Bone Collectors

We have come to fish for the dead. Macon prepares the line, the hook glinting in the glow of a silver dollar moon. We watch dark water thread through bleached limbs, the deadwood gleaming stark naked like a column of bones gnawed clean and varnished for a cannibal’s necklace. I say a soft prayer because the ritual comforts the thrumming strings in my heart. Macon does not pray, only licks his gold teeth for luck. I glass over the moonlit sand and see molars scattered and gleaming like soft stones. Something tugs at Macon’s line, its sheen luminous in dark water. A skull emerges, draining from its sockets as he heaves it skyward. Its jaw is unhinged like a busted door exposing a darkened corridor. Moss is tangled in its halls, twisting like a rope of human hair, and for a moment the skull seems to scream and resist as we jerk it from the currents. The jaw detaches and floats away in triumph. I can hear it laugh as the river gurgles with it, carrying it downstream. Macon retrieves the line, and we fish until dawn. Our collection is strung like sheer lanterns in the taut twigs of a skeletal birch tree housing a cemetery of bones. The twigs remind me of a grandfather’s gnarled fingers, so alien and stiff. We light out at the first break of copper light, and a solemn procession of trees wave their leaves like black handkerchiefs.