Bone House

Chapter One

Her death has made us numb. Dora, the great-bellied woman, lies frozen in the ground. And like some part we’ve lost to frost-bite, our minds still reach for her. The men of the village wear a wandering look in their eyes. They forget their work, leave their tools lying idle, drink to excess, then roam like dogs until they drop in the mud. Even the women are uneasy, for though she was one of us, we could never hope to fill her shoes. The great-bellied woman, with her door-wide hips and plate-sized breasts, was more woman than we could ever be. We even envied her belly: her great, laden belly, filled with the fruits of her whoring. 

 

She left behind the boy, the giant boy, her only child. He is built like an ox, just as she was, though he is slow of speech, and some say also of thought. But this is unfair for he is not yet a man, but a boy of eleven trapped in a man’s body. She christened him Johann, a name from her past, but from the beginning she called him Long Boy. Yesterday, when she was laid to ground, Long Boy trembled and nearly broke with grief. He collapsed, sobbing like a child, but it took four strong men to carry him home. I do not know what will become of him now that she is gone. And neither do I know what will become of us, for some people are the centre of their world, and others are the spokes. 

 

She came across the water, blown like a seed, and touched down here. In the beginning there was talk she’d killed a man across the sea, though she never spoke of it and no one dared ask her, no more than they would ask the Queen. But if she did he was probably deserving. Dora lived by her own rules, but they were not unjust. I admired her for this: she was not bound by superstition, nor by fear, nor by other people’s prejudice. She did not justify herself to anyone, no more than she sought the whys and wherefores of those who pitched up on her doorstep. These were mostly men, but women came as well, for different reasons. She gave counsel freely, offered food and shelter, and sometimes even money to those who needed it. But mostly she gave of herself, her big, bounteous self, and those who sought her bed paid handsomely for it. 

 

Her death was sudden, a freakish accident. They found her frozen, her belly to the sky, at the bottom of a ravine. She’d taken a short cut through the forest and had slipped on snow-covered rocks which were slick with ice underneath. She would not have died except for a blow to the back of her head from a sharp stone which edged the stream. She’d clearly tried to stop herself; in her death-grip was a sapling torn from the banks as she fell. But with her great weight, it would have done little to slow her. Her feet sliced through a pool of ice at the bottom, and it held her fast up to the thighs. In the end it was the chisel that set her free. Her blood was everywhere, they said. 

 

I saw it later, a dirty spray of ink across the snow.