Bone Shadows

Rose Lemberg

I work as a reception clerk in the Lost & Found of days, with only my two shadows to keep me company. You’d think they would do something more interesting than stare at each other while I brew coffee in my mother’s pot of fractured brass and wait for strength.


I have two shadows. Both are thin, successful, wear lipstick and high heels. One has been known to smoke an invisible cigarette in a slender bone holder carved like a fox that has run through the desert for a hundred days before returning home.


I remember when I only had a single shadow, rolled upon itself like a carpet. I have walked across the desert to find it, carried brass tokens sewn under my tongue to pay for it. Later┬áthe keepers of lost days of that place watched me hammer my mother’s pot out of the remaining brass tokens while the other shadow, yet unpurchased, frolicked between the dunes like a torture that is memory that is rain.


Before they met me, my two shadows ran around alone. They had no need of me, though they sent me a detailed map of places visited, voided tickets, pressed flowers, thorns, and a Polaroid photograph to remember them by, harsh against a backdrop of light. Each had a heart-shaped hole in the middle, not like the hearts you see in anatomy books. I don’t know who took that picture.


Another Lost Day to catalog. It reads–

Get up from bed.

Shower.

Breakfast.

Call mom.

Write.

I enter it into my ledger. There is nothing else to catalog unless one wants to list every ache and pain and tug and swelling of a body that refuses me, while its two shadows have been heartlessly photographing each other.


I checked the mail today. Nothing. I didn’t bother to put my shadows on.


Once one of the shadows returned as a fox, starved and insubstantial after running for a hundred days through the desert. It lounged about on the floor, its tail burying the piles of books and dirty laundry under sand. On its lazy, self-satisfied snout someone had stuck a stamp with an absence, heart-shaped and burned, that looked a little like a face. Mine.


One of my shadows is larger than me when it swallows me. I do not know which one of them does it. It does not hurt much at first, and then it hurts like a thousand pinpricking suns, and then the pain is just another thing to check off on the daily to-do list. Often I try to hide it, pretend that it’s not on the agenda, but sometimes checking the pain off the list is all I can accomplish. At least they are here, you know?


Get up from bed.

Coffee.

Pain.

Write.


Even though my ledger is full of days and I work full-time at the Lost & Found, I won’t get any of them back. I brew coffee in my mother’s brass pot while the shadows mutter to each other of far-away places where hearts grow on trees like ripe sour cherries. One day I will break the pot and sew brass tokens under their tongues and send them running there to buy themselves free. I must be careful and save my strength until I can.


Rose Lemberg is an immigrant from three countries. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex, Fantasy Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other venues. She edits Stone Telling with Shweta Narayan, and is currently querying her fantasy novel Bridgers, a tale of revolution and linguistics. Rose blogs at roselemberg.net.