The bone lay on the table between dishes and cutlery and clashed with the colour of the tablecloth. Sarah bent down and picked up a fork that the bone had pushed over the edge of the table. “I don’t see why,” she said, “I have to be the one to keep it.”
“It was his favourite bone,” said Tom, who was leaning against the doorframe because his shoes were muddy and the kitchen floor was clean. His hands were stuffed into the pockets of his coat and he was determined to leave them there.
Sarah threw the fork into the sink.
“Well, I can’t keep a bone around the house, it’s not sanitary.”
Tom looked at the dishes that were piling up in the sink and said “Where’s Frank?”
Sarah shrugged and started collecting the dishes around the bone.
“Did he find a job?”
“Look, can you just take that thing somewhere else?” Sarah pointed at the bone with her chin. “I don’t want it in the house.”
“Dad said to give it to you.”
“Well why doesn’t he take it?”
Tom took a step into the kitchen and Sarah said “Tom, for God’s sake, I just cleaned.”
He bent down and started fiddling with his shoelaces. “Mom doesn’t want it around, I guess.”
“Well neither do I,” said Sarah and turned on the hot tap. The bone sat on the table and looked like a mushroom. Tom undid his shoes and stepped on the cold tiles in his socks; the floor was slippery and he went to sit down. “He’s been weird,” he said.
“Who?” said Sarah and slipped on thick, green rubber gloves.
“Dad. He’s been talking about the neighbours digging up the yard again, and on the phone he sometimes thinks I’m Leonard.”
“That’s weird. What do you tell him?”
“I say Leonard’s dead, Dad, this is your son, Tom.”
“Don’t be cruel,” said Sarah.
“I say it nicer than that.”
Sarah looked out into the yard at the unfinished swing set. Moss was climbing up its limbs and the chain that held up one of the swings was starting to rust. “He’s doing fine,” she said, “he’s just tired.”
“Tired from what? He’s not doing anything.”
“Maybe that’s the problem, maybe he needs exercise. Mom keeps telling me he complains his shoulders are sore in the morning. He should really take some vitamins.”
“What, vitamins and exercise? Don’t be crazy.” Tom reached out and touched the bone with two fingers.
“You know what I was thinking,” Sarah said, “they should sell a part of their back yard. I mean, it’s too big for them now, they hardly go there anymore. They could sell that bit at the end, it’s mostly dirt anyway. Mom says she doesn’t like looking at it, she’d rather see someone actually do something with it.”
“Why don’t they just hire a gardener?”
“Not everybody makes as much a month as you, Tom,” said Sarah, and scrubbed a layer of grease off a dish. “If they sell it,” she continued, “they could use the money to travel, get out of the house a bit, you know?”
“Where are they going to go? Dad gets nauseous when he travels, and Mom can’t let anyone pick up after her, ever. Remember when we stayed at that hotel in the Mediterranean and she wouldn’t let the maid into the room until we’d cleaned up beforehand? Remember that?”
“Vaguely,” said Sarah. “Frankly, I’m surprised you do, weren’t you five at the time, or something?”
“Yeah, well,” Tom and knocked against his temple with his knuckles “It’s served me well over the past, this thing.”
Sarah put a few dishes aside with a clunk and looked out of the window again. A couple of crows had assembled on the crooked wooden beams. “Mom says another reason she wants to get rid of the rear part of the yard is because she says she can hear people digging there at night. She says she’s scared to get up and check, you never know what kind of people they are… But in the mornings the earth is all loose and kind of spread all over the place.”
“That’s crazy,” said Tom and weighed the bone in his hand, “why would anyone do that?”
“I don’t know.” Sarah leaned against the sink and started drying plates. “I told her she’s imagining things, but you know how she gets when you doubt what she says.” Tom nodded. “Maybe it’s Dad,” he said.
Sarah sighed. “Maybe you’re watching too much TV. Dad’s fine, he’s just tired.”
“We should get him a new dog,” said Tom, “maybe that would cheer him up.”
“I don’t know, do you think he has the time to take care of a dog at this point?”
“What else is he going to do?” said Tom, “he doesn’t do anything. Ever since that stupid dog died he barely even goes to the bathroom.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? I thought you liked that dog?”
“Yeah, well, it bit me once.”
“Really? You never told me about that.”
“It wasn’t hard or anything, I think he just got mad. I think I was trying to take his toy away from him or something.”
“Will you stop touching that bone, it’s creeping me out,” said Sarah, “it’s probably full of germs.”
Tom let go of the bone.
“It’s probably the bone you were trying to take away from him,” said Sarah and laughed through her nose a little.
“Maybe. That would make sense.” Tom got up and leaned on the table. “I should go now.”
“The kids will be home from school in an hour, don’t you want to stay and say hi?”
Tom sat back down. “Okay,” he said.
“It’s a bit too late for that. For me anyway, you go ahead.”
“That’s ok,” said Sarah, “I quit a while ago. I only really have coffee with Dad anymore.”
“Yeah,” said Tom, “me too.”
“It’s hard to say no to him.” Sarah smiled.
“So what do I do with the bone? You really don’t want to keep it?”
Sarah shook her head. “It gives me the creeps. Plus I never really knew that dog all that well.”
“Well, apart from the biting incident we weren’t that tight either,” said Tom.
“Why doesn’t Dad keep it?”
“I don’t know. Mom says it depresses him. Apparently she caught him crying over it the other day and she decided it had to go.”
“Poor Dad,” said Sarah. She got up and opened the cupboard and took out a silver can.
“What are you doing?”
Tom nodded and picked up the bone again. The porous surface felt like he could crush it if he wanted to. “It’s so light,” he said.
“Will you put that down!” said Sarah and the coffee machine filled the room with its buzzing.
“It’s just a bone.”
“Well, keep it then, I don’t want it.”
Tom put the bone in his coat pocket and watched his sister fill a steaming cup. “I’ll have one too,” he said.
They sat over their steaming cups for a while, until the screams of children burst through the door.