Gilded Bones by Amanda Gowin, short story book cover artwork

“Gilded Bones” by Amanda Gowin

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Her mother didn’t leave much behind, except a cautionary tale of celluloid dreams. Even so, is she doomed to make the same mistakes?

About the Author
Amanda Gowin is the fiction editor at Menacing Hedge magazine, a columnist at This Is Horror, and author of the collection Radium Girls (Thunderdome Press). Her work has been featured in anthologies and magazines including Gutted: Beautiful Horror and Burnt Tongues. She lives in Appalachia with her husband and son.
Gilded Bones

Flat on my back, legs up, with one foot on either side of a framed photo of a red pomeranian, I can’t help but wonder if it looks as if I’ve birthed a wall of these monsters.

Slick plywood disguised as cedar paneling is cool against blistered heels. It smells of dog and pet stain remover here. There are twelve fox-faced puffballs staring down at me.

The blood’s all in my head from lying half upside down.

Maybe I did splatter these walls with fluff and gnashing teeth and yipping. If not, I certainly was the enabler.

Twelve tiny skeletons are buried in the crawl space beneath the trailer.

I’ve been home too long.

Celeste wanted Hollywood – or Vegas. To her there was no difference. Razzle dazzle and lipstick, high heels and black sunglasses. Round beds occupied by celebrities, sunshine and shrimp platters. Glamour pets and thin legs. Opportunity in every set of male eyes that fell on her neckline.


A life of panning for gold. California doesn’t really change.

The botched suicide disappointed her. She smoked long cigarettes while ghosts with clipboards and stethoscopes floated past the door and waited for her to bleed out – or cough, and end it fast. There had been no blood-splattered walls, no dramatic black and white crime scene photos. No detectives had shaken their heads at the waste of a perfectly fuckable woman caught in harsh flashbulbs, an old photo of the Hollywood First National Building clutched in her left fist.

She got a bullet that couldn’t be moved and a ticking clock.

Turns out, closest the bitch got to the west coast was knocked up in Indiana, nineteen years old stripping at a place called Tammy’s until she started to show, and the manager – most likely my real dad – gave her money for a bus ticket back to Ohio.

The last day she said: You know, the worst thing that can happen somewhere like L.A. is you get cut in half and become a national treasure or mystery or whatever, or some psycho leaves pieces of you in dumpsters or something and tracks animal prints in blood patterns around the drop spots.

Never heard about anything like that, animal prints. I snaked a cigarette from her silver case.

She’d shrugged. Me neither. But it could happen. It could happen to any girl, any day.

Why’d you keep me? The photo lay next to the cigarette case, which lay next to her locket, which lay next to a red rose in a crack pipe vase. It stared at us, an origami elephant. Its real origins were never explained.

Never really thought about it. The money was good and things have a way of working themselves out. You put your worries at the back of your mind and fate handles it. Did you know Hugh Hefner owns the Y in Hollywood?

People shouldn’t talk when they’re dying, even if it takes a week longer than anticipated. The rose and cigarettes had outlasted her.

Fooled by a photo she’d supposedly taken in her year of freedom roaming the beds and couches of Tinsel Town. It was her accent, they’d all told her. They couldn’t hammer the hilljack out of her voice. She’d accepted her fate and pointed her bloated stomach back towards the Appalachian Mountains. My dad was anyone and everyone – an aged Richard Burton or an up-and-coming Brad Pitt.

It was a fairly modest story, as far as tall tales go – and perfectly reasonable to a child.

Moral of the story: nineteen year olds shouldn’t dream.

My legacy is under my arms and head, and behind my elevated legs. Blue shag carpeting above a graveyard of failed auditions, gold-framed photos and celebrity names for their lauded memories.

To burn the trailer to the ground or shrine it. To unpack my bags in her crimson bedroom or put out my thumb as she did. To buy pre-natal vitamins or call planned parenthood.

The twist: Patrick is the name of every boy in every story, the boy that’s nice but overlooked, whose shoulder is always waiting. But Patricks are sly – they never sleep on the couch after the drive home from the wake. They stop at the county liquor store for a bottle of Jack and wait for you to invite them into your cold mother’s room.

Buried in a Roberto Cavalli knock-off, hair like Marlyn Monroe. The wig obscured the damage the bullet did to the back of her left ear.

I told Patrick about running away, about her ultimate dissatisfaction with every dog. So eager and gorgeous, so interchangeable. Little doppelgängers of Celeste. We dragged suitcases of heels from underneath her bed to laugh at their audacity. Stilettos, in this mud. Suede, to wear in a diner.

Some were dusty.

Haven’t you ever wanted to reach through the mirror and strangle your own reflection? I’d asked. He didn’t understand or care. But he had sealed my mother’s lips for good. His clothes didn’t stink of formaldehyde, details like that are celluloid dreams.

Patrick will call, in – a glance at my watch, my arm is lead – approximately nineteen minutes.

Open bags or matches. Truth or lie.

Hollywood or Vegas, they’re both the same from matted carpet on a singlewide’s floor.

A dark spot on the baseboard catches my eye and I hitch – laugh or a croak, it’s hard to say. This is where she intended her outline be drawn.

Celeste’s locket falls, resting just to the left of my collarbone, a glittery ten karat noose. ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ it reads. I mean, of course it does.

Gold is a lie.

I stare at Jack Lallane’s portrait, cocked head, glittering eyes, short attention span. “Gold is a lie.” His collar sparkles.

From the kitchen, the robin’s egg blue phone trills the future and the past into the present. The timing is off.

The photo crunches like tiny bones in my fist.

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