top of page

In My Bones

Victoria Wiswell-Mabe

Sunday, April 2021  

        Sarah is here, in this silver Slinky of a line, giving away her precious Sunday night,  waiting to see Them Bones, a band she hates, because she wants to let Rick have this one last  thing, this concert that seems to matter so much to him.  

        She’ll suffer through, holding his hand and smiling through every bad song. She’ll cheer  and sing (not really) along with the crowd. Then, later, over drinks, she’ll gently pull her hand away and let the obvious seep into the space between them. He’ll be sad for a beat, maybe, but  soon, another version of Sarah, perhaps one with a less pronounced propensity for a future, will  glide into his life and find comfort on the landing pad of his flannel chest.  

        That was her plan. Now, though, left alone to swim in secondhand smoke with nothing but the dirty venue wall to support her, with her feet aching and her back tied into a knot, she  only wants to go home.  

        It isn’t enough that Rick is familiar in a way that makes her feel sixteen and driving her  mother’s Buick over every hill in their tiny town with the windows down and the radio blasting. Each minute spent waiting for Rick to return with beer or, more accurately, to grow up,  lengthens the distance between her and a life not in constant motion. If she squints, she can see time, her time, drifting away with the spirals of cigarette smoke.  

        “Excuse me,” Sarah says to the person behind her, a shadowy guy with a dark beard and  torn jacket. “When my—friend, he’s tall with a beard—comes back, can you give this to him?”  She takes off the leather jacket Rick gave her when he noticed she was shivering and holds it up.

        “You’re leaving?” the guy asks, wide-eyed. 

Saturday, March 2021  

        She can’t believe it.  

        He’s here, at her boss’s birthday party.  

        Her imaginary boyfriend.  

        The guy she thinks up when she needs an escape, someone fun and easy to occupy her mind.  

        It has to be him. The moody green-gray eyes are unmistakable. His hair, wavy and brown but more chestnut, and his beard, auburn and full, but not so much that it threatens to carry bits  of last night’s dinner, are the same.  

        And, unlike a lot of the other guests (employees), he isn’t anxiously searching for a discrete exit or, worse, staring into the middle distance, questioning every decision since high  school (Should I have tried out for varsity football?). He’s playing his paper kazoo and swaying to the music. He’s having fun.  

        Sensing her gaze, he turns, brings his kazoo to his mouth, and blows. Sarah isn’t sure if it’s an invitation or commentary on the evening. Either way, she’s intrigued. She considers throwing decorum (human resources guidelines) aside and sidling up to him, “Hey, I’m Sarah, I love your hair.” Or maybe, “Work parties, right? I’m Sarah.” Or even Nya’s college-bar classic, “You look like someone I’ll need to work to forget.” 

        She considers all of it, but the nightmarish conclusion of her last relationship—getting  jostled awake to catch the finale of Miles’s off-book sexting session—has left her temporarily (permanently) off men.  

        So, Sarah, second vodka-no-tonic in hand, adjusts her press-on smile, pushes her imaginary boyfriend back into his imaginary world, and watches with manufactured delight her boss open birthday gift after birthday gift.  

        “Hi,” he says, a bit too loudly.  

        Sarah startles.  

        Her arm stutters.  

        Vodka dribbles over her fingers. She wants to lick it off her knuckles, but with this new slash imaginary person looking right at her, the very person who wove through the crowd unnoticed (surprise!), she decides it best to wipe her hand on her dress. She hates surprises. “How’s it going?” he asks.  

        “Uh, pretty good,” she says. She was wrong about his eyes. They’re more green than gray. And his beard, it’s softer than she thought.  

        “Some party, huh?” he says, nodding toward the gift table.  

        “Yeah, it’s …something.”  

        “I’m Rick, by the way.”  


        “You’re friends with Jasmine?”  

        “No. I mean, she’s my manager at the firm. You?”  

        “Friends with her boyfriend.” 


        Then, as though it was rational, he dangles his keys and says, “I’m heading out. Need a  lift?”  

        For a wild minute, Sarah wonders if, somehow, her imagination and reality have melted into one, and this new person, this man calling himself Rick, is her imaginary boyfriend.  Delusional, she thinks, swiftly shaking free of the notion. But rather than turning him down, as Rick goes on about his late model import and its ignition issues, she swipe-cancels her already reserved Uber and says, “Sure, thanks.”  

