by Olivia Lee
In Flesh and Bone Remain
There is a creature living beneath the floorboards. It breathes, it exhales its perfumed breath through the cracks in the floorboards, smelling of rose water and flour and cold cream. Like a lady’s hands. Soft, pliable, delicate. Working their way through the woodworks, winding their way up the stairs and slipping silently under the crack in the doorway of each and every child. Whispering, beckoning. Comforting. All children know of it, all know to fear the cold and stay in bed. All tuck their little heads beneath their quilts and lie still, quivering until daybreak and a mother’s kiss comes to chase the night away.
And so it goes, day after day. But it waits.
Each day the scent grows stronger, takes shape, becomes palpable, like a living thing. Some nights children reach out in the darkness and feel its touch in sudden bouts of warmth. Heat that peels the blankets from clammy skin and flannel and leaves them sticky and flat-backed on the sheets. Heat that persuades. Heat like the palms of a lady’s hands.
Only the coolness of the ground can bring relief. And so now the children clamber, from cribs and beds and mattresses, down ladders and bed-posts, down to the floor where they press their faces to the hollow boards and gasp at the aching coldness. And so they arrange themselves in any number of comfortable patterns, where the breathing is the easiest. They press their faces to the boards, breathing its breath up through the cracks to envelop like talcum-powder smoke. Then swallowing in, greedily, hungrily. Children shake as if in a nightmare, so terribly alone, cold on the floorboards.
Breathing slows. Blood congeals. The children twitch and a song emerges from beneath the floor, quiet in the stillness–
“From the stars you fell to me,
It’s been too long, it’s much too late,
You came to me in flesh and bone,
And now in flesh remai–”
But the voice stops, its song strangled away in its throat. Dawn has thrown its condemning rays across the floor, illuminating the rumpled blankets and soft toys and other odds and ends strewn across the bed. The child stirs in its sleep, blinks once, then twice. The eyes open and the head comes up expectantly, nods. The safety of a parent waits. Children crawl or toddle or flee into the hallway to the arms of a parent and the butter-bright glow of the breakfast table.
Is it gone? Perhaps. The memories have begun to dissolve into nothing, and the children forget the hands, the coldness, the song. Roses and cold cream, the unbearable swelter. All are replaced by a parent’s embrace or the jingle of a school bell. But the clock ticks. The hours wax full, the sun dips away under its canopy of trees. The faucet runs. And already the room fills with the smell of rose water and flour and cold cream.
Already it smells of a lady’s hands.
Olivia Lee is a sophomore in the Creative Writing Conservatory at California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley. She is an editor for the school’s literary magazine and a staff writer and cartoonist for its newspaper club. Her writing has been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. As a poetry advocate, she has led a poetry workshop for elementary and middle school students at the Arcadia Public Library. When she is not writing, she creates and illustrates characters from her stories.