Alexandra M Matthews
Before they die, the women in my family turn into skeletons. On the eve of their seventy-fifth birthdays, should they live that long, they have a glass of bone broth with their dinner, and with each subsequent meal after that, until all they consume is broth. Any kind will do, but chicken is favored.
It's a process that can take weeks or months, and each woman turns in her own way: some go extremities first, others from the abdomen out, like how the trunk of a eucalyptus hollows. I imagine the former is preferable, their soft centers serving as cushions from spindly limbs like bare branches, making it easier to sleep. They might go to bed with normal legs and wake in the morning to find both patellas exposed. My great aunt Agatha started her regimen on the summer solstice. By winter, only her left side had turned. Her necklaces clacked against her naked ribs as she sliced the holiday ham with her flesh arm. My mother speculates aunt Agatha cut her drinks with vegetable broth, thus slowing her transformation.
Once fully turned, the women are too ghoulish to be seen checking the firmness of a tomato at the grocery store, or picking up readers for their grandchildren at the library. The women end up puttering around their homes in bathrobes, the only clothing that flatters their hollow frames. Death comes soon.
As a child, I was repulsed at the sight of a skeletal distant cousin. Though I eventually accepted my fate, even found pleasure in the idea of upholding the ritual of my maternal lineage. Until last year, when I watched my grandmother wither away. She was like a flower you press between the pages of a book, forgotten about until a stranger, rummaging through the dollar bin in a second-hand store, opens the book to find that same flower, desiccated and dull. My gammy—who opened the door in her lingerie rompers, the first woman partner at her law firm, a self-proclaimed gourmand with a penchant for potlucks—wouldn't even make the walk to her curbside mailbox anymore, or have her granddaughter over for Sunday dinner. The very last time I saw her, just one fleshy pinky toe left, she whispered to me, "I wish my daughters had been sons."
I've decided that I, at the age of twenty-five, am ready for my bone broth. As far as I know, no woman in my family has ever done it. I could simply refuse the broth when my time comes, but I do not intend to break completely with tradition. Rather than spend my life in anticipation of my inevitable decay, I can shed my carnal self now. Perhaps youth will sustain me for a while.
When I told my mother, only fifty-three, she was so disturbed by the idea that she threw all of the meat products in my fridge—fresh and frozen—onto the lawn.
"You can't turn before your own mother!" she cried. "You'll die too young!"
"How do we know? I might live to seventy-five all the same."
At that, my mother left me to pick up T-bone steaks and pork ribs and frozen blocks of chicken noodle soup off the grass alone.
The thought of existing as a skeleton fascinates me. No eating or drinking, nor cooking or cleaning the kitchen. I could finally have my darkroom, no longer requiring a functional bathroom. Perhaps I'll document my metamorphosis with a portrait of each newly exposed bone. Or I'll carry a camera with me everywhere I go, capturing the gaping mouths of strangers. I'll spend hours developing the film in my bathtub, my bones appearing black on the negatives. I'll be so absorbed in the cataloging of my body, and I won't even need to sleep once the process runs its course.
What entices me most about turning so young is there would be no way for me to bear children, no way to continue the bloodline. There'd be no grandchildren to watch me dwindle. And maybe other women would follow my lead until, one day, there were no lives left to ossify.
Alexandra M. Matthews
is a writer from New York. Her work appears in Barren Magazine, Atlas and Alice, Truffle Magazine, Five on the Fifth
and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @AlexandraMMatt1