         A tsunami of sound floods the Volvo’s cabin.  

        “Who’s this?” Sarah asks, pointing violently at the car’s stereo.  

        “Sorry,” Rick says, turning the music down. “It’s Them Bones. You’ve never heard of them?”  

        Sarah shakes her head.  


        “Really.” She wants to add, “because I don’t like being assaulted by music.” But his doubt seems more sincere than condescending, so she gives a one-word answer to explain her obliviousness: “Punk.”  

        “Yeah, but they cross genres. They were at their peak when we were in college. You graduated around 2011, right?”  


        “From here?” he says, gesturing at the blurry university campus they’re barreling past.  “University of New Hampshire. I moved here later.” 

        “I’m from Maine. Small world.”  


        “It sucks. They’re breaking up.”  

        The band? Sarah isn’t sure and doesn’t actually care. She’d love to let it go. But she can’t  ignore her mother reminding her to be polite. “Why?”  

        Rick takes off, pushing the car faster. Talking at the same speed.  

        Racing east on I-405, Sarah learns the backstory of Rick’s love affair with Them Bones: the first time he heard them, saw them live, and every concert since.  

        Sarah watches Rick’s beard bob in time with the rapid rhythm of his jaw and wonders if his passion for this band, an abstraction, really, could also be felt for a real-life human. Miles had professed to love dogs and children. He’d walked her through the city’s older neighborhoods and pointed to the houses he imagined them sharing. He was the perfect guy until Sarah pulled back the comforter and exposed his six months of treason.  

        So, Sarah thinks, though Rick’s raw sadness over the imminent end of his beloved band  is a bit much, maybe his intensity is at least something. Something real. It’s got to be better than make-believe Miles, a paper-thin cut out of a person.  

        “Their last Seattle show is next month. We should go.” Rick, voice hoarse, says. “Uh, yeah, we should.”  

        In her streetlamp-lit parking lot, Sarah waits for the last note of the last song on the Them Bones CD (how’d they come up with fifteen?) to drain from the speakers before speaking.  

        “Rick,” she says, turning toward him, ready to grow the desire pulsing in her belly each time he glances at her with his green-gray eyes into an all-night thing. Rick says nothing. With the Them Bones oral history lesson over, he is quiet. There’s a loose button on his shirt. He plays with it, spins it to the left and then to the right, avoiding her eyes.  

        “Rick,” she says again.  

        Without looking up, he says, “Well, this is you.”  

        Sarah is instantly embarrassed. She pushes into the seat and takes a breath. Maybe, she thinks, as fresh oxygen nourishes her brain, Rick is shy. Maybe he needs encouragement. She shimmies closer to him and dribbles her fingers over the center console.  

        “Rick,” she says, coaxing his gaze.  

        The loose button spins left and right.  

        Sarah turns away and stares at her hands, now defeated rags in her lap.  

        A mistake, she thinks. Wrong again. She gathers the remains of her esteem and opens the Volo’s door.  

        With one foot on the parking lot pavement, she mumbles to the empty outline of Rick, “Thanks for the ride.”  

        Rick lifts his head. Looking at her like he just remembered her, he says, “Maybe you  should give me your number. I can let you know when the tickets go on sale. I’m part of The Skeleton Crew—the fan club. I’ll get a presale alert.”  

        Confusion puckers Sarah’s face.  

“The band,” Rick prompts. “Their show. Next month. I can save you some money.” “Right, the  concert.” For a band she barely knows but already hates. Surprising herself, she doesn’t snap,  “No thanks.” She ignores the nudge (elbow jab) of her better judgment and the finger pointing at the red flag of Rick’s mercurial moods and, to ensure he gets it right, slowly recites her number.  

        “Got it,” Rick says, tapping the digits into his phone. “I’ll call—about the tickets.” 

        “Or whatever,” Sarah says, surprising herself again.  

        Catching on, Rick adds, “Here, I’ll give you my number.”  

        Sarah walks to her apartment’s entrance, scrolling through her Contacts to the Rs. The  names float by like ghosts. Obfuscated faces. One-off dates who vigorously promised to call, only to vanish into the ether of their respective Apps. She should delete, right then and there (Rick’s included), every last one of these social experiments in disappointment. She should. 

        But her finger hovers, refusing to select “Delete All.”  

