Joanna Koch

Mr. Bones Puzzle Candy

The hothouse arousal of the undertaker’s hand hit her like a wet brick, a slab covered in slip. She squeezed his fingers like clay digits that begged to be molded for the kiln’s curing fire. Her tips rubbed his knuckles, and the puzzle of his bones assembled in her palm. He was a slim man.

One handshake, and her husband intervened, weight crushing wonder. It was his grandmother, after all. She attested his choices in silence. He labored to justify the cheapest urn while the undertaker offered reassurance. When the thin man caught her eye as quick as a hummingbird, she turned away.

It wasn’t her husband’s age. Twelve years wasn’t that much. The shape of the marriage ground her raw. Sex dampened at odd angles, more rigor than pleasure. Where once her curves filled his sheer slope of muscle and bone, now his budding gut pushed her away. His altered diet moved his lumps to strange places. She cringed when he tasted wrong, evaded his sticky tongue and tainted breath. The musty smell of recent steak caught in the back of her throat. She saw heart attacks in the marbled meat he slapped in a pan, felt her gullet rise every time she came home to the sheen and smell of splattered grease.

She had a sweet tooth. Preferred buzz over bulk.

The sting of spun sugar, hummingbird bones full of air. The undertaker’s bones hummed to her.

The night before the service, her husband slathered her in grease, an engine of meat bloated with unspoken grief. She turned over when he was done. Stick a fork in me, a knife, a scythe, she thought, and thin fingers like lurid bones probed her to sleep.

Overtaken by the undertaker in erotic dreams, by sunken cheeks and taut forehead, saran-wrapped skin clinging to a skeletal structure ready to break free through the surface of sallow flesh, she felt his many-jointed fingers in her folds. The undertaker’s touch was specific, knowing, and inarguable. She didn’t need to be filled with fat. Segmented bones lodged and vibrated in all her pleasure points.

Grooming for the funeral like dressing for a date. Shame at her itch and impatience, awkward as a stranger through the service, endless stories of a past she didn’t share. She grew more restless and abashed each time they called her the new wife.

Too many cocktails later, she disappeared into the funeral parlor to find him. Was it so wrong to flirt? She crept past the cloakroom and imagined long fingers pulling her down between the coats, fingers that handled the dead freezing her skin with forbidden knowledge. Airy gaps between his bones left her breathless; sharp pelvis jabbed with every slam of his hips.

The rustle of coats, heavy, woolen, black. Curtains dividing dreams. Forest of fabric shifting into darkness, as if the room went on forever.

The sensation of a needle stung the back of her neck.

She clasped her nape and turned. Bones baring sunken eyes, slim fitted suit draping loose, smile quietly manic. He put his finger against her lips. His other hand circled her waist and waltzed her backwards into the deep closet.

Shapes of coats, a crowd gathered in anonymous black, rustling; heavy men hanging by their necks. Colder as she backed through the recesses, not coats but carcasses hanging and swinging. Dead men blackened with rot, rustle of vermin under coats of flesh. The points of the undertaker’s fingers inspecting her body for arousal. Waltzing, wet under her dress, back pressed against something warm, the undertaker slipping his fingers in and out and holding up his hand to show her the bare bones.

His skin was stripped, muscle and nerve eaten away. Warm carcasses swung as the room rotated. Once again he placed a bone to her lips. She smelled the sugar in it, felt the squirm of something fragrant in the rotting meat, the slab behind her back alive and moist, massaging her with maggots.

The undertaker teased her mouth with a slim digit. “You know you want it.”

She did.

She bit off the finger and crunched through the bone. Sugar stung the joints in her jaw. Sweetness hurt her back teeth. A hot tingle inflamed her cheeks. She reorganized the puzzle of his bones and ate all the candy, saving his manic grin for last. When his final tooth cracked open it heaved a cherry-flavored gasp.

She wiped the maggots from her back, flicked the ash from her dress, and grabbed her coat from the racks.

A heavy-set aunt blocked her exit. She resembled the husband if he were aged, fattened, and dressed in drag. “We’ve all been wondering where you ran off to.”

Coat half on, half off. “I needed some air.”

The matron looked her up and down. “I understand, dear. These things are so stressful.”

Not budging, she plowed through her handbag and frowned into its depths over a double chin. The oversized tote didn’t hide her excessive hips or opulent chest. She fished out a tissue, handed it to the wife, and tapped at the corner of her mouth.

“After you freshen up, come down to the tea room. I hear there’s going to be cake.”

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