Dia de los Muertos!!

Skeletons in the Family

Raul spent long hours at the medical school.  It must have been the lack of sleep but as he turned off the light switch and reached for the door handle he was sure he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He scrambled for the switch and spun around.  There by the door hung the anatomy skeleton, swaying slightly on its hook.

He walked over and inspected the bony fellow.  The skeleton gave him a blank stare and a toothy grin.  “Well, I know it wasn’t you,” Raul muttered glancing around the room before turning back to the door, but as soon as he hit the switch he felt that tap on the shoulder again.  This time Raul reached up and slapped down on the hand on his shoulder.  For a fleeting second he felt bony fingers–bones.  He reached over and turned the light on.  His mind was definitely playing tricks on him.  He needed to get out of the lab and get some sleep.

“Hombre you nearly scared me out of my skin,”  He said staring through the rib cage. “Much as I would like to stay and chat, I have to be going.  Do you know what day tomorrow is?”  The words were barely out of Raul’s mouth when he was struck by the irony of it.  “It’s Day of the Dead.  I was planning to spend the day at the cemetery visiting with old friends.”  Raul chuckled.  The skeleton would be the perfect cemetery prop.  Why hadn’t occurred to him sooner?

Raul walked out of the lab carrying a large box, pulling the door shut firmly behind him. No one reached out to touch him.

At home he set to work using bamboo sticks, reinforcing his new friend’s legs and spine extending the bamboo down past the ankles.  He carried the reinforced skeleton to the cemetery and planted him beside his mother’s headstone. Ramona had been gone for eleven years and Raul had never missed a Day of the Dead visit, but this year would be spectacular.  He dressed the bony gentleman in his grandfather’s waistcoat and top hat and placed his bony fingers on the top of the tombstone, striking a casual pose.  He bid both his mama and the skeleton a good night and turned toward home and a few hours sleep.

As soon as Raul was out of sight the skeleton began rummaging through the old waistcoat pulling out a pencil nub and a scrap of paper.  The skeleton smoothed the paper, and looking off into the dark night through blank eyes the creature—I’ll call him Ezequial—became lost in thought. If it had been possible tears would have splashed down his bony cheeks.  His missing heart was broken.  A consuming sadness filled every bone of his body.  But of course no tears fell, no frown replaced the leering smile. Ezequial picked up the pencil and began to write.

“My dearest Ramona, it is only through the most unusual of circumstances that I am again by your side.  So many years have passed, I wonder if you even remember me, if you think of me as I think of you daily?

“I know you believe I abandoned you and our little family.  It is not true.  All the rumors and lies that circulated—none were true.  The truth?  I was on my way home from a successful business trip when I was robbed and left for dead.  All my possessions, the cash from my weeks of work, even my clothes were stripped away from me.  A doctor took me to the hospital and nursed me with great kindness.  He was truly a good Samaritan, but as you can see I did not recover and I was never identified.

“Instead I ended up as the anatomy class cadaver, and when my usefulness there ended, I hung around in my present condition.

“Only the greatest fortune, a miracle really, brought me here to stand again by your side.  A young man, a student, often works late in the anatomy lab.  He will be a great doctor someday.  I watched him come and go.  But it wasn’t until last night, the Hallowed Eve of All Saints Day that I felt the power to reach out to him.  It is only on these two nights of the year as you know that the distance between the living and the dead melts away, and we can commune with the living.

“Ramona dearest, it was only at the moment that I felt the power to lift my hand that I recognized the young man as our son now grown.  What a studious lad.  Surely we should both be proud.

“But I digress.  I want only to be here with you, I wish with all my missing heart that we had back those years that were snatched away.  But now that I am here at your side, I will settle for eternity together.”

Ezequial signed his note, carefully tore away the blank edges forming a rough heart and tucked it between his ribs.

The next afternoon Raul found the skeleton bent at the waist, both arms wrapped around the tombstone.  He looked around.  The bamboo support must have snapped.  The top hat still sat firmly in place, the waistcoat was smooth and buttoned.

It wasn’t until he lifted the bones back into an upright position that he saw the piece of heart shaped paper pushed between the ribs.  He pulled it out, turned it back and forth, but the paper was blank.  Carefully he tucked it back between the ribs.  Tonight he and his friends would come and toast the dead.  He owed the skeleton that much. As he turned to walk away he thought he saw the skeleton wink.

He laughed.  How could a skeleton wink?

That would be impossible.

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About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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