I Had a Bone ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
August had to look away as his father moved Mrs. Bone around the dance floor, weaving in and out among the other fools like a couple of mechanical dolls. His father, looking like an undertaker in his conservative blue suit, clutched Mrs. Bone to him as if he thought she might try to get away.
Something about them as a pair was all out of proportion. He was six inches taller than she was, but she was much wider. She wore a dress that exposed far too much of her body for a woman her age; her bare arms were enormous and flabbily white. The heels of her shoes were so high she walked like a tightrope walker.
When they returned from dancing, father pulled Mrs. Bone’s chair out for her and she turned and gave him a sweet smile before she sat down. He could be quite the gentleman when he wanted to be.
“Oh, my, that was fun, wasn’t it!” Mrs. Bone said. “We need to do that more often!” She picked up her martini and gulped it down.
“Not as young as I once was,” father said, breathing heavily and straightening his tie.
Mrs. Bone took a cigarette out of her bag; father lit it for her dutifully. “Would you like to dance with me, August?” she asked.
“I don’t know how,” he said.
“I can show you. It’s easy.”
“No, thank you.”
“You need to learn sometime.”
“I wouldn’t push it if I were you,” father said. “August is not exactly the dancing type.”
“Oh, I see!” Mrs. Bone said, looking confused.
“While you were dancing I was wondering something, Mrs. Bone,” August said.
“Yes?” Mrs. Bone said brightly, obviously pleased that August was interested enough to address her directly and ask a question.
“Where is your husband? Where is Mr. Bone? Did he die?”
“August!” father said. “That’s enough!”
“What did I say?”
“That’s not a question you need to be asking.”
“It’s all right,” Mrs. Bone said. “Of course he’s curious. I’m not a widow, August. Mr. Bone and I were divorced five years ago.”
“Don’t most divorced women go back to the name they had before they were married?”
“Some do, I suppose. I didn’t because I have three children. They naturally kept their father’s name and it would have been confusing for me to have a different name.”
“Oh. Well, where are they now? Your children, I mean.”
“They’re staying with their aunt this evening.”
“That’s enough questions, August!” father said.
“No, it’s all right,” Mrs. Bone said equably. “We’re just getting acquainted.”
“Are they boys or girls?”
“I have three lovely daughters.”
She’s running true to form, August thought. So typical, so conventional, right on down the line. After being in her company for ten minutes, you know everything there is to know about her.
“My youngest, Bitsy, is eight. Then Charlaine is eleven. Evie, my eldest, is fourteen, the same age as you.”
“I’m fifteen,” August said.
“Oh, yes, you recently had a birthday, didn’t you?”
Mrs. Bone was on her fourth martini and, while August didn’t know much about drinking, he knew it was starting to affect her behavior. She had a silly grin on her face; he found himself thinking that if somebody were to slap her across the mouth, really hard, the grin would still be there.
“They’re lovely children,” father said. Only August heard the insincerity in his voice.
“I’m so proud of them,” Mrs. Bone said. “And I can’t wait for you to meet them, August. I’ve told them all about you.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Well, they’ve met your father and they’re naturally curious about you.”
“That’s funny, because I’m not the least bit curious about them.”
Father gave him a warning look and Mrs. Bone laughed merrily. Father was going to reprimand August for his tactlessness, but just then the waiter arrived with their dinner on a big tray.
Before they ate, father ordered a bottle of the “best” champagne. He and Mrs. Bone drank it like water, on top of the martinis they had already had.
While August ate his fried chicken and au gratin potatoes, he stole little glances at Mrs. Bone. She ate her lobster thermidor like a starving lumberjack, butter sauce dripping down her chin. For several minutes she said nothing as she stuffed the food into her mouth.
“Oh, this is such a lovely place!” she gushed. “I’m so glad we came!”
“The food is certainly good,” father said.
After he finished his steak, father and Mrs. Bone danced again. When they returned to the table after their dance, father was pale and sweating.
“I’m going outside to get some fresh air,” he said.
“Do you want me to come with you, honey?” Mrs. Bone asked.
“No, you stay here and keep August company.”
After father left, Mrs. Bone turned to August and smiled. She was drunk and her lipstick was smeared almost up to her nose from her dinner. “So, August,” she said, “tell me about yourself. What do you like to do when you’re not in school?”
“Well, in addition to trying to resurrect the dead, I like deep-sea diving and competitive knife-throwing.”
“Oh, you sly boots!” she said. “I know you’re joshing me! Your father told me all about your over-active imagination.”
“Do you know my mother committed suicide?”
“Yes, I believe your father mentioned that fact.”
