The Memory of Bones

When Marisol Mera de Silva was seven years old, she found her father’s head in a metal bowl at the Leaving Place of Orellana. Like the fruit of a bromeliad, plucked and waiting to be washed. Beside the bowl on the riverbank were the heads of her five elder brothers, staked through the spinal columns with their eyes wide open, staring up at a yellow moon. She did not cry. She was not surprised. But she could not leave them to rot where they had been murdered, and so Marisol has been carrying their bones around in a bag, looking for a better place to put them down. There is a Leaving Place in each of the twenty-four provincial states of the country, and in ten years of searching, Marisol has been to all of them except for one. For ten years she has been carrying the bag of bones, trying and failing to leave them behind. The bones are heavy. They clatter against her back when she walks. Sometimes when the air is humid, she can smell the peculiar scent of her father’s bergamot cologne hanging around the bag, and she has to hold her breath until it passes.


Before the war, Marisol had loved bergamot because her father smelled always of citrus. A direct descendent of Simón Bolívar, he was intensely proud and had named her brothers Simón, José, Antonio de la Trinidad, Palacios Ponte, and Blanco. After her mother died in childbirth, Marisol was left the only girl among six, strapping Mera de Silva men.


By the time she was old enough to attend, the guerrillas had banned girls from school, thinking they were more likely to become anarchistic and destabilize the country if they were permitted to read. Instead of following their rules, her father had given her an encyclopedia and his old Polaroid camera.


“Start with A,” he’d told her. “You have to know what it is the world is made of.”


After dark, he’d take her out into the jungle surrounding their house and point at the glittering formations in the sky, at the shapeless moving things in the trees. He would quiz her on their spellings, test her memory with things she’d learned from the book. He’d cup tiny insects in his palms, catch birds and bats with mesh nets, and hold them up for her to see. Sometimes they’d spend hours plucking plants and stones from the forest floor, their hands dirtied beyond washing by the time they came home.


When the fighting broke out, he’d painted a sign on their outermost wall—RESISTENCIA! in bold red letters. Then he started holding meetings in their living room. She used to sit on his lap while he spoke to their neighbors, all the lights dimmed so that they could not be seen from outside. After the government closed his library, her father tried to file a petition with the international court. But the high judge refused to see him, and their neighbors told him to be quiet.


“Bernardo Mera de Silva,” they said to him, “you’re going to get yourself killed.”

One day, she and her brothers and her father went out looking for anaconda eggs. She snapped photos and kept lists of the animals they saw. When she did not yet know their common names, she made them up. A bird with long, bulbous tail feathers was the turquoise cuckoo-clock. The cobalt blue tree frog with golden speckles was little lapis lazuli. And a tiny, common shrew she named the pepper-breasted toul-a-ree because of the way it chirped when looking for insects to eat. She spent most of her time trying to take photographs, holding the Polaroid to her eye to capture bursts of colored feathers as they flew.

There was a bright flash above the canopy, and then a rumbling. Rum-boom. She dropped the camera in swamp mud, and as she bent to clean the lens with her sleeve, two more flashes showed. Rum-boom-boom.

