Lydia has a body made of bones. Her ribs are candy canes sucked clean by the puckered lips of a child, her limbs hard and white like the naked branches of a sycamore. Lots of people ask me what it’s like, dating a skeleton. It’s no different from loving anyone else, I tell them. The most important part is that you have to be gentle, cautious. Once I came up behind her too quickly and she banged her skull against the doorframe, broke her lower jaw clean off. The doctors had to wire her mouth shut for weeks; I remember how one of the wires used her curve up around the edge of her mouth like a sneer.
When my sciatica is acting up and I can’t sleep I like to count all of her 206 bones, starting with the cranium and working my way down to the distal phalanges; if I’m lucky, I never make it past the humerus. What I really need is a more supportive mattress, but Lydia says that the springs bruise her vertebrae so I’ve learned to live with a bed that sinks and squishes with every breath. That’s another thing you have to get used to: the lack of breathing. It took me weeks to get over her stillness, and even longer to adjust to the eeriness of not feeling a heartbeat when I pull her in against my chest. Now I enjoy the way she lays quietly beside me, the silence and darkness so profound I feel like I’m lying on the bottom of the ocean, eight tons of pressure pushing away every scrap of thought and spark of feeling until before I know it I’m watching the morning light illuminate the dust floating within her ribcage.
People stare at us when we walk down the street hand-in-hand, the wind a banshee wailing through her empty sockets. Lydia loves to go into the city and visit all the hole-in-the-wall bookstores; our apartment is filled with cardboard boxes of crumbling two-dollar paperbacks she’s picked up over the months in stores that smell like mold and burnt coffee. She’ll buy anything'”it doesn’t matter if it’s popular or forgotten, science fiction or Homer. As long as the cover will fall off by the time we get home, she wants it. I’ll add the new books to the growing pile in the corner of our living room as she soaks in a hot bath, the layers of soot that collected on her bones from the city air floating to the top of the bathwater in a grayish film.
My friend Roger is always asking me if I miss it. “Miss what,” I say. “A man’s got needs,” he says. He likes to drag me to the strip club where the girl he’s been screwing works and see if he can find a way to make me change my mind about Lydia. “I mean, look at her,” he says, jerking his finger towards his girl, the one with the tassled pasties that spun around like pinwheels when she moved. “You can’t tell me you don’t miss that,” he says as she wraps her thick thighs around the pole and arches her back until her long hair is dragging on the ground. “I don’t think you get it,” I say, taking a long pull on my flat beer.
The truth is, I don’t miss it. In the beginning I would sometimes long for the taste of salty sweat on my tongue or the fruity scent of shampoo in freshly-washed hair, but now I realize that nothing compares to the vanilla-smooth feel of Lydia’s clavicles against my fingertips or her own unique scent, chalky and sweet like those boxes of Conversation Hearts they pass out by the handful on Valentine’s Day when you’re a kid. Now that her jaw’s finally healed we’ve been better than ever, sleeping in on the weekends and having pleasant conversation in the hazy early morning light. I’ll sip black tea and have a cigarette while she tells me what bookstore she wants to visit that day. She drinks a glass of milk now every morning for strength, the creamy liquid running down her spine and dripping through her pelvis into an ivory pool that the cat laps up with its sandpaper tongue.