Old Pointy Bones and Big Ears
by Mira Spindler
Ricracrex roused from its nest in the corner near the bed and lifted its heads to gaze at the mistress through the bathroom doorway, waiting for her signal. Old Pointy Bones, that’s what the neighbor boys called her in their snide whisper voices, and then that’s what she was called. Still sleeping under the coverlet was her husband, called Husband.
They had been living in the tall brown house next to the sycamore tree longer than anyone on Linden Place could tell. As Old Pointy Bones shuffled past the bed, Husband snorted and rolled on his side, dead to her waking. She went to the window, peered up and down Linden Place. The sidewalk was empty of neighbors, the sycamore leaves fading silver under the streetlamp as the sky paled.
Behind her, she heard the clatter of claws across the floor, the snuffling sound of Ricracrex nuzzling at the door. She knew how she appeared to her neighbors when she walked abroad: sharp edges, chin jutting stubbornly, knees and elbows knobby and pale. If not for Ricracrex, she would stay in, away from their squinty glances.
Ricracrex had never been an attractive sort of beast and, as it aged, it was becoming more particular in its specific forms of ugliness. It had grown fat and unwieldy, balancing awkwardly between its spindly rear legs and its stumpy forepaws. Its tail had become crooked and clubbed. And its shaggy hair sprouted in odd directions, framing its two heads almost like a picture-book lion. Each of the beast’s heads had its own collar, but the head called Ricrac was much smaller than the one called Rex, so whenever she took the beast outside, Rex was the one clipped to the leash.
Pointy Bones glanced at the walnut clock: nearly six. This was the best time for walking the beast; no one else wandering the sidewalks, no need to activate the rays. Old Pointy Bones had discovered the rays quite by accident, soon after Ricracrex arrived. She had stepped out one afternoon, leash in hand, and peered up and down Linden Place. The bustling pavement suddenly emptied. This perplexed Old Pointy Bones, but she was glad of it. How she dreaded the approach of one or another of her neighbors, with their jaunty greetings and cheerfully overstuffed grocery bags.
She allowed herself a tight, smug smile, then pulled the beast up the block toward the busy avenue. As she approached the corner, looking this way and that, no one came near. That was when she knew she had a special power. From that day forward, she walked through crowded streets aiming her fierce, unfocused glare in every direction. Ricracrex loved her alone. No one else would venture near.
And so it was on this morning as on other mornings, Old Pointy Bones with her beast at her side stepped along the deserted sidewalks of Linden Place. Home again, it was time for feeding and combing and cuddling and playing fetch the fishie. Come noon, Husband gathered green things and brown things to eat while Old Pointy Bones once again paced her glorious beast up Linden Place and then down. Now was the time Pointy Bones felt most grateful for the power of the rays, when the sidewalks were at the peak of their midday turmoil.
Some felt the rays as a malevolent force, a cruel disdain made physically potent. Most, though, when they saw Old Pointy Bones coming with Ricracrex in tow, felt only a mild compulsion to keep their distance. And this was all to the good, for there would be strife if someone approached who failed to heed the sensation of repulse.
Rex merely growled, but Ricrac would explode with a manic intensity that frightened even Old Pointy Bones. And even worse, if it happened that someone was passing with their own beast. This was Ricrac’s way, to snap and snarl and bite at anyone — human or creature — who came near.
* * *
And it did happen that on this day at the very same time, there was a neighbor walking on Linden Place with her own leashed beast. This neighbor was the one they called Big Ears, called so because she was never seen without the deep cups that kept the inside of her head in and the outside of her head out.
Big Ears’ beast was named EenyMeeny, but it was not truly hers. It had fallen on her, blown out the back of a truck careening down Linden Place one day when the leaves had nearly all fallen and the sun so weak it had barely touched the bones. She had been knocked over, confused by the sudden rush of fur and feathers and tongue and sprawling legs. Her phone was buzzing in her hand at that very instant; it was dislodged by the blow, its face shattered. Whatever possibility had waited on the other end, Big Ears never discovered.
This beast had only one head, unusual. No matter, one head or two, she didn’t want it. Among other reasons, because it was huge, snout nuzzling her elbow and a weight equal to hers. And because it had a gaping maw of a mouth, in a house already too full of mouths that were never satisfied. But what could she do?
It was all for the children, a special girl and a Special Boy, neither of whom could be bothered to feed the beast, or brush the beast, or walk the beast, or wipe the floor where the beast had left its filth. Big Ears was not very big, but she knew how to bend them all to her will. Soon EenyMeeny came to know what the boy and girl had learned early: How to need little. How to sit still. How to be so quiet Big Ears would forget anyone was in the room.