“Stay here,” her father said. “We’ll be back.”
She climbed into the canopy to look for white-keel-keels and lazy-yellow-big-beaks, and settled in to wait, snapping photos. Only when the sun dipped below the horizon did she realize how much time had passed. Convinced that they had forgotten her, she dropped out of the tree and walked and walked and walked until her feet were sore, it was dark, and she knew that she was lost. She tried to follow the stars as her father had taught her, but the canopy was too dense, and she could only see occasional spots of light. The air began to smell of wet loam and sour milk, and when she came upon a river, the stink of moldering fish was strong. A patch of moon shone murky-yellow on the water ahead, and a glimmer of light caught on a metal bowl sitting on the riverbank. She came out into the clearing and looked in the bowl, around to the heads of her brothers. Before she could cry or move or even breathe, the low growl of a man’s voice called out from behind her.
“Look, boys,” he said as she turned to meet his eyes. “There’s another one.”
She ran without thinking, without knowing where she was going, and just when she thought they were gone, she’d hear them after her again.
“Girl,” they called. “We know you’re there.”
She ran to a tree with low branches and began to climb. Looking up, counting points of light, she held her breath and pretended not to hear the creak of branches below.
“Little bird,” they called. “You think you can fly?”
She climbed until she couldn’t, the canopy a sea of leafy dark around her. She kept her sight skyward and waited. She named the constellations as they moved. The creaking rose until it seemed to Marisol that the men would reach her, and she looked down to face them. But in the branches she saw only a boy with glasses and bold, round eyes. He was not much older than her, maybe twelve, and there was a rifle strapped across his chest.
“Bring her down, Vasco,” she heard a man below them say. Vasco moved to touch her, and the branches groaned beneath him. Marisol was quiet when he put his hand on her foot. They stared at each other in the dark. They stayed like that only seconds.
“Hurry up, boy,” the men called.
The boy kept her gaze when he spoke. “She’s gone,” he said. Softly at first, as if he needed to convince himself. As if saying it out loud had made it so. He blinked and slid his hand away.
“She’s gone,” he called out, louder now. Then he turned and disappeared. Marisol held the Polaroid to her eye, but she did not pull the shutter. Through the blurred lens she watched him dissolve into the trees. She did not stop watching until the sky lightened, until everything around her had been washed in a sickly, golden glow. After she was sure the guerrillas had disappeared, Marisol returned to the riverbank. She could not bring herself to bury the bones in the place where they’d been murdered, and so she stuffed them in a bag and started searching for a better place.

