Skeletons

The little girl, Anna, saw a skeleton and pointed.  It was in front of the museum.  Her Aunt Carson, a frail, pasty woman, took her hand and said, “It’s a blue whale.”  “White whale,” Anna said.  Her teeth were small, she had blonde curls and a scrunched up nose.  She was laughing.  “White whale,” Anna said again.  How do I explain this, thought Carson.  Shall I just say it’s white?  But Carson continued to try and explain.  “It’s the inside of a blue whale.  This is what the inside looks like.”  Anna laughed and grabbed Carson’s hand.
The bones bothered Carson.  The last ones she’d seen were tiny.  The accident, she thought.  The swerves.  She kept replaying it in her mind, over and over, a song on repeat.
On the way into the museum, Anna and Carson followed painted dinosaur prints.  They hopped from one to the next and little Anna sang, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”  This was odd to Carson.  They weren’t in a game of ring-around-the-rosy, but Carson sang too and let little Anna enjoy herself.
This was a day away with her niece.  Away from all the photographs, the carnations, those awful pink and red speckled carnations.  She hated them.  And the sticky, humid air after the funeral was too thick, she had trouble breathing.  Carson hadn’t opened the blinds or the windows.  Her food was beginning to rot.
But here, alongside the dinosaur path, midnight-blue morning glories with long winding vines, yellow honeysuckle, and iris shimmered in the sunlight.  They were all wildflowers and thank God, she thought, there were no carnations.  Carson touched the vines as they hopped along.
They went to the insect exhibit first.  “Butterflies,” Carson said, and then “Look.  Bees, grasshoppers.”  Anna looked up at Carson with a pushed out bottom lip, “Not flying.  Butterfly.  Not flying.”  And again, Carson wondered how she would explain.  “These are the butterflies who were tired,” she said.  “Oh,” said Anna, but she’d stopped laughing.
In the mammal exhibit, Anna pointed at two cougars.  “Mommy and baby cougar,” Anna said.  “Yes.  I suppose it could be,” said Carson.  And then Carson stared so long at the cougars they began to frighten her.  It’s like if you look long enough, they come to life, she thought.
And then she wondered if she’d looked at her dead child, Charles, long enough, before they shut the miniature coffin, would he giggle?  Would he burp?  Even a twitch?
Anna rubbed her eyes and yawned.  Nap time.  She had started wailing the song, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
It was time to hop back out, dance down the dinosaur path with the loose vines and vibrant morning glories.  Hop past all the blossoming yellow honeysuckle.  Carson reached out and touched one of the flowers that had changed from yellow to brown.  “Don’t worry, Anna.  We’ll be home soon.  Maybe let’s sing another tune.”

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