He began appearing in different parts of the house. Still in the basement, but now she saw him in a heap on the attic floor, at the top of the narrow, creaky stairway to the space they used only for storage.
He lay face down, one arm pinned under his rib cage, the other by his side. His legs were thrust out as though he’d fallen on his knees and his weight had forced them to straighten. Had he tried to get up? She couldn’t tell.
It was spring, and Sheila was in the attic putting the winter coats away. As always she took inventory, deciding what to keep, what would still fit the children next year, and what to get rid of.
She seldom got beyond this stage. She waffled over the smallest items—scarves she’d received as gifts and never worn, a glove whose mate had been missing for more than a year, the raccoon earmuffs Chloe had refused to wear. In the end she bundled up the parkas and snow pants she should have discarded last year, and stuffed them in a bag.
She turned again to the coats from this winter. She should wash the kids’ ski jackets, she thought. Nate’s was grubby with grass stains and mud on the elbows. Checking the pockets, she found a note: “You didn’t need to be so obvious about it. Fuck. As if she didn’t know already.”
Sheila didn’t think it was Nate’s handwriting. This was neater, more precise, maybe a girl’s.
She wondered what to do with it. She refolded it and put it back in the pocket, then tossed the jacket onto the pile she would take downstairs.
When they moved into the house, they had found bones in the basement. It was a cellar, really, barely five feet deep, with an earth floor and lit by a single bare bulb. In the back, below the kitchen, a cement pad for the furnace and water heater and a half door leading out to the crawlspace under the porch.
They’d wondered if they could lower the floor, and Derek was loosening the dirt with a pickaxe, then dumping it a shovelful at a time into a galvanized iron tub.
Sheila found the first one. “Look!” She plucked it from the pile with her thumb and forefinger, and held it up. About nine inches long, decomposed and hollowed, but unmistakably a bone.
She brushed the dirt off to look at it more closely. The porous surface reminded her of sponge toffee or Alka Seltzer. Something solid that would fizz up and dissolve if you added water.
“It’s not human,” Derek said. “Did you think it was?”
She wasn’t sure. She might have hoped it was, but soon realized this was naive.
And she had the idea to keep it, to scrub it clean, and put it on a shelf.