For ten years, Marisol wanders the country, trying every Leaving Place she can find. The skulls are heavy. The teeth and the tiny bones of the fingers clatter when she walks. She has tried many things to leave them behind, but for some reason, the bones never seem to settle. At the Leaving Place of Azuay, she arranges them on the ground alphabetically, then by size and age, but the next morning when she wakes, they have returned to the bag beside her. The Leaving Place of Cotopaxi is inside of the volcano, but even molten lava does not destroy them. Three days later she finds the bones scattered beside a hen house, lighter than feathers. Although they are much easier to carry, they are so white that they glow in the dark for almost a week, shining through the burlap of the bag like a beacon lantern. The Leaving Place of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilasa used to be in an achiote field, but by the time Marisol finds it, it is beneath the catacombs of a Catholic church because the archbishop came to visit and decided that it was best if God kept a closer eye. But her father had not been a religious man, so she disappears without trying to leave anything at all.
Marisol is not the only one searching. During all the years of conflict, the guerrillas have turned thousands into orphans, widows, and involuntary veterans. Some keep their bones in bags like hers, or pull moving carts stacked high with coccyx, femurs, scapulae. People articulate the skeletons and have them act like living beings, entire villages made of eerie marionettes. Former soldiers do not carry bones but artillery instead, loads of heavy metal shrapnel or unexploded weaponry, cartons full of empty copper shells. In a town called El Corazon de Huecos, she meets a veteran whose rifle has been bolted to his back. It hums and whines like an engine when he stands still for longer than a moment, and he tells her that he has not slept in years, that all he needs is someone who knows how to weld.
By the time she is seventeen, Marisol has only one place left to try. She has heard the Leaving Place of Manabí is near a coastal village named for the summer migration of humpbacked whales. As she rides a bus south along the Pacific, the bag rests in her lap, smelling of musty paper and milk. The sun is disappearing slowly behind the tree line. She points her little Polaroid out the open window and takes three photos. A gray slur of ocean. A man in a yellow hat. A sign that says: PTA BALLENA 3 KM. When the bus pulls to the side of the road, she breathes in and leans across the seat.
“Do you know which stop this is?” she asks an old woman beside her.
“You tell me, cariña,” the old woman says and smirks, her eyes deep and sightless. “The dog can see but it can’t read.”
A mountain hound lies in the aisle, its long, brown ears puddled on the floor.
“Oh,” says Marisol. “I didn’t realize.”
“Never you mind,” the old woman says. “We’ll just ask the driver.”
When Marisol steps onto the road, the air tastes of salt. A scrubby gravel trail leads through the trees in the direction of the beach, and after the bus pulls away, she can hear the faint sshusshssh of the ocean gnawing on the land. The old woman leans one hand against her dog, holding a square leather case in the other, and they start walking toward the trail. When Marisol does not follow, the old woman calls over her shoulder.
“Well come on then, mija. There’s no place to go except this path. Where are you headed?”
“I’m looking for the Leaving Place.”
The old woman stops.
