Beneath the Floorboards (There Are Bones)
Julia Dixon Evans

Our house is on the side of a mountain, between the desert and the ocean, alone. Daniel has lived here before, as a child, but I’ve only lived here my entire life with him, two years, and sometimes I feel like I was nobody before him and sometimes I feel like I was everything before him and it’s all at the bottom of this mountain.

“You’re mine, Grace,” he says to me. “I love you more than life.”


Daniel doesn’t know about this place, beneath the floorboards of the gardening shed at the end of our property. He never comes in here because he never has enough time to work on our garden anyway. That’s my job. The food.

It’s dark down here, but vast. An entire dwelling. I keep my things here. There’s room for everything, there’s room for me.


“Let’s drink wine tonight,” he says.

“To us,” I say.

“To us.”

“I want a child,” he says.

I pour a fresh glass.

“I’m not sure,” I say.

“You’ll be a beautiful mother,” he says.

“I can’t,” I say.

“Give me your glass,” he says. “Come here.”

“I can’t,” I say. “I won’t survive it.”

The fireplace is the only light in here. We have a generator but most nights we do not use it. Most nights I want the day to end as soon as the sun goes down.

“You can survive anything if you put your mind to it,” he says. “And I’m here. You can survive anything with me by your side.”

I smile, I close my eyes.

“I won’t,” I don’t say.


He’s rough tonight.

“Daniel,” I say between my teeth, between the pain, my face pressed down against the pillow. “Daniel.”

“My love,” he says, and he curls his fingers deeper into the hollows inside of my hipbones. “My love.”

I spread my arms wide and lift my toes off the bed, my entire body supported by just my knees and my face. I splay out each finger and maybe they’re feathers and these arms are my wings and I want to take flight but then he slows down and fucks deeper and my fingers snap into fists. I twist the sheets, and they’re bones, they’re skulls, they’re tiny animals and I crush and crush and crush.


There’s blood mixed into his semen when it falls out of me.


It’s dark, though I am very good at seeing out here in the dark, and he has fallen asleep after laying with me. His breathing is strong and steady, a heartbeat slowed down, the heartbeat of this house, the heartbeat of where I live. This is the time I have.

My vision is good for this, quick and twitchy. Even with just a partial moon, waning, it only takes a single glimmer on a tiny eyeball, and I find one. I’ll take anything. But here, on a mountain between the desert and the sea, it’s mostly rodents and lizards.

I catch it with one hand.


At the end of our property, beneath the floorboards, in the shed, I imagine I can still hear him breathing, the heartbeat of my safety. All my work is to that soundtrack, slow and intent, slow and steady, slow and safe. As long as he sleeps, I have this.

It was a rat. So tiny. I’m almost out of both peroxide and my bone powder so it’s for the best until I can get to the city. I only have enough for a tiny creature. And the smaller bones are so good to work with, they can do so much. There are so many places I can put them.

I spread the rat on some newspaper, on the ground, but it doesn’t lie flat on account of the way I twisted its neck.

“Were you ever a mother?” I ask it.

I cut through the belly first, peeling back everything I can with my knife and my bloodied fingertips. I don’t care how the flesh ends up looking. I don’t care what the pelt looks like. I have no use for those things. They’re impermanent. I only want the bones.

Before we lived in the wilderness, we would come here for fun, for an escape, with rusty but sturdy equipment from when Daniel was a Boy Scout. And now I use it all beneath a vast night sky, beneath the floorboards, alone. Gas lanterns and candles, an old propane stove.

I heat some water and add the peroxide, and then each bone, each tiny bone, except the skull. I’m not done with the skull. My hands are smudged with the insides of this creature and dried clumps of flesh are wedged beneath my fingernails, making tiny pinkish-brown crescent shapes at the end of the nail. I think it almost looks pretty.

I’m suddenly intensely tired and fluid still leaks down my legs and I can’t fathom picking the eyeballs out of this skull and trying to get it clean enough for the peroxide to work. I turn off the stove and climb out, my left hand cradling the furless rat skull with its eyeballs still in place, and in my right hand, a cracked terra cotta flower pot. I tread beyond our property just a little, barefoot. There was a wildfire here ten years ago so the trees are not yet thick again but the epiphytes are, the undergrowth, the second-place stuff that gets to grow when the trees aren’t in their way, stealing the sunshine and stealing the soil. I find a spot, not too far, twenty paces from the shed, with thick underbrush, and set the skull down. I stand up and stare at it for a moment and feel noble.