Big Ears had been suffering EenyMeeny all day long, since 7:47 a.m. that morning when the beast bounded up the stairs and pawed at her foot. But her suffering was diminished because, some time ago, she had discovered the secret of neither seeing him nor hearing him, not even when she took his leash and pulled him through his dutiful paces each day at precisely 12:05 pm. This was her special power: not to see, not to hear, to waft through the day in a bubble of blissful, private oblivion.
And so, at 12:12, she did not mark Old Pointy Bones and Ricracrex treading down the block on a collision course with EeenyMeeny. Old Pointy Bones had activated her fiercest rays, but Big Ears’ bubble sealed out everyone and everything else, including the repulsive rays of Old Pointy Bones.
As Big Ears and EenyMeeny drew near, Ricrac grew frantic, straining at the collar, its jaws snapping and yelping. Big Ears did not deviate from her course. Her face was placid, utterly unaware of Pointy Bones’ desperate attempts to calm her agitated beast. Old Pointy Bones yanked and pulled at the leash, dragging her beast into the street to circle wide around Big Ears.
Even as she increased the distance between them, Ricrac would not quiet its high-pitched yapping, a hateful noise. Teeth glinted needle-sharp, eyes flashed malice; even Rex cowered. From their safe distance, the neighbors frowned on the spectacle with distaste and revulsion.
Old Pointy Bones assumed a contrite face. She knew she ought to feel embarrassment and shame to be the master of such an evil beast. But in truth she felt a wave of pride and happiness each time Ricrac exploded into a frenzy of fear and aggression. That was how she knew Ricrac was hers alone.
At last she soothed Ricrac back to docility. Rex lolled its tongue, and Pointy Bones glanced over her shoulder to watch Big Ears as she was pulled up Linden Place behind her gruff beast. She knew Big Ears by sight, knew which house was hers in the row of nearly identical houses.
But although Old Pointy Bones had been living on Linden Place longer than anyone could tell, and although Big Ears had renovated her kitchen more than once, she and Pointy Bones never recognized each other, let alone spoke. What neither of them knew about the other, though, was the many ways in which they were alike. Each had closed more doors than she had opened. Both were troubled by poor sleep and sharp pains. Neither one of them entertained visitors, or thought very often of the last time she’d spoken to her long-dead mother.
That night, after the dishes had been dried and put away, and Ricracrex taken for its last walk, and the curtains drawn against the moon, Old Pointy Bones sat with her beast on the couch, grizzled Husband in his own big chair on the side.
While Ricrac was all points and angles, Rex favored Husband with his slow blink, his smacking of the jowls. Pointy Bones thought of Big Ears, her girl and Special Boy. She wondered what it would have been like to have had such children. Bare feet racing up the stairs. Plump hands patting her cheeks. Bandaids and sweet milk kisses.
As he did nearly every night, Husband chose a program on the television with the clicker, then put the clicker in a pouch hanging from the chair’s arm, then let his eyes drift closed. Although Old Pointy Bones didn’t care for the murderers and junkies and sex deviants that crept into her head on the TV rays, she stayed because of the beast.
Husband snuffled and snored in his chair, and on the couch Old Pointy Bones sat and stroked and petted her love. But also, mixed in with the stroking and petting, her fingers grasped at one or another tender spot. And as one hand petted, the other pinched hard until either Ricrac or Rex let out a little yelp of surprise and pain.
At the cry, she began stroking and petting again, and murmuring little sounds of love and comfort. For how else was Ricracrex to know that only she could love such a beast, that only she could soothe and hold and keep safe. Ricrac’s eyes at last drifted closed, and Rex let out a little beasty grunt, and the sounds of drifting sleep melded together with the shouts and gunshots and gasps of fear that bleated out from the television.
Later that night, after she wound the walnut clock, after Husband had roused and washed and settled into his deep mattress hole, Old Pointy Bones balanced on her perched hill beside him, holding perfectly still on her back and listening to the breathing of Husband and beast. Her hand wandered across her belly and up, finding so easily the painful place that slowly was spreading, eating away at her from the inside. She pressed, not letting up, not until tears came to her eyes and she gasped and let go. She would not cry for herself, not Old Pointy Bones.
But what of Ricracrex? How could the beast survive if she were gone? Rex would purr for Husband as much as for her, but never Ricrac. Ricrac would refuse to eat unless the dish came from her hand, refuse to settle unless she was the one shushing him. She pressed hard again on her secret pain, thinking. She wouldn’t leave Ricracrex behind. Ricracrex would die of loneliness. She would go first, and she would take him with her.
The next morning, Pointy Bones woke again, walked again with Ricracrex down quiet Linden Place, past one tall brown house and another, until they reached the house where slept the one they called Big Ears. Just as they passed under Big Ears’ window, a fly buzzed at Ricrac’s nose, causing him to yelp in surprise. Pointy Bones scratched Ricrac’s head, and stroked Rex’s muzzle, and went on her way.
Inside, in her own dark room, in her own pillowed bed, Big Ears woke to the yapping sound of a beast outside.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Mira Spindler