I tell the policeman I didn’t touch the ribcage, which isn’t entirely true. I was walking the Florida sandbar, observing a pink stripe of sunset on the horizon, thinking of what would happen once my mother passed—and at seventy-six with stage three lung cancer she would soon—when I tripped over the bones. Disturbed, they leaned and relaxed with the incoming tide, the gait of a rocking chair.
“Where is it?” the man asks me. He’s young, red weals pocking his face beneath the recent stubble of a shave. His badge reads: Clearwater PD. Grey gulls helix overhead, having spotted an easy kill in the parking lot.
I point toward its location, near a lone buoy. Two teen girls volley a beach ball feet away from where I suspect the bones rest. He whistles sharply, calls them in. They chase each other out of the water, laughing, an imagined shark at their heels.
“You sure it was a person’s?” I can tell he doesn’t think I’m sure.
“I think so,” I say.
In the hospital, I saw X-rays of my mother’s chest, the ghostly silhouette of her thinning ribs, a phantom mist on the right side. This, the doctor told us, is your cancer.
“So you’re not sure,” he says. His radio clicks with static. “Divers are on their way.”
He retires to his idling car, and I walk toward the shoreline. That he’s let me wander assuages my fear I might be suspect in some unknown murder, one of those killers hopelessly entwined with their victims. I remain on the beach partly out of a sense of obligation for having located the bones, but also because I want to see them found, lifted, bagged, gone.
Sitting on the sand, facing the sky as it darkens like a swelling bruise, it occurs to me for the first time that beneath the waves there may be other parts: elbows, femurs, submerged spines and patella. They have to be out there, somewhere. On other beaches, in other countries. Every day things like this must turn up. I begin thinking about where my mother’s body will one day rest, where she will be present and unseen. I make an impression with my palm in the sand. Its shape is quickly lost to the wind.