“Thought I smelled melancholy on you,” she says. “Do you have a place to stay? Tide’s a little too high to show you there just yet tonight.”
“No, Abuela.”
“We’ll ask Andrade at the corner store. There’s a shack out back he sometimes rents to travelers.”
“Thank you, Abuela.”
“Stop calling me Abuela,” she says. “Makes me feel old. Call me Esmera. Do you have a name?”
“Marisol. My family called me Mari,” says the girl. “Nobody’s called me much else since.”
“Since when?”
“Since they got their heads cleaved off.”
Esmera tilts her head sideways.
“There’s no point in keeping it a secret,” says Marisol.
“Probably there isn’t. It won’t change things like that to hide them.”
As they walk, Marisol holds the bag over her shoulder and watches the canopy for the movement of animals. Black eyes glint in the late afternoon gloom. The mountain hound presses its head into the woman’s hand. Light below the canopy shifts and blinks in patterns, scattering across the forest floor like sleeping, mottled cats. A stream begins and grows beside the path, and when they reach the beach, it is wide and tea-colored, leaching into the tide.
The village is smaller than most she’s seen on the coast, and there are only a few houses visible along the tree line. A tidy, concrete store sits in front of a long, wooden dock, where several boats sway back and forth on anchor lines from the water, covered in fishing equipment and nets of drying sea-catch. The store is painted brightly, a string of blinking lights along the roof. A sign above the door says: SAFE TRAVELS–WELCOME TO PUNTA BALLENA. Near the door an old man sits behind a low apothecary counter playing cards. Esmera eases onto a chair in the corner, and the mountain hound curls up at her feet. She pulls a trumpet from the leather case and licks her lips, blows a few short notes.
“Ready for practice, Andrade?” she says. “I brought a guest tonight.”
“And isn’t she a pretty one,” says the old man. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s been a long way,” Marisol says. “I could use a drink.”
Pobrecita,” he says. “How old are you?”
“Old enough.”
He raises his eyebrows and sets a murky glass on the apothecary table. She stares at the floor while she waits for him to pour.
“Would you like to sit?” he asks.
“This is Marisol,” says Esmera. “Wants to go see the Leaving Place.”
He clucks once. “Sorry to hear that.”
Marisol shrugs.
“Why don’t you set that bag down, mija.”
The girl pulls it closer to her chest.
“Do you have a room for trade?” she asks.
“Just your size,” says Andrade. “In the mood for music? Esmera, play us that horn of yours.”
He pulls an accordion from beneath the counter.
“You like to dance? We like to dance around here.”
“Let the girl be, Andrade,” says Esmera.
“There’s a bed back there.” He points to a small wooden shack behind the store, bougainvillea curling up the side.
“I don’t have a lot of money.”
“We’ll talk about that later,” he says. “Que rica la música, Esmera. Let’s start with marimba.”
 Marisol slips outside, the sound of the trumpet following her into the tiny shack. It is set back from the beach and into the tree line, a single open room of walls made from salt-bleached driftwood, floors of pale blue ceramic tile. There are shutters but no screens, and the sugar-lime tree in the yard is growing its blooming branches through the window. She sits on the bed and sets the bones at her feet. She watches a trail of ants march across the floor, counts them until her breathing slows. The first night in Punta Ballena Marisol falls asleep to the sound of Esmera, laughing and blowing her horn.

