When my blood was younger, I imagined I could soar. Like the condors that circled overhead. Sights set high, I’d roam through the marketplace. Fly barefoot down the city’s skeletal paths, unburdened and unbound, wind tangling knots in my hair–knots Mama would carefully unwind once night nose-dived and then, re-wind in the leather thong she kept wrapped snug ’round one bony wrist. Only, double.
Twice the blessings, baby bird. She explained when I squawked confusion. Nature never weaves mistakes. In hair or flesh. Nature provides only the truth. A gift you’ll learn to embrace when you can.
Mama was a natural at spinning stories. Did it for a living. Ours. She was a fortune-teller. An augur. Soothsayer. Soothslayer, hissed some shadows as we passed. Mama only tightened her hold on my wiry wrist. Clenched her teeth in a sharp smile.
See, some divination dabblers read tea leaves. Or, palms.
Mama read bone.
Mostly bird. Sometimes not. Always ground with a pestle and mortar till only bite-size fragments remained.
Once, shadowy whispers echoing in my ears, I asked where it came from. The not bird. Unruffled, Mama set her pestle aside and leaned down. Beady eyes to mine. Smile close enough to cut. She cupped my face in her rickety grip, ran her knobby-knuckled fingers over the knife points of my cheek bones.
Nature provides, baby bird.
She released me and returned to her work. I brushed my fingertips over the edges Mama soothed.
Seemed to size up. Thought about birds. About bird bones and their brittleness. Thought, as Mama added pressure to the pestle, about how the only difference between bird bones and not is the sound they make when crushed. Bird bones snap.
Mama crunched and crunched and crunched.
It was a courtesy, Mama explained later, to provide for our clients as Nature does. Drain the blood. Soak flesh from bone. Gather the pieces for assembling a new whole. She never quite told me where the courtesy was, though, in tying ligaments ’round the bony wrist clients couldn’t see. Where only I could see, once I grew more into my own bones.
Perhaps outgrew them as deeper and deeper aches seem to suggest these days.
Blood older, eyes changed, I saw our home full of many unexplained courtesies. Undocumented provisions. Truths that flew high above my head like the condors I used to run through the skeletal streets chasing. Foolish.
Vultures always lead to the same place.
My place is before a pestle and mortar. Bone in the bowl. Leather wrapped tight ’round one wrist with knotted blessings, ligaments tighter ’round the other with less-knotted truth. Mama never specified which side of her she was referring to….
At the table behind me, a client waiting. They shouldn’t be kept…waiting. Long. It’s rude. Discourteous.
“Just a moment.” I call over my shoulder, hand gripping the pestle.
“Take your time, child.” A withered voice. Brittle like bird bone and raspy like a requiem. “Hate for your Mama to curse my impatience from beyond.”
“Mama would never curse.” Tighten my grip. Add pressure. Stone meeting bone. “Only bless.” Crunch.
“May she rest in peace.”
Pieces. With my free hand, I snatch a fly-away fragment. Smooth my fingertips along its jagged edges.
Nature provides, baby bird.
How right Mama was. Nature gave. Her me. Me her. And now, I lift the bowl of carefully ground bone before me, finger the fragile fragment still in my hand, I can return the favor.
***Check out the Killing It tag if you like more delightfully disturbing stories like this one ^.^***