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A Photograph of Bones

Robin Husen lives in Nottingham, England, and collects vertebrae (and not just his own). He can be found on twitter @reliant_robin.

Like all children, Ava drew stick figures. She rendered eyes and noses as black circles and clothes as vague outlines draped over coat hanger shoulders and ribbed barrel chests. Her teacher said she had an eye for form. She had trouble with facial expressions, but she completed her day-glo Construct-A-Skel first go without any mistakes.
Still, no one guessed what the problem was until her older brother broke his arm on the swings and had to go for x-rays. Her father explained to her that an x-ray was a photograph of bones, and she explained back in her four year-old way that she didn't see any difference. The eye doctor made her read a chart, and she read it just fine, and the one behind it, and the one in the next room, even though the door was shut. When the truth dawned, her father felt his scalp tighten.
"She can see bones," he said. Ava sat on the floor with her arms round his leg. Hugging his tibia and fibula.
"Amongst other things," the doctor said, using lungs and a larynx, which appeared to Ava to be entirely absent. He lifted her onto the table and regarded her with empty orbits. He pressed his tombstone teeth together. "We may be able to correct it. A subretinal injection of photo pigments into the cone cells."
"Think what she can do," Ava's mother said. Her phalanges fluttered like birds as she spoke. "She could be an osteopath when she grows up. Or a government spy."
"Or work in airline security," her father said, blankly. He felt four years of grief for the lack of warmth in his daughter's world.
"There is an issue of privacy," the doctor said. "She can see through people's clothes."
"Such a time saver," her mother said.
Ava's father pressed the distal phalanx of his index finger to his glabella. "She can't see the soft bits."
"She can see through her eyelids," the doctor said, gently. "It's a wonder she sleeps." That made their minds up to try the treatment, more than the image of the charnel house she lived in.
But when Ava woke up from the operation with bandages over her eyes, she looked right at them. Her father put his hand gently on the parietal bone of her skull. She would never see him smile, except as a parting of teeth. So he parted his teeth and told her, "You must promise not to cheat at exams. And to sleep with your back to our bedroom."
Her first day out of hospital, he took her to the park to look through the ducks. They floated on the pond, little framework frigate ships, tossing bread down into their rounded rib cages. Dogs ran on the grass, slack-jawed carnivores, with their caudal vertebrae held high. Birds hopped around on dinosaur feet and pecked with their naked beaks at the earth, labyrinthed underneath by a city of worms.
They walked home past houses with no secrets. Ava held her father's hand, their metacarpals pressed together, the phalanges of their thumbs crossed. They walked past people, and Ava looked at the way their spines curved, each vertebra finned with a spinous process like the back of a dragon. She saw the bones of a fetus curled up in the shoebox of its mother's womb.
That night, her father woke her from a nightmare of the wetness of eyeballs and the fleshy horror of the human nose.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015
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