Marisol dreams of somersaulting through saltwater, and of whales that sing in an accordion wheeze. With each roll beneath the surface, there are liver-spotted bodies swimming in circles around her. She stretches to touch the graceful arc of fluke, the bristle comb of baleen, the glossy orb of eye. Always, they are just out of reach, and she wakes dizzy and gasping, the smell of sugar-limes in her nose.
She comes out into the yard, her father’s camera around her neck. Esmera is making pancakes on a flat, steel griddle, which sits above an open hearth in the ground.
“Hungry?” she asks. Marisol sits and Esmera hands her a plate, heaped with fruit.
“I hope we didn’t keep you up,” she says.
“No,” says Marisol, mouth full of mango. “I slept well.”
“I’ll take you to the Leaving Place after breakfast. It’s quiet in the morning.”
Marisol nods.
“I met the General, you know,” says Esmera. “He was very charismatic.”
The old woman flips a pancake on the griddle and it sizzles in the grease.
“I never saw him, just the guerrillas,” says Marisol.
Esmera smiles. “The last thing I ever saw was his mouth,” she says. “He had a very cruel mouth.” She touches her fingers to the gnarled skin beside her eye sockets. “But he had such beautiful lips. Like broken plums.”
The girl holds up the camera to photograph the old woman in the morning. Esmera with her mouth open. Esmera with her eyes closed. When breakfast is done, Marisol goes to get the bag of bones from the little shack behind the store. Andrade is plucking early fruit from the tree in the yard and shakes his head when he sees her start to carry them toward the shore.
“Leave that be today, mija,” he says. “The Leaving Place isn’t going anywhere. You can always take them tomorrow.”
The old man hands the girl a citrus bloom, and gently takes the bag from her hands.
“I’ll take care of them,” he says. “They’ll be here when you return.” He sets the bag inside the shack and waves her off. Marisol follows a few steps behind the old woman and the mountain hound, out past the fishing dock and on toward the shore. Her bare toes sink into oyster shoal as they leave the solid shelf of the beach. Low tide makes little salty prisons of the crevices in the rocks, and she is careful not to step in pools, filled with jelly-petaled-waveries and spiny-blue-and-purples waiting for the ocean to return. They walk nearly a mile from the tree line before, finally, a hole appears. The mountain hound stops just as its feet reach the edge.
“Welcome to the Leaving Place,” says Esmera.
The hole is like an eye in the earth, wide enough to push at the horizon, and deep enough that Marisol cannot see the bottom. Millions of bones are suspended in the sea, the water gem-like shades of teal and blue and gold. The smallest bones constellate in ossified bursts, and the names her father taught her rise into her memory. Ursa and Aquarius, written in metacarpal. Pleiades, a crooked trail of broken femurs. Pieces of the sacra are still attached to long strings of vertebrae, and she watches them twist and wind.
“How many are in there?” she asks.
“After thirty years of war? Mija, I couldn’t even guess.”
The mountain hound whines and shoves at her side with its nose. The tide is rising, saltwater seeping out of the hole after each surge.
“We’ve been lucky,” she says. “But we’re all missing things.”
Esmera bends and puts a hand beneath the surface.
“People come here looking for all sorts of fixing. Some find it. Some don’t.”
She turns her hand back and forth as if she is feeling for something particular, and Marisol watches the water rile. Then the old woman stops and plucks a clutch of molars from the surface.
“Here’s one who needs some mending,” she says, and holds it out to the Marisol. “Time to go. The tide is shifting too much today.”
Esmera turns and leans against the mountain hound. They walk back toward the tree line. Marisol looks at the molars in her hand, then lets them fall back in the water. All she sees is a constellation: Cassiopeia in teeth.
As she follows Esmera back from the Leaving Place of Manabí, Marisol sees a young man watching her from beneath the carriage of a pickup. His eyes are round and warm, the color of roasted coffee. She sees him again later on the roof of the church, peering through a pair of binoculars. At noon she spots him bobbing a few hundred yards out to sea, swimming laps in front of her shack. Finally, she catches him staring from the branches of the sugar-lime.
“Hey,” she says, stepping up against the trunk. “You there.”
It seems he is not expecting her to speak, and he shifts to hide behind a branch. Then he falls out of the tree.
“You’ve been following me,” she says as he picks himself up off the ground.
“Not really.”
“Just being near,” he says. “I’m no good with people anymore.”
“You look familiar,” she tells him, only realizing as she speaks that it is true.
“Maybe,” he says. He steps forward and plucks a stray leaf from her hair.
“Can I show you something?” he asks.
Marisol is hesitant.
“You’re the girl from Orellana,” says the young man.
