This morning, when the light broke into the hotel room, I soon realized in horror the inexorable truth:
I am now only bones.
There is a hole where my genitals should be. My organs are missing. I have no hair to brush, no lips, no eyes.
I wish my new form meant I couldn’t see all the people staring at me as I slink my way down the airplane aisle, my dress draped over my shoulder blades and snagging on my heart-shaped pelvis. My toe-bones look strange in pink sandals. Your brother called, and he is making arrangements to get your body back to Texas.
The airline gave me the bereavement fare for my last minute ticket. I find my spot, next to an older woman with frizzy hair. She smells nice, like a grandmother, and pats the middle seat with her manicured hand before standing up to let me in. A blonde man wearing headphones is asleep against the window. She looks friendly, he looks like he’ll leave me alone, and I’m desperate.
“Thanks,” I say. She looks at me like I’m a human being and nothing else. I fantasize that she’ll ask me where I’m going and where I had come from and me eventually telling her everything that happened, her eventually telling me everything would be okay and giving me some compelling example that would make me believe it so.
She nods and pulls out a book. She doesn’t stare too long, but then again, she doesn’t know that I killed my boyfriend in a car crash the day before.
I push my backpack under the seat in front of me and buckle my seatbelt. I have to pull the strap very tightly—I’m shocked at how small I am without the softness of the belly I’m used to around my middle parts.
Though I don’t have eyes to close, I disappear into my thoughts, and my chin falls toward my sternum. Memories of your arms, your smile, your vacation-beard appear like picture cards in my mind. And then I feel cold as ice, remembering the last card, your body, a flash of red and white, mangled and split open. The paramedic said you died instantly. I rub the rough airplane seat cloth. It can’t be true. I need it to not be true. I want my body back, the night back, to be made again of muscles and gums and goodness. I want you.
“Would you like a piece of spearmint gum,” the frizzy-haired lady asks. “It helps with the ear-popping.”
I shake my head no, but try to relay a “thank you” with my teeth.
The plane takes off.
The night we first met, you were dressed like a priest. I was wearing a blonde wig, going as Brigitte Bardot. You asked me to confess my sins and I said je t’aime.
The flight attendant, a large woman with big breasts and tight braids asks what I’d like to drink. She doesn’t comment on my lack of skin, but she looks concerned. I nod for apple juice. The man to my left is still asleep, and the frizzy-haired lady orders a diet Coke. She smoothes the crinkles out of her khaki slacks and flips back to her book.
I thumb through the airplane magazine and study the map of red dots across the continental United States. These are the places the airlines flies to. I count how many dots I’ve been to, most of them with you. And there are so many dots we want to visit—and so many places between the dots, that can’t be reached by air travel alone. I stare at the dot the plane is headed to, where your body will come tomorrow in an airtight container.
I try to drink my juice, but with each sip the liquid just runs through me and makes a mess all over my dress. I have no taste buds. I push the cup away.
When the flight attendant comes back, I hand her my glass still brimming with juice, but during the exchange it slips, liquid splashing into the lap of the lady with frizzy hair.
“Oh, baby!” the flight attendant says. “I didn’t realize there was still juice in there, you should have told me!”
“Great,” the lady next to me says. “My book is soaked.”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. They can’t hear me. I forget I have no vocal cords.
“You should have told me, baby.”
“My book is ruined.”
The flight attendant hands the lady a napkin and takes her white trash bag to the next aisle.
“Thanks a lot. My book is ruined and my pants are all wet.”
“And this is juice, right? Not water?”
I nod, yes.
“Great. Just great.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah? What good does that do me?” she says, wiping frantically. “Thank God I wasn’t reading on my Kindle.”
My normal reaction would be to beg for forgiveness, but today I can’t. I’m saving all of my apologies. It’s not the frizzy-haired lady’s fault, but she’s let me down. I look to my left, hoping the man with the earphones heard this, that he can assure me I’m not so bad. But he is asleep, arms crossed, mouth open.
I’m alone. I pull out the Sky Mall Magazine and browse the gadgets for sale, try to keep my elbows in my own seat section. I look at dolphin-shaped toilet flush handles, blue-jean pajamas, blow-up T.V.s and start to cry. If you were here, you’d make jokes.
“I bet there’s someone out there with a sea-creature-themed house,” you’d say.
I wonder where your body is right now. Who’s getting to touch you.
All I can think is: I want you home. I want your bones, to be bones together.
Shannon Perri lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and menagerie of pets. She is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Texas State University and holds a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Texas. Her writing has appeared in Fiddleblack's second print annual, Nights Like These, and in literary journals such as Buffalo Almanack, Fiddleblack, and In The Fray.