        A bit after ten, cocooned in her down comforter, sleeping off the last of last night’s vodka, her phone buzzes. Reluctantly (not everyone rises with the birds, Mom), she answers. “You sound awful. You’re either super hungover or,” Nya says, “I woke you.” “Or both. You forgot that option.”  

        “How was last night? Did Jasmine demand gift receipts?”  

        “It was actually kind of worth it.”  

        “You met someone. Tell me everything. Now.”  

        “It was strange. He looks just like—hang on. Someone’s calling me—my mother, I’m  sure.” 

        Sarah taps the incoming call. “Rick slash Work Event” lights her screen. Her hand drops. She drifts to his green-gray eyes and wavy hair. She hears her voice echoing in the cabin of his car, practically daring him to call.  

        “Hey, Ny, I’ll call you back.”  

        “Is it him? Your birthday boy surprise.”  

        “Cute. Yes. Call you later.”  

        “With details!”  

        “Hello,” Sarah says, sounding breathier than she intended.  

        “Hi. It’s Rick. From last night. Did I wake you?”  

        “No, I’ve been up for a while” (if a while is five minutes).  

        “Are you up for coffee? In an hour or so?”  

        “An hour. Uh, yeah, I can do that.” 

        At an outdoor table at Tom’s Brew, enjoying the warm, peek-a-boo April sun, they  wade through the small talk of the weather, local sports, and their latest Netflix streams. It’s  going well, but nowhere, really. Sarah notices the clock. It’s nearly noon. She has errands to run. Then, while holding her gaze, Rick says, “Tell me about yourself.”  

        So she does.  

        She shares how she discovered her love of interior design while hiding in her grandmother’s attic away from the swaying moods of her mother and how, on the pages of House & Garden, saturated with a life so different from hers, she’d learned colors and patterns  and textures made her feel, all at once, calm and electric. 

        Rick listens without interrupting or checking his phone. He keeps his eyes steady on hers.  When she finishes, breathless and lighter, she can all but see the awkward residue from the night before evaporating.  

        “It sounds like you’re doing what you love. That’s amazing.”  

        “What about you?” Sarah asks.  

        Rick sips his double espresso. What he says isn’t what she’s expecting. “I’m sorry about last night, that whole deal in the parking lot. I don’t know; I guess I started overthinking it. I went through a breakup a bit ago…it was rough.”  

        “Breakups are tough.”  

Rick shrugs. “We weren’t right for each other. She was great, but we wanted different things.”  

        “I know what you mean” (cut to Miles speed-swiping Tinder).  

        “She wanted me to take a button-up shirt gig at her firm. Not my thing. I like my time,  you know. Life’s short; if I want to take a month off to backpack or travel…” “Right.” 

        “Sorry, didn’t mean to overshare—you’re easy to talk to. I hope it wasn’t gross.” 

        “Not at all,” she says, no longer concerned with the time or her errands.  

        Two Wednesdays later, with fourteen good morning texts, an immediately returned, Me too, in response to her, I’m glad I went to Jasmine’s party, and three flawless coffee meet-ups bolstering her confidence, Sarah decides it’s time. She grabs her phone and punches an invite for an actual, days in advance, date.  

        Hey, up 4 dinner on Saturday, 7ish? 

        Less than a minute later, with a happy face Emoji attached, Rick replies, Sounds great.  

        Not minding, enjoying it, really; Sarah squishes next to Rick on a bench too small for both of their bodies. Between bites of Plant It Pizza’s specialty pie, the vegan supreme, Rick volunteers the answer to the question she asked two weeks ago at Tom’s Brew.  

        “Maine was a great place to grow up. We ran wild, me and my brothers. Outside all day, swimming, camping….”  

        Sarah smiles at her memories of summer nights playing Hide and Seek, vanishing on her bike for hours, forgetting parents and adults existed.  

        “But after my dad died senior year, I couldn’t stay. I needed to be away from all the memories, you know?”  

        “Yeah,” she says, chewing slowly. She can still see her father packing his things into his truck and driving away like she’s watching from outside her body.  

        “Washington seemed like a cooler version of Maine, so I applied for a job and got it. I’ve  been here eight years now.”  

        “Six for me,” Sarah adds.  

        “I thought I’d found my dream job, that we were going to disrupt the market, but all the company cared about was money.”  

        “It’s hard when you have a vision. You want to make a difference, but the company has an  agenda,” Sarah says, having had her designs rejected for more marketable (safe) options. 