“She was emotionally disturbed.”
“That’s so sad.”
“I was in the sixth grade. I found her when I came home from school. She was hanging from a rafter in the garage. It was Halloween so when I first saw her I thought she was a Halloween decoration. I called for an ambulance but of course it was too late. She had been dead for hours.”
“That must have been so difficult for you. Not only losing your mother that way, but for you to be the one to find her.”
“Yes, it was difficult. I’ve been a difficult boy ever since, and when I’m grown up I’ll be a difficult man.”
“I’m so sorry for you.”
“Oh, don’t be. I’m fine.”
“I wonder if I should go check on your father. He was awfully pale.”
“Oh, no, he’s fine, I’m sure. He’ll find somebody out there to have a smoke with and forget about us for ten or fifteen minutes.”
“I think your father needs a woman in his life,” Mrs. Bone said. “A man without a woman is just a boat adrift at sea.”
“Did you know he’s a homosexual?”
“Are you not aware that my father is a homosexual?”
“Why, no! He hasn’t mentioned anything like that to me.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think it’s why my mother killed herself. He preferred man love to her love.”
“This is not just another figment of your imagination, is it?”
“Are you implying I’d make something like that up?”
“I’m not implying anything, but I’d like to find out for myself if it’s true or not.”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Would he tell me if I did?”
“Probably not. He’d say he doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, if it’s true, it’s a dirty trick to play on me.”
“I don’t think he looks at it that way.”
“I might thank you later for telling me,” Mrs. Bone said, “or I might not.”
When father came back to the table, he was ashen and seemed barely able to stand on his feet. “Too much to drink,” he said. “I’m not feeling well. I need to go home and lie down.”
Mrs. Bone stood up. “Do you need to see a doctor?” she asked.
“No, I’ll be fine as soon as I get home.”
Father paid the check and they went outside to the car. Mrs. Bone offered to drive home, but father said he could make it. He drove to Mrs. Bone’s dark house and parked the car out front and turned off the engine.
“You don’t have to walk me to my door,” Mrs. Bone said.
“I will, anyway. There might be some evildoers hiding in the bushes.”
“Nothing. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
August sat in the back seat and waited while father escorted Mrs. Bone to the door. He was only gone for a couple of minutes and when he came back he said nothing.
When they got home, August went into his room and changed into his pajamas and got into bed and started reading. He could hear father retching in the bathroom until he went to sleep.
In the morning August was sitting in the kitchen eating toast and corn flakes when father came down from upstairs wearing only his bathrobe. He set about making himself some coffee.
“Do you feel all right now?” August asked.
“I think so. I got all the liquor purged from my system. If I had thought, I would have known that six martinis topped off with large quantities of champagne would make me sick.”
“Glad you’re feeling better.”
“What did you think of Ida?”
“Her name is Ida Bone?”
“Ida Bone. I had a bone.”
“What did you think of her?”
“I didn’t like her.”
“Her perfume smells like the stuff they use at school to clean vomit up off the floor.”
“That’s not a good enough reason for not liking her.”
“Well, I think she’s a phony. She tries to look younger than she is and she gives me the creeps. She looks like a pig in drag.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“What did you say to her last night in the restaurant while I was away from the table?”
“Nothing. Small talk. She asked me what I like to do in my spare time.”
“You weren’t rude to her?”
“Of course not.”
“When I dropped her off at her house last night she acted funny. She seemed to want to get away from me. She slammed the door in my face and didn’t even say good night.”
“I think you can cross her off the list and go on to the next one.”
“There is no ‘next one’. I think I’m done with trying to find a substitute for your mother.”
“Fine by me,” August said. He looked at his father to see if he was going to say more, but he just sighed and sat down wearily at the table.
“I’m going to be gone until Monday night,” father said.
“Where are you going?”
“To the lake with Tom and Brett. They asked me, so I figured ‘why not’.”
“Brett is the one with the black beard?”
“You like him?”
“Yeah, I like him.”
“Do you like him a lot?”
“What are you saying, August?”
“Will you be all right here by yourself?”
“Sure, I love having the house to myself.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I have to read a book for English and write a report.”
“That doesn’t sound like much fun.”
“I’ll manage to work in some fun.”
When father went upstairs to get ready to leave at noon, August felt a sense of accomplishment, of a job well done. He had played the situation with Mrs. Bone like a virtuoso. He was sure now that father would never want to see her again, and he would have bet all his money, if he had any, that Mrs. Bone was finished with father. He turned on the TV and lay down on the couch. A movie that he wanted to see was just starting. He’d watch it through to the end, and, after that, the possibilities for enjoyment were limitless.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp