Bone Sigh

Tim Pratt


I sit at the table and work on my bonsai scar. I press the silver head of the meat tenderizer into my left thigh, stippling the skin. I do not feel pain; I scarcely feel the pressure. My nerves are dead, there on my left thigh, where I grow my scar. Matches, hot needles, knives, and time. I tend my scar, I do not control it. Skin and muscle are unpredictable-- this is not like painting a picture, carving a piece of wood. The flesh knows its own logic, the bruises come strangely, the healing proceeds unevenly. I collaborate with my flesh.

The space between intention and accident, that is the place where God lives.

I put the tenderizer down on the white formica table and look at my bonsai scar. It is like a flower, a jellyfish, a pinwheel of raised flesh, yellow bruises, subcutaneous hemorrhaging.

Is it process, nothing but process, or someday will I be finished? Will I see the face of God, the expression of revelation? Or will I see the back parts of God, as Moses saw?

Only time and painful tenderness will tell.


I sit on a bench with a bored officer of the court while my daughter Crystal goes down the slide in the park, over and over.

My ex-wife was the only person who knew about my bonsai scar, my single devotion. When she decided to leave me, she told the court about my scar. She had taken pictures of my scar, while I slept, and she showed them to the judge.

The court decided that someone like me, who hurts himself so methodically, might try to hurt his own child. As if I do not understand the division between self and other, the difference between personal sacrifice and inexcusable attack.

My ex-wife left me and took Crystal, and now I only see my daughter in the park, with a chaperone, every few weeks.

My ex-wife has a new husband, a thin man who sells insurance, a thin man with a thin mustache and black hair slicked back with something oily that shines. He is secretly a monster, and I fear for my daughter, living in his house. I hope my scar will take a final shape soon, and guide me, for I feel close upon despair.

I have stepped up my devotions, and my whole left leg aches.

Crystal slides. Her pigtails fly behind her. She cries "Banzai!" as she slides.


My ex-wife has died. The brakes on her car failed and she plunged over a bridge, into a swamp. They found water in her lungs. She did not die on impact. She had to inhale swamp water, trapped upside-down in her car, before she could die.

I go to the funeral, in a small country church we never attended. The monster, my dead ex-wife's husband, sits in the first pew, holding my daughter's hand. I can see the truth about him crawling under his skin; his scalp bulges and ripples as the monster inside him shifts. No one else notices; perhaps God has given me the power to see monsters.

Perhaps God wants me to help myself.

The monster and my daughter walk past the coffin. Crystal weeps; the monster holds her hand and will not release her.

I realize that the monster cut my ex-wife's brakes, so that he could have Crystal all to himself. For some terrible purpose.

I wish my scar would advise me.


We named her Crystal because crystals start small, and then grow. Because they begin simple and beautiful and, over time, become complex and beautiful.

Like my scar. But we couldn't call our daughter Scar, and even if we could have, my dead ex-wife would have refused.


The scar does not guide me. I lash myself with coathangers and burn myself with lye, but more than ever before the window into revelation seems hopelessly opaque. I feel I have reached an impasse, that I have done all I can-- now all my work is the equivalent of useless cross-hatching, obsessive shading, adding irrelevant details.

If my scar will not guide me, I must guide myself.

I will go to the monster's lair.


The front door is unlocked, and I go inside. There is some light from the windows, but it is dimmed by curtains. This is a squalid little house. My dead ex-wife was an excellent housekeeper, but in her absence the monster's house has reverted to type. I almost expect to see a heap of gnawed bones in the corner, a pallet made of rotting animal skins. But there are only old newspapers, empty aluminum cans. He is a subtle monster.

I have never been here before, so I creep in the dimness toward a hallway. The house smells of meat, of fat boiled with beans. I listen, and hear a voice. Crystal's. I want to scoop her up and take her away to freedom, away from the monster. But what if he is with her, right now? Who else would she be talking to?

I step softly to a half-closed door in the hallway and look inside. Crystal is sitting on the floor, talking seriously to a red-haired doll. Crystal's dress is soiled and torn. The monster is trying to dress her as if she were his own offspring, a monster herself.

"What the hell?" the monster says, behind me.

I turn. The monster stands in the hallway, dressed in boxer shorts and a dirty white T-shirt. He is unshaven, and his eyes are red. I can see the fires smoking inside his head, the tentacles coiled in his belly, the monster under his thin flesh disguise.

He has a large knife in his hand.

"Stay away from her!" he shouts, and runs at me. I throw up my hands to ward him off. He stumbles, tripping on an empty whiskey bottle on the floor.

I know what will happen before it does; it is like God grants me the vision, as a warning, or a courtesy.

When the monster falls, he stumbles into me, and drives his knife into my thigh. Into the heart of my bonsai scar.

Imagine a gardener, devoted to his bonsai, controlling its water, its nourishment, its temperature, its access to light--

--and then the bonsai is infested with woodlice, shredded by cat's claws, smashed with a fire poker, chopped with a hatchet. Imagine how I feel.

The knife sticks in my thigh, and all the dead nerves come to life, wake up and scream pain at me. There are arteries in the thigh, blood highways-- did the monster cut one? Will I die? Will I see God's face (or even his back parts) when I die?

Crystal is screaming. The monster is on the floor, but he is getting up.

I pull the knife out of my thigh. That hurts worse than it did going in.

The monster turns his face to me.

His eyes are full of smoke, blood, fangs, shards of glass.

I put the knife into one of his eyes.


"Did he ever hurt you?" I ask.

Crystal sits on the edge of the bathtub, her eyes wide and vacant as I bandage my thigh, cover the bloody remnants of my ruined bonsai scar.

"Did he ever touch you, in a bad way?" I ask.

"No," she says.

But I know he would have.


Weeks after I saved Crystal from the monster, we sit in a motel room. She is better; talking more, glad to be with me. She feels we are on a grand adventure.

I have been careful not to let her see my bonsai scar, only changing the bandages in the bathroom, when she sleeps. But today I am taking the bandages off for good, and Crystal is curious to see my healed wound.

I remove the wrapping and look at the scar. There is a large, pale knot of scar tissue in the center, where the monster's knife went in. I look at my thigh sadly. The waste of all my work. The face of God, marred forever.

"Daddy," Crystal says, touching my scar gently. "It's an eye."

I look at her, then at my scar, and I begin to smile.

She's right. The monster's stabbing wound has not ruined my bonsai scar, but has instead completed it, provided the final touch, formed the pupil of an eye.

"One eye. Like a Cyclops," Crystal says.

I think of the monster, the way I stabbed his eye out. Monsters have only a single eye, but my scar is not meant to reveal a monster's face.

I am blessed. The face of God is forming on my body, responding to my devotions.

But I have vastly underestimated the size of God's face. I will need more than one thigh to reveal it.

I will need my entire body; chest, arms, head, legs.

Looking at my daughter, at the fascination in her face, I realize something else-- that the revelation is not meant for me. I am only the medium for revelation. I am the book, not the reader.

My body will become the face of God, and my daughter will look upon me and know the secrets of life, the ways and means of earth and heaven.

My disappointment is brief and selfish, and then I am glad. For what more could a father want? What better reason is there to sacrifice, but for the good of your child?

"Bring me my bag, darling," I say, and when she does, I take out a knife.

This story was originally published in Twilight Showcase, a fine online horror magazine. I wrote it one section at a time over the course of a week, and I think it's a nice look at a fractured worldview, and love despite madness.

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