        “After I quit, my mom wanted me home. But I wasn’t ready to give up.” 

        “I get that,” Sarah says, thinking of her mother, who convinced her to move back home after graduation and cried inconsolably when Sarah finally found the courage to move away but who has yet to visit.  

        Rick, now looking out the window at the Sound, says to stay afloat, he began accepting freelance work. The journey, he says, hasn’t been easy; it’s taken years, but he’s found a balance that satisfies his creative yearnings and pays his bills. And though he misses his family and friends and still wakes expecting his room to be sweet with the drifting scent of August blueberries, the lanky Seattle summers and the flip-flop casualness of the people make his leaving unlikely.  

        As Sarah sips her Coke, learning of Rick’s earthy roots and his nearly untamed childhood, she realizes why Rick, from the first night they met, is so familiar—he was baptized in the same icy north coast waters. He reminds her of her life in New Hampshire, the happy parts she has allowed herself to forget.  

        When he finishes, instead of letting the conversation drift into silence or shift to  something typical like politics or TikTok posts, Sarah reaches for his hand and rests her head on his shoulder.  

        A week later, with Nya at their favorite east-side happy hour bar, Sarah happily spills the whole story of Rick. With three vodka-no-tonics (but at half price, one and a half, really) fogging her thinking and softening the corners of her reasoning, she shares how maybe, just maybe, (fingers crossed, don’t jinx it) she’s found her person. 

        She finishes, expecting Nya to be all cheers, ready to order celebratory champagne. Instead, the only sound is the bar’s soft chit-chat, the clink-clack of ice, and the glug-glug of pours—all of this quiet noise and Nya’s loud gaze drifting over Sarah’s shoulder. After too long to be worth anything, Nya manages, “I’m happy for you.”  

        “Are you?”  

        “Of course, it’s just…He broke up with his girlfriend over a job?”  

        “Not a job—”  

        “Has he…”  

        “Has he what?”  

        “Told you how he feels about you? Your future?”  

        “No, but—”  

“I’m just putting this out there,” Nya interrupts, swirling circles of vodka around the ice in her glass, “Maybe a guy with a freelance job and vague plans for the future isn’t the best match for someone who wants the career, the husband, and the two kids. Are you sure, Sarah,” Nya asks, leaning in, “that Rick, the guy who drops everything to go hiking, is the guy for you?” 

        Sarah imagines telling Nya that Rick reminds her of how it felt when she believed the lyrics of Mariah’s We Belong Together were possible and that when she wraps her arms around his flannel chest, she feels grounded, like the speed of the world, spinning too fast since the day her father deleted her family, is finally slow enough for her to breathe, but it sounds wildly inadequate, if not pathologically immature.  

        So, she gives what she has, a shrug, and, as flatly as if she were speaking to her mother, delivers the universally embraced response of the defeated, “It just works.”

        On their sixth Saturday together, with Nya and Rick having met over drinks the week before and Nya having given her blessing (“be careful and take it slow”), Sarah, unburdened and already in yoga pants, is prepared to do their usual: cuddle on the couch, watch a movie, and order take-out.  

        Rick, who’s standing in her kitchen, waving a large bouquet of spring flowers, is not. “I’ve made us seven-thirty reservations at Russo’s.”  


        Russo’s is the kind of place Sarah would take her mother—a niceish (discounts not offered in the weekly Valu-Pak), traditional restaurant.  

        “What?” Rick says, squinting. “You don’t want to go?”  

        “I do. It’s just, you know, it’s not vegan, right?”  

        “They have options. A guy I did some work for said it was great. Come on; it’s a nice, quiet restaurant.”  

        Sarah’s hands skip over the kitchen’s granite countertop. She tucks them behind her hips. A quiet restaurant. Flowers. This is, it has to be, the “define the relationship” dinner. She  wants to grab her phone and message Nya (Grrrl!), but there’s no time.  

        While Rick parses out the details, “We should leave in an hour; parking will be tight  downtown,” she mentally selects her outfit (green dress with feathers), matches the shoes (strappy, black heels), and pairs a handbag (crystal, micro purse) all while nodding along to his comments.  

        “Should you get ready?” 

        “Uh, yeah (way ahead of you!), I’ll go throw something on.”  

        In the back corner of Russo’s, wrestling against their tiny table for space to place their menus and drinks, Rick, frog-eyed and jittery, darts through the glassware maze, latches onto Sarah’s hand, and, squeezing too tightly to be considered flirtatious, blurts, “Will you come with me to Them Bones’ final show?”  

