The Skeleton in the Bed

He peeled me off the couch. “Let’s go to bed.” Russ cupped my shoulders and walked me to the bedroom, unleashing a waterfall of relief. He had come home. Why did I fret the worst? I knew he was working late. 

I wasn’t always this way. Usually, I bounced between apocalyptic foreboding and “It will, like, totally work out,” believing in Aquarius, and subscribing to both possibilities in equal measure. My scale has since shifted, the last several years pocking the turnstile, sliding it closer to the whipping post of existential shrift. 

Maybe my undue angst was a reaction to the shooting outside our building last week. I was splayed on that same pink couch, entranced in Yellowstone’s premiere. (It’s Dallas with more horses and better scenery—flora and fauna—if you know what I mean). That night, Russ was already in bed asleep. He missed the pop! pop! pop! pop! let’s go! let’s go! let’s go! outside our windows.

I pulled back the curtain from my dent in the couch (Darwinism in action), and stole shadows darting the periphery like cardboard paper cut-outs, a team of tires screeching into thin air on Mass Ave. I walked to the bedroom, pushing the door open slowly with my index finger, leaning forward as it went, like my incisor was ringed in floss and tied to the door knob. Feet anchored in place, hands on hips, I stared at the lumpy entanglement of pillows and elbows, a molten of down concealing most of his boxers, minus a swatch of yellow, ripe enough for a ballpark dog, and dotted with pickles, dimpled for effect. His pickle pants. I stood there eyeballing him, willing Russ to waken, to sense the danger, the urgency of our fiction turned fact. 

It never happened.

So my guilt was a mere margin, passed out on the pink couch waiting for Russ, who was well past the expected curfew by several hours. I had slept through the second half  of Succession, for the third time that week, but it didn’t matter. My relief was palpable. I stumbled to bed satisfied he was home, falling into the mattress like a mummy laid to rest. 

I was still groggy when Russ’ alarm prattled in the wee hours the next morning like it always did. He hit snooze a few times and I thought about the previous night. 

I said, “Russ, I had a weird dream last night.”

“Oh yeah?”

“It was like I was awake, pretending to sleep, but I couldn’t open my eyes, or it would end.”

Russ was silent. He was used to these enigmatic openers that assembled so naturally on my lips, like grease bubbles crowning pores on the foreheads of teenagers everywhere. 

Cracker came for a visit. I think, anyway. In my dream, he slipped under the covers, and did his little dance, passaging and pirouetting, scraping at the sheets, trying to fluff his perfect spot behind my knees.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, except, his pointy little feet were sharp, like buttercups upside-down, made of broken sea shells.

He was a skeleton.

There was no fur.

That’s why his feet were so sharp.”

Russ didn’t say anything. 

“It was weird. I wondered if I was dreaming this dream, while dreaming it, but I was scared to move, in case it was really happening. I was so happy to see him. I didn’t want it to end.

I half expected to wake-up with red pin marks in my calf from his little fork feet kneading my doughy chicken leg.”

“Did you?” Russ asked, throwing me the proverbial bone, since it was still too early to deconstruct the fundamentals of an occult experience.

“No,” I said, sighing. “But when he finally curled up, he was soft and warm behind my knees.”

And my heart was full.

My family was home.

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