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Bone-Clean – Ali McGrane

My mother used to tell me, bone-clean, mind, as foam swallowed my dirty hands. I’d pinch the skin tight around my knuckles, looking for answers.

And here we are at the slipped bones of her, ashen skull, pelvis tinged green from the thicket of trees she bore. In rooms stripped of clutter, we load off-white pigments onto rollers, subdue the naked walls. 

My mother is adrift now, rambling – or maybe grieving, it’s hard to tell with bones – among the ancient oaks and chestnuts parked in chairs around the communal TV. She strikes balletic poses in corners where no-one sees. 

The year my father left, she sent us to tap classes, and dancing was the only thing, the only thing. We whirled and stamped while the music fought to tame us, to herd us home, but we stayed out late, loose-limbed on vodka, the heady chill of menthol cigarettes.

There’s only one way to exit these woods, and my mother aches to find it. In the late afternoon, sunlight makes a glade of her room, and she circles while we reminisce about the summer she took her saplings to the coast where we sunk roots into gritty sand, hung out with ice-cream sellers, and pulled the flesh from crab shells that smelled of sex and death.