        Sarah inwardly shrivels and pulls her hand away. The hope she’s been hoarding for this evening leaks from her center. She doesn’t give a shit about Them Bones. She doesn’t care if this is their last tour or if their future travels wear a groove into the earth’s surface. In fact, since first listening to them in Rick’s car, she’d all but forgotten they existed.  

        Rick, misreading her disappointment for joyous shock, continues to clutch her hand. “It’s  tomorrow. I got our tickets weeks ago—as a surprise.”  

        Sarah titters softly and fights to keep her face from crumpling. Rick’s excitement, so exposed it feels to her like a fresh cut, paralyzes her anger. Still, she has to explain what she was expecting this night to bring. She takes a slow sip of wine and searches for the words, but her thoughts, her logic and reason, swim away like uncatchable fish.  

        “You remember, right? We talked about going on our first date,” Rick says. Sarah looks at him. The green feathers of her dress, once a soft caress, now scratch at her skin like steel wool.  

        “When I drove you home—after Jasmine’s. I said I’d get us tickets. And I did.” “I remember.”  

        “So, it’s a date, then? You’ll go?” 

        “Uh...Of course,” she says, not sure why. Is it Rick’s need for this concert, this band, to matter to her? Or is it his need for her to recognize he’d kept a meaningless promise, one she never asked him to make?  


        The next morning, from the distance of her bedroom, eyes dry from wine and lack of sleep,  with Rick snoring softly beside her, Sarah sees her mistake. She’s applied her knack for seeing potential, the way she does with old homes she’s redecorating, to Rick. In her mind, she designed the best version of Rick while carefully omitting his less desirable qualities. 

        Sure, Rick is quirky and kind, honest and thoughtful in a way she doubted still existed in humans, but he is also a man fighting his age, clinging to his twenties through a mediocre band,  staunchly refusing to grow into a life that matches his years.  

        Sarah needs someone ready to stay put and lay tracks. Rick, even with his Maine roots and a childhood she can feel in her bones, isn’t that guy.  

        Still, with everything true about Rick, about their future, staring at her, unblinking, and though she understands what she must do, when the warm, comforting log of Rick rolls over and wraps his arm around her, she doesn’t push him away and slip out of bed. As weak and awful as that may make her, she isn’t yet ready to get up.


Sunday, April 2021  

        In the emptiness of the street, away from the smokey line and the Them Bones fans, the air is calm. With the jacket off, the windy smell of Rick no longer pricks at her nose. A kind of sadness, like the longing that follows arriving at the end of a favorite book, nips at her. She  wipes her eyes with the palm of her hand and starts walking. 


        Her feet stutter. Don’t, she tells herself, but she is already turning toward her name.  “Look,” Rick says, holding up a pack of gum. “Your favorite. Pink Lemonade. I had to go to  three stores, but I found it. Limited release until June.”  

        “I didn’t know it was out yet,” Sarah says. She’s loved Pink Lemonade gum since she  was a kid, and Rick is right; it is only available for a few months a year and is always hard to  get. She used to save her babysitting money and buy as much as possible before they stopped selling it. “How’d you know it’s my favorite?”  

        “How else?” he says with a laugh. “You told me.”  

        She can’t remember telling Rick about her Pink Lemonade passion, but on some night,  with her secrets loose and leaky from the tickle of Rick’s beard and the intoxicating feel of his flannel, she must have. “I mean…I’m surprised you remembered.”  

        “Isn’t that what couples do for each other—remember the small stuff? Besides, it’s my way of saying thanks.”  

        “For what?”  

        “Coming to this. I know you don’t like these guys.”  

        “Yeah, well…”  

        “So, thanks—for seeing this through with me. It’s lame, but I wanted to be part of their last show. To say goodbye to the past, college, partying…. and move on to the next phase...with you.”  

        “Uh, that’s kind of…nice,” Sarah says, stepping closer to Rick.  

        Rick shrugs. “It’s time—you know, to become a grown-up.”  

        “Yeah, I do.” 

        And all at once, Sarah is driving her mother’s Buick, riding with the seat belt off and the radio blasting her favorite song. But this time, with Rick right next to her, the world is spinning slowly enough for her to finally catch up.

lumina logo blue.png
bottom of page