This essay continues from Part 1, which you can read here.
At some point most evenings I would put down my pen and pull the box of bones towards me. The lid had a small brass hook which fastened to a matching brass eye on the base. I tapped the hook edgeways and, as it fell free of the eye, felt the box give, as if I’d unbuttoned a tight corset. Apart from the foot and the hand, whose bones had been wired together, the bones lay separated and higgledy-piggeldy. I might pick up whatever happened to be lying on the top, a rib perhaps, or the femur. At other times I needed to look more closely at a specific part of the body, and so I would fish around for that particular bone.
The knocking sound of bone on bone and bone on box comes back to me as I recall this. With practice I became good at fishing blind, my eyes on Gray’s Anatomy and one hand in the box, delving. The scapula is like a large empty scallop shell. The humerus and the fibula are long sticks. The humerus is thicker, and knobbled top and bottom. The fibula is more like a giant’s toothpick or knitting needle. A patella sits comfortably in the palm of the hand, and has a satisfying contoured shape, like a large limpet. I noticed, too, the patella’s heft, its stone-like solidity. Most of the rest of the bones in the box didn’t feel this way. They were very light in the hand, almost like holding sticks of chalk. Had they been buried, or cremated, of course, they would be less than chalk by now. They’d be dust. Perhaps beyond dust: loam, clay. Shakespeare has Hamlet imagine Alexander’s bones fully recycled in the earth, becoming clay to stop a bunghole. To what base uses we may return, Horatio.