When I was a child, you wore skulls as shoes. Jaws wrapped your callused heels, and your big toes poked through the eye sockets. A chipped red nail and sometimes noticeable yellow tint were placeholders for an eye. Awhile ago as you leaned against the door jamb leading onto my patio, you cupped an occipital bone in your palm, pried the mandibula away from the maxilla, dipped your foot as if to test the water, and said finding the left head had been difficult—no two skulls were the same, like thumbprints, and your right foot was a smidge wider , which made it more difficult to find a comparable set. Plus, you said, the shoe needed to be Australian or Asian—the Australoid effect, you called it. The elongated parietal bone curved to your extended second toe—a badge of your intelligence.

You liked the sound each step made against pavement, particularly when the mandible snapped against a rock—reminiscent of a throwdown or a cap gun. The frontal bone, meant to protect the frontal lobe, was your weapon too. You had scared away a few curious dogs. You pinched my cheek and whispered that bones were not meant to be gnawed. The mineralized osseous tissue cooled you. You told my high school teachers that boots caused claustrophobia. When you walked into my office at work, you rocked forward and then back—a trot. Many years passed before you returned with new skulls and tiny ones meant for your future grandchild. You ventured south that last time—Ecuador or Peru. A journey taken and a shoe gained, you said.

Ossified cells were difficult to break, but eventually each cracked under the weight of your apathy. But on your seventh cranium, I watched as the teeth ate your tibula and later your femur. Once they masticated your pelvis, you stopped screaming, or singing—I could not tell. After they chewed you into the crevices of the zygomatic arch and bone, I thought to bury the skulls.



He hadn’t spent too much time thinking about how he could have interfered.  In truth, there was something he could have done to save Samson. Long ago he should have told his lover’s wife when she invited him over for Riesling and cheese—an innocent attempt at civility and to learn more about this man with whom her husband spent his afternoons. Either he and her husband were watching the game, grabbing a beer, or hooking balls into the woods on the back nine, but they never told her of the time spent at the lake. One evening months ago, he had stood swirling a glass of cheap wine, leaning against Samson’s wife’s faux granite countertop, admiring the woman’s skin and thought she was like wine, not milk—aging instead of curdling. Samson had said to put that limp wrist away then. He felt guilty that night and thought of telling his wife so she could phone a lawyer, but the man in the other room moments prior had kissed him on his elbow while she was in the kitchen, and he didn’t feel like fighting with Samson.

Still, he looked at the man who could’ve been playing hooky with him at that nasty, crusty lake instead of in this coffin layered with mementos and sentimental trinkets—a picture from his daughter’s college graduation, a crusted cap from his brother’s days on the minor league team—if he had said that night, “We’re lovers, Samson and I,” and held her hand. Maybe.

“He still loves you,” he could have said, “but it’s not same.” But that’s not how it would have gone, considering what he saw in front of him—a man with a bullet hole through the back of his head, and a woman catatonically staring at a crucifix which hovered behind the coffin praying for Samson’s confused soul.

RENEE BAILEY hails from Lima, Ohio. After moving south, she earned an M.A. from Austin Peay State University. Renée writes fiction and drama, where she has published in Red Mud Review as well as performed her ten-minute play, "Analogous" at the Roxy Regional Theatre. Her editorial experience includes Zone 3, Product, and Mississippi Review. Presently, Renée is a doctoral student at the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers. Every year, she likes experiencing the complete devastation of being a Cincinnati Reds fan.