“How do I know you?”
“You are,” he says. “I think you’ll want to see this.”
“Esmera already showed me the Leaving Place,” says Marisol. “I’ve already been.”
“I know,” he says. “This is something else.”
They stand by the road to wait for a ranchero, and when the crowded truck arrives, the girl volunteers to sit in the bed. A humid cold sits on her skin, and she watches the curls of his frizzy hair follow the breeze through the windows. This makes her smile, and she closes her eyes. She taps the cab window to catch the young man’s attention. He turns. He spreads his fingers against the screen, and when she presses her hand against his, they are touching in infinitesimally small places. The truck pulls to the side of the road near a white stone hut no bigger than Andrade’s store. The young man motions through the cab window for her to get out, and she jumps.
The light inside the building is bright, and it takes her eyes a moment to adjust before she sees the walls are covered, floor to ceiling, in Polaroid photographs: A man on a bicycle, his tiny daughter standing on the handle bars. A flash of rainbow feathers, the panicked flight of a macaw from the canopy. Six scientists, their rifles and their biological equipment entangled. Children in muck boots, clutching yellow frogs. Two women cupped in the buttress of a fig tree, laughing. All of the Polaroids are blurred and peeling, in color and in sepia.
“I take photos like these,” says Marisol, and holds up her camera. She snaps a photo of the back of his head as he moves through the light. He continues walking toward the northernmost corner of the room, and she comes to stand behind him. Taped to the wall in front of them are four Polaroid photos: a little boy in glasses, standing with two girls in pressed, navy uniforms; the same boy, very young, holding a tiny, golden fish; a pair of guerilleros with automatic rifles, masks obscuring everything but the eyes; the young man with bright, wide teeth, freckles scattered across his face.
“Where are these from?” asks Marisol. She looks from the photos to his eyes and back again. He pulls a different one from the wall and sets it in her palm. She stares at the photo, her seven-year-old face looking back at her from the peeling paper. Her arms are wrapped around the encyclopedia, its leather cover clearly displayed. She is smiling. Her father stands behind her, looking somewhere to the left of center.
“Where did you get this?” she says, the Polaroid shaking in her fingers. “My brother took that on my birthday.”
The young man swallows. “When I was twelve, the guerrillas took me from my parents and made me fight for them. One night, many years ago, I chased a little girl into a tree.”
Marisol feels nauseated, and the bright light in the room makes her eyes sting.
“I found the photo where we left their bodies.”
Her mouth tastes of sour milk and bergamot. “My father kept that in his pocket,” she says.
“I was so young,” says the young man. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a choice.”
“What’s your name?” she asks him.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he says.
“What is your name?” she asks again.
The young man kneels before her, tears in his round, brown eyes.
“Velasco Reyes,” he says. “My name is Vasco.”
She clutches the photograph of her father in her hand and runs out into a rush of humid air. The sky seems stiff, and then at once, there is a cold release of rain.
The young man follows Marisol back to the store, a few steps behind on the road for nearly a mile. During dry days, Punta Ballena is all driftwood and dust, but in the storm, it seems the world is made of mud and maracuya, tree limbs drooping with heavy, yellow fruits. Marisol comes into the yard and hides behind the building. She pulls the shirt from her back, desperate to wash her dirty clothes. But the young man follows still. Her undershirt is soaked all down the front, and she can feel him staring at the pink of her breasts as the wet cotton shifts. She cannot look him in the eye.
“Please leave,” she says. “Please leave.”
The girl shuts the door of the shack and peels the last of her clothes from her body. She lifts the bag of bones onto the bed and curls herself around them. She lists aloud all the flora she can think of, slowing the ragged heaving of her chest with each remembered name. Pink-and-yellow-bottle-brush. In two, three. Moon-blooming-gramophone. Out two, three. Strangle-climbing-ladder-tree. In two, three, four. Prickle-bellied-piña. Out two, three, four. She always remembers the river when it rains, even though it was a cloudless morning when she returned to the bodies, her skinny legs sunk knee-deep into the Napo. She’d waded into leftover bits of her brothers, clutching the Polaroid camera. Peeling photo paper floated down onto the surface of the river. A sleepy-eyed squirrel monkey, mid-leap. A human head in a bowl, teeth perpetually smiling. Her seven-year-old toes, mud-brown beneath the murky water. She falls asleep to a steady drum of rain on the tin roof.

