had disowned him.
Lindy realized, sitting there on the couch next to Sydney, that she didn't need to mourn the child she'd never had with Eddie, because he was sitting right beside her.
As Lindy and Syd talked about more about Eddie, she felt a sense of peace come over her.
Sydney said, "You know, it's not the actual fetus anymore; it's all just minerals that came from you, so you can decide who it memorializes and what it means. I've been thinking of it as a piece of Eddie all day. "
"That's sweet, Sid. Creepy, but sweet."
"That's me, Lindy Lou, creepy but sweet."
"You're not the one walking around with a petrified fetus in your babymaker."
"True. I'm a less refined kind of creepy than you."
Lindy had no problem falling asleep that night and she didn't even stress over the scans she'd be having later in the week. The tests themselves were a bit intrusive and even a little triggering, but she no longer felt any need to get the anomaly out of her body. She felt the situation resolved and was focused entirely on figuring out what was causing her belly pain.
The scans showed she had adhesions on her abdominal wall causing her symptoms, but they also showed something distinctly odd. The stony fetal form was located on the outside of her uterus.
Syd asked her, "So what does that mean, Lin?"
"All of that speculating and coming to terms and the fetus is what's left of my sister, my conjoined twin. She's been with me all along."
Lindy realized, sitting there on the couch next to Sydney, that she didn't need to mourn the child she never had with Eddie, because he was sitting right beside her.
© 2015 Kylyssa Shay