I’m rubbing the ashes from my fingers, or perhaps the dust of the shelf in front of me. Someone has designed a careless cover for this book but I bend the soft covers and think it might give me time.
Once upon a time, a singer in a white suit—Eddie Rabbit? Michael Jackson? Elvis?—sang a ballad that gave a fading prom its magic gateway; gave a wedding its dissolved proprieties; gave a story its backbone.
It was a sturdier backbone than elf bones. These are the soft fungus of the forest, bleached and eternal, creeping beneath the bones of men to live again, dissolving in sugar lumps on the lips of small children. Elf bones crept through the story like nerves, but the song held the story upright, a supple ballad of emotions that carried the essence of time and the force of life in the bend of a glissando.
When it was sung by the man in white, the vital incarnation gleamed around him, a blue nimbus of stage lights burning in the bright spotlight. The blue clung to the notes, the low ones soaking in the lighter fluid that floated his voice.
The story that used such a spine burned as well. The book hid a thousand snapshots of the people who read it, just beneath the text. Fairy tales crept through the memories, devouring life but linking a narrative and notion.
Critics roasted their opprobrium in the flames, watching the simple skeleton smile and dance beneath the words. Empty, they said. Wrong headed, they said.
But the story smiled. Whatever we have against showing our bones, against watching our veins jump, the story had no such self-consciousness and it burned them with the flame of a particular eternal now.
Eventually, someone was humming the song and thought of the story. It belonged to a parent and showed an odd reflection of the parent, a distortion—a person not yet a parent, neither aspect completely understandable apart from the other. Blue ballpoint in the margins. The flames cast strange images on the cave of the family. It burned the edges of the child’s imagination until the sugary elf bones melted into hard bright lollipops. The child feasted on them in quiet moments on the edge of crowds, always a child on those anonymous shores.
The story died down to embers. It was studied, and then acclaimed. People took possession of it. The singer died, and then the writer. A flame caught from a tribute special and branded the culture with symbolism that was taken into the academy and further studied.
The song was recorded again by a woman in a white suit, the distaff and the universal, and a book trailer was made. This I watched years later on the faceless recommendation of the web and felt something flicker in my memory. A foxfire remnant of bygone nows chased me into the mire of myself. Skeleton days shivered around me. Are the bones of the plot grinning, even now?
The song is the spine of the book. The text is the flesh of the story. It smiles at me, reaches one finger toward the tinder of my imagination.