R.KV.R.Y Quarterly Summer 2006 Fiction
The Clattering of Bones by Clifford Garstang
Walt didn’t feel like going out. It wasn’t the first time, and
Patsy got that look on her face, clenched and squinty, like
everything was his fault—the July heat, the near-dry well,
even the rat snake that had coiled on the driveway one
sunny afternoon. She jerked her purse off the counter and
dug for a cigarette, even though she’d sworn to quit. She
stood there, puffing angry clouds at him like she was
sending a signal.
“Damned if I’m going to sit around all night watching TV,”
she’d said. Only it was more of a growl, the way it came out
in a deep, wet voice, at the back of her throat.
“Suit yourself,” Walt said. Walt had the news on—a drought
update had caught his eye—and Patsy traipsed back and
forth from bedroom to kitchen, he guessed so he’d see her
progress in getting ready to go without him. First it was the
hair. She fixed it up high, like she did when they used to go
dancing—back when Walt worked at the lumberyard and
they liked to party, had big plans for the future, kids, trips
to Opryland. She came out in her panties and bra, not the
low-cut, flesh-colored thing she wore sometimes with a
blouse half-unbuttoned, but a white one that pushed her up
and made her look bustier than she really was. She splashed
whiskey over ice, stirred in a little 7-Up, and took it into the
bedroom. Then she came back in the slinky blue dress Walt
gave her two Christmases ago, and the pink coral necklace
he bought for a birthday years back, that she gushed over
at the time and hardly put on anymore. The hair had already
come undone a little and a long strand dangled off her neck.
She shot a look at Walt and went back in the bedroom when
she’d freshened up her drink. Next time out her lips were
fierce red—clashed with the necklace, Walt thought, but of
course he wasn’t going to say anything—and she’d added
green eye shadow. He’d told her once she looked like a
banker’s fancy girl with her eyes done up like that, not the
wife of a dirt-poor landscaper who couldn’t get the topsoil
out from under his nails. Patsy took a last gulp of her
highball and tossed the ice in the sink, grabbed the keys to
the pickup and let the screen door slam behind her.
It was after dawn when the Ford pulled in and skidded on
the gravel to about an inch from a load of stone Walt
planned to lay in Miz Doak’s garden. He watched out the
bedroom window, saw the whole thing, how Patsy stumbled
getting down from the cab and sneaked a look around, like
she was afraid the McKennas across the road would see. He
didn’t want her to see him either, so he slid back in bed,
although it wasn’t like he’d slept at all. Not worried about
her exactly, since she’d done it before, but wondering if
maybe this time she wasn’t coming back.
Her hair was completely down by then. She rattled the
necklace onto the bureau, like she was rolling dice. She
kicked off the spike heels, let the dress crumple to the floor
and fell into bed without once looking at Walt. Didn’t care
that he saw, he guessed, or didn’t want to know.
The next night, without a word passing between them, Walt
moved to the sofa—a frilly, flowered number he’d never liked
but had learned to put up with, grown lumpy and bowed in
the decade he and Patsy had been married. He was still
there a week later, but giving some thought to what he
could do to make things right between them. It couldn’t go
on that way forever.
On Sunday, as if a midsummer morning didn’t come early
enough as it was, down the road Miz Doak’s rooster started
hollering at first light and a chorus of her woeful cows
chimed in. Patsy’d wake up mean, Walt knew, coming in late
again, after three. He swung his legs off the sofa, folded the
sheets, piled the board-thin pillow on top, smoothed the
yellowed case. Now the mule started to bray and there was
another voice in the mix, high-pitched, like a whinny. But
Walt knew Miz Doak’s last mare was a year dead, and the
only other horses in the hollow were another mile upcountry.
Walt shuffled across the gritty kitchen floor and switched on
the light over the stove. Toss yesterday’s grounds in the
compost bin, rinse the pot, one scoop, two . . . six, pour in
the water, filtered, not from the tap, Patsy hates the taste
of the well water. “Like chalk and tin cans in my mouth at
the same time,” she says, when he forgets. He cinched his
old plaid robe tighter, though the day was already warm,
and leaned against the sink to peer into the yard, see what
the weather had to offer. High clouds. No rain in sight, no
relief. The coffee maker crackled, and dribbled into the pot.
Something moved out back.
Ducking down, to see under the redbuds and past the
gangly walnut that presided over the backyard like an
archdeacon, Walt noticed the gassy smell in the drain—
cabbage from his own garden, foul when left to rot like that.
Not from last night—last night they’d skipped supper—but
from the night before. The coffee maker still popped and
dripped. There, he saw it again. Something definitely moved.
Through the leaves, he could just make out the muzzle
nodding, inches off the ground, as if the deer wanted to
graze. Odd to see a deer so close to the house, in full light.
At dawn maybe, in twilight safety, but the sun had been up
a good hour. Walt yanked the pot off the burner and