“The Bone Picker” by Lindsey Walker

I spin, because the bone picker wishes me to spin. I go so fast, she blurs into a brown smudge beneath my blades. I comfort her. She doesn’t know it, but I do. All her carbons get in the way.

Today, she boiled stock. The chicken carcass simmered for hours in onions, marjoram and sage, and now she picks it clean. She runs her fingers into the places where secret meat hides, the small muscles between ribs that let the bird draw breath, the subscapular meat for flight, the spine. She fills her hands with flesh; she fills the plate beside the stove. Living cheap is new for her, this leftover reheating, this coupon clipping, this home cooking. These things are new for her, but I’m not.

I’ve been here since the contractors built this place. A mustached man with a union card rigged me over the stove into the ventilation duct. The bone picker came not long after; I called her the empress then. She was young, newly married, and pretty.

She’s not young now or married; she’s widowed. But she’s still pretty. She doesn’t believe it when people say so. I spin, and I make a song for her. It’s a lullaby, and it soothes her. The bone picker calls it white noise. It helps her think, or it helps her not think. When I sing, she sometimes gazes at my filter. I beam at her, and my grease shines golden globs. One day, she will clean me. One day, when she’s not busy with cooking or company as she is now.

She hears him coming, his flat steps in the hall. She warms and smiles. The athlete enters the kitchen, shaking his coffee mug. I call him the athlete as a joke; he is overweight and coaches her son’s tee-ball team. He has never dated a widow, and he’s not sure what the rules are. He thinks her eyes shine like Little League trophies. He wants to buff out all her wounds ‘til she glows the soft sheen of aluminum bats. “Get a refill?” the athlete asks.

“It’s in the pot,” the bone picker says. She wipes her oily hands on a towel.

He could reach for her now, but he fills his cup instead.

“That’s one noisy-ass fan. I don’t think they’re supposed to sound like that.”

“It’s always sounded like that.”

“Might be plugged up.”

The bone picker pours the stock into a freezer bag. She folds the chicken shreds into cling wrap; the hidden meats are darker even than the thighs. She puts the bones into the compost, and (she can’t help it) she thinks about her husband. Is he only bones, too? Bones and skin and meat, but no blood. The embalmer took care of that. She thinks, I am bones and skin and meat and blood.

“You ok?” he asks. He realizes her eyes aren’t trophies, but catchers’ mitts.

“Fine. I’m fine”

“Should I go?”

“No, no,” she says. “Stay. I’m fine, really. Please stay.” She puts her hand on his arm, and surprises herself. She had forgotten how a man’s arm feels. She lets go.

I sing for the bone picker. There is so much she wants.

Originally from Chattanooga, Lindsey Walker writes her prose and poetry with a Southern accent. She has won beaucoup writing prizes, including the League for Innovation Award and the Loft Poetry Contest. Her work has appeared a little in print and a lot online, most recently in Third Wednesday, and will be featured in the upcoming edition of The Raintown Review. When not writing, she’s probably watching some awful horror movie with her gamer fiancé and her badass pitbull. She currently lives in Seattle, where she studies creative writing. Visit her at lindseywalker.wordpress.com.