Bone Machine

The order goes cattle, pig, and at the end of the day the butchers get worn out and hack too much at the pigs' bodies, leaving them mangled with bone shards and gritty marrow spilled on the tile. I flood the butcher room to wash out the blood and I watch the animal cells with their mitochondria and golgi bodies gush down the hole in the floor. Then I pick bone fragments the size of my thumbnail out of the mesh drain.

Today, the butchers twisted an oxtail cut in the band saw, the oval bone blackened and misshaped, and left it on the floor, kicked beneath a stainless steel table. I pick off most the meat and put the bone in my hip pocket so I can feel it jab my pelvis as I steam the slabs.

When I get home, Anise is asleep on the couch, her shirt shifted so I can see her bellybutton like a plastic valve on a beach ball. She sweats in her sleep, her dark hair is damp and heavy and matted to the phone. The antenna nearly stabs her eardrum. The storm coming in blocks the radio signal, and the mint-green stereo backlight flickers across Anise's skin as the station fades in and out. She looks like an aquarium display. I crouch by her in the dark and green, press my hand to her belly and feel for kicks. Beneath her skin, our child pats my palm. The dual heartbeat is its cells growing.

I don't want Anise to wake, so I head in a lanky, sneaky gait to my closet-studio by the bathroom. The studio door shuts softly on the felt, leftover from the once-darkroom. I turn on the white halogen lamp, and put the oxtail in a metal tub where I will dissolve the remaining meat with acid. I select a new bone shard, the size of two thumbnails, from the margarita glass and clamp it in the silver alligator clip by the magnifying glass.

First, I shape the bone with a rasp, then I take a steel gouge to carve the features. Today, I carve out gills, scales, and oversized eyes for the Carassius auratus, or goldfish. When it's done, Anise will say "Cute," and I will smooth and polish the piece with a swatch of hard leather. As I carve the fish's exaggerated puffy cheeks, he calls.

I keep a list of things Anise is not to mention to my father taped to the phone. I hear Anise answer in her half-sleep voice.

Don't mention school.

Don't mention you're white.

Don't mention my sperm and your egg have joined.

God, please don't mention your mother's Jewish.

Anise knocks, then opens the door and steps in. The room shrinks.

"You smell like bleach again," she says, handing me the phone.

"You smell like bleach?" Father.

"I was cleaning the kitchen. Salmonella. I made curried chicken," I say.

Anise lifts her shirt and presses her belly against my arm.

"Your mother cleans with just hot water," Father says.

"Mother grew up in a felt hut," I pat Anise's stomach.

"Clay. She lived in a clay house. Her parents weren't nomads."


"How are your studies?"

Don't mention school.

"Are your marks good?"

Anise mouths the word, "Feel." The baby kicks my palm. Hard.

"I have a job."

Don't mention the baby.

"Why? Am I not sending enough?" Father asks.

"You send enough."

"We don't have to spend so much. Your mother loves the shopping, though. She always tell me about going to the bazaar, 'Oh at the bazaar I never thought I would be able to afford anything, we were so poor when I was a child. I thought I would have to barter my life away.' She--"

"You don't have to stop shopping."

"Tell him to send money for a ring," Anise says, her eyes widen and she clasps her hands over her mouth.

"What did she say?"

"She asked how mother is. How she likes Dubai."

"She misses Tehran. Too much construction here."

"I read one-fourth of the world's construction cranes are in Dubai," I say.

"Probably. Your mother went shopping last week."

"As always."

"The Shopping Festival started a couple of weeks ago. There are millions of people walking around Dubai with tote bags."

"Kiss me," I whisper.

Anise leans down and puts her lips against my cheek. She smells better than Clorox and is less stuffy than steam. I palm her belly and the built-up fumes make me feel like I'm floating in cytoplasm. We can bypass the membrane by osmosis, leave everything else on the outside. It will just be the three of us, two chromosomes and the nucleus.


"I'll tell him," I think aloud.

"Did I tell you about the Premier?" Father asks.

My father was a refrigeration mechanic. He owned the largest refrigeration company in Iran. The Premier wanted to refrigerate his bedroom with fifty feet of brass tubing. My father told him to do the job correctly he would need nearly one thousand feet. Then my father became popular. He installed refrigeration tubes for representatives, ministers, even the Shah. Turning a house into a refrigerator was cheaper than air conditioning at the time. Then he retired and moved to Dubai.

"You always tell me about the Premier," I say.

"That's all it takes. No compromises. Ingenuity. I didn't do anything special, Amir. I don't want you feeling incomplete, living off my money. I want you to be a professional," I can hear the spit in his mouth like he's just eaten candy.

Don't mention the baby because it's not on Father's to-do list.

"That's why I got a job."

"I see," he says.

Don't mention your mother because Father has prejudices.

Anise picks up a finished, polished pig and dances it in front of my face, cooing.

Don't mention the baby because we are not married. We are not married because he has not met you. He has not met you because you are white. You are a Jew.

"Anise is pregnant."

"And school?" Father asks.

School is not pregnant. I am no longer in the school's womb. It won't pop out a Dr. Amir.

"I see. What is your work?"

"I clean pig blood out of a butcher shop," I say.


I ask Anise to sit in my lap, to hand me the small drill. I put a hole in the fish's dorsal fin, then run silk thread through the hole. Anise hands me the hanging mass of silk thread and pig bone, and I tie the new fish onto the baby's mobile: the driveless mechanism. The bone machine.

I show Anise the oxtail bone, with the edges singed by the butcher's band saw. I'll hang it by braided silk in the center of the mobile. The oxtail is going to be the nucleus of the bone machine, and I'm going to carve our child's initials into it.

About the author:

Joseph Love has dropped out of three colleges, stalked J.D. Salinger, and urinated on Faulkner's grave. He is 21.