She wakes in the dark, still wrapped around her bones in the little shack by the store. Above the bed hangs a mesh net, its white gauze swaying slightly in the dark. The rain has stopped, and she swings her feet to the floor, slides them into a pair of rubber boots. She pulls her dirty shirt over her head and opens the door. When she goes outside, she nearly steps on the young man. He is asleep on his arm, curled on the ground beside her door, his milky skin stretching across his spine in the moonlight. Lines of scar tissue march along his shoulder blades, around his belly, over his hip. She bends to put her hand against him and he shrinks.
Out from under the tin awning she can see the dawn begin to creep across the horizon. Bats swoop and dive, pursuing early morning mosquito swarms. The knee-high rubber mucks feel cool against her legs. A low note starts somewhere in the dark ahead, and it rises and turns sharp, joined by three more. An eerie chorus grows, swells, inflates in unison on the air. Then there is a flash of light. The sound takes a while to travel from so far out on the water, and it rolls rum-boom over her ears. More light bursts, and then the sound.
Two, three, four, rum-boom-boom-boom. Five, rum-boom. Six, rum-boom.
The whale song swells again, sounding much closer to the shore. Marisol moves toward the rising line of ocean. In the blue world before her she sees three dead whales on the beach. A fourth, the smallest, exhales. The smell of something sweetly rotting hangs above the sand. All the moisture is evaporating from the whales like chalk, sloughing off in lines of salt that disappear beneath her fingers. The water sweeps around her boots. Up above her knees and the soft of her thighs, the small of her back. Everything rises and the sea is cool, and for a moment, she hopes that it will keep going, high enough to submerge their lost bodies. That it will take them back. She imagines them released from their weight, lowing and shifting in new bones. The water slinks backward again. She presses her palm against the little one, watches her hand move slowly as its great ribs expand.
“Every few months, we find them come ashore like this,” says a voice from somewhere near, and she squints into the morning haze. Andrade stands a few yards away, a massive woven net across his shoulder. He holds a line in one hand and a chum bucket in the other.
“Even the little one is enormous,” she says. “Like standing next to a train.”
“Esmera says their fins are like giant, wilting wings in the water,” he says. “She swam with them, before the war. Now they won’t let anyone come near.”
“That cannon fire,” says Marisol. “I thought it was over.”
“We are never sure,” he says.
The whale breathes out, a wheezing hum falling from its drying lungs.
 “I always wish there was something we could do,” says Andrade. “But there’s no easy fix for a creature that big. We’ll just have to hope she doesn’t last too long.”
Marisol is quiet.
“Nice time for a boat ride, mija. The tide’s real high right now. Go get your bag, I’ll take you out.”
The young man stirs when she opens the door, but he rolls in sleep and does not wake when Marisol leaves again, carrying the bones toward the shore. With the sun rising behind them, the fog dissipates as they walk onto the fish docks. The houses of Punta Ballena are small and distant down the beach. Men who smell of brine and sweat carry fish back and forth from the other boats, their arms muscled and black with ink. Marisol holds the burlap bag against her chest. Birds scavenge on the meat of the dead whales. Andrade helps her into his boat and she sets the bag between her feet. The Evinrude spits until they are so far from shore, the trees look like swaying feathers. The old man cuts the engine, and bones materialize in the water around them as the foam settles.
“Such a long way when you have to walk along the tide bed,” he says.
She sees Virgo made of maxillae, a set of ribs turned into Leo. The current shifts a pelvic girdle sideways in the water, and the Corona Borealis appears.
“Doesn’t it bother you, to fish from here?” she asks.
“Not always,” the old man shakes his head. “But some days, yes.”
“Then why do it?”
“People in Punta Ballena have been fishing here for centuries,” he says. “The bones have only made the catching easier. More food for the reef fish, more food for us.”
A film on the surface glints pinkish in the morning light.
“What is that?” asks Marisol. She slips her hand into the water.
“Mostly calcium,” he says.
“Can I swim?”
“It can’t hurt.”
The water is warmer than she expects. The salt does not sting her eyes. She sinks beneath the surface for a moment, and she holds her hands out to look through her skin, all the veins and arteries flushed red and violent blue inside her palms. She feels nebulous. She is made of matter unknown. She watches Andrade move in blurs across the sky. Whale song keens and bellows, amplified in her ears underwater.
When she surfaces, she pulls herself back into the boat. Andrade drops lines, bits of chum flesh hooked and suspended from red bobbers. The girl names the fish as he reels them in: rainbow-beak; baby-black-and-yellow; wide-eyed-eagle-ray. Andrade fills the bottom of his boat with writhing, shiny things. The last line he pulls is run through a skull at the lacrimal bone, the fish flailing on the hook beneath it. He plucks the fish and tosses it aside. Marisol watches as it flips against the bag of bones, shedding pearly-gray scales on the rough rub of burlap. Its eyes are round and blank. She turns to Andrade as he slides the line out through the socket of the skull. He holds it up for her to see. The rounded bone gleams, as if it has been polished.
“What are you going to do about the boy?” he asks her.
She reaches for the fish, puts her hand to its muscled side, feels it struggle beneath her fingers.
“He let me go,” says Marisol. “He caught me once.”
“No small thing,” says Andrade.
“My father gave me an encyclopedia when I was seven,” she says. “I used to spend hours looking at the photos. I remember this one. They call this fish a skipjack,” she says.
The old man draws his knife. He cuts along the lateral and the intestines do not spill. Piece by piece, they eat every bite of the fish. When they are done, Andrade pulls at the cord of the Evinrude until the engine sputters to life, the vibrations humming through the floor of the boat.
“I’d guess it’s been a long time since you started carrying that,” he says and points to the bag at her feet. “I’d also guess you don’t care to tell me why.”
Marisol doesn’t move or make a sound, so Andrade continues.
“Mija, I dreamed for years of what I’d do with mine.”
“How did you get rid of them?” she asks. “I’m tired.”
“One day maybe you’ll be more tired of remembering.”
“Where did you leave yours?” she asks. “I’ve tried so many places.”
“Bones will only settle when you want them to,” he says. The engine hums beneath them. Marisol looks down into the water and then back toward the shore.