“Thank you,” I say.

I cover the skull with the flower pot. It has enough holes to let air, bacteria, and beetles in, but should keep the skull safe from other foragers. Other animals like me.

I lie down next to the flowerpot and when I wake, the sun is high.


“You been out gardening?” Daniel asks when I come in. I look at my fingernails, the pinkish brown crescents of animal flesh. I look at my feet. The dust from the soil is streaked with the tracks of the liquid from between my legs, our mingled insides.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Breakfast?” he asks.

“In a minute.”

“The shower isn’t working,” he calls out to me as I leave the room.

In the bath the filth comes out of my fingernails in pieces, and they float in the water, next to me, little crescents.

At breakfast, he is kind.

“I love you more than anything,” he says.

“I know,” I say. I need more than anything to be back beneath the floorboards. I was too busy last night to build, to create, and I feel anxious. I can’t function, with him so kind like this.

“I think,” I say, “I’d like to go for a walk today.”

“Okay,” he says. “Enjoy. I’ll be in the city all day.”

“Can you get peroxide?”

“You use so much of that.”

“Yeah, for the laundry. For the cleaning. It’s so dirty here,” I say, more of a protest than I wanted. “Also get some of the biological washing powder. That’s good too.”


I do not go for a walk. I go beneath the floorboards, before Daniel even leaves the house. It’s dangerous but I’m feeling dangerous. I’m feeling unhinged and unsafe.

I turn the stove back on because the rat’s peroxide-water has cooled too much since the night, but then I want to be done with this part of it. The prep is my least favorite. The prep is just necessary.

I’ve hung sheets as dividers in this room, this vast underbelly of our space up here on the side of the mountain between the desert and the sea. The sheets are the walls, the doors, and I feel a thrill each time I pull them aside just enough to step through.

I close my eyes and sink into myself, just for a moment. I’m happy here.

I sit on my knees on the floor, next to the pile of small bones. I have so many prepped and ready but I know I can’t let myself run out. I need to always find new animals. If I run out, everything will be too much.

Sometimes I tie them in place with thin twine, and sometimes I glue them. If they’re properly clean, dry, and tiny, even just the smallest amount of glue will stick two bones together. Sometimes the shapes I build are dictated by the types of bones and that’s fine, I can adapt, I can make something out of whatever is dealt to me.

Right now I am building a castle.


“You seem happy, Grace,” he says at dinner. We eat greens and potatoes.

I smile.

“You must have had a nice walk.”

He watches me, and on the lenses of his plastic-rimmed glasses, I see the flicker of the candles between us, flames overlaying his eyelashes. His nose is straight and pointed, delicate. His eyebrows are smooth and thick. His face is stubbled, kind. I see nothing in his face but kindness and flames. I see nothing.

“Yes,” I say. “I walked for hours.” The lie feels good and important.


I wake up in my bed, with Daniel’s hand flat between my legs, pressing and rubbing.

“Why don’t you ever wake me up?” he asks. “You know, like this?”

I turn to him and his hand twists away from me.

“I’m tired,” I say. “I was sleeping well.”

“I need you,” he says.

He crawls down my body and pushes my night dress up above my breasts. He puts his open mouth over my underwear and holds it there, his breath hot and wet, until the cotton is soaked, and I think about how I’d like that, the feel of his mouth on me, and it’d be okay, but he stops. He pulls my underwear off and with no preamble he is inside me, insistent. I grab at the sheets, I think of tiny bones, thankful to be on my back.

Concentrate, I tell myself. Concentrate on how it feels. It feels good. It’s nice to feel something solid inside me. It’s nice to feel it move. It’s nice to feel swollen and filled. But that’s all I can come up with and then I just turn my head to the side and shut my eyes, tight, and I can almost picture it, my castle, thousands of bones by now, and they’re shaped into rooms, even shaped into minuscule furniture (those were the tiniest bones, the metatarsals of the tiniest creatures), and I pretend I’m small, I pretend I live in a castle made of animal bones and I’m lying down on a tiny bed, a bed made of bones. The bones are sharp on my back, scratching and drawing blood as I get fucked, and right then my eyes snap open as my body trembles, insane, intense, both hot and cold. I cry out. I gasp for air. It lasts a whole minute and then I sink.

He comes too. He’s always so quiet even though nobody can hear us here. Nobody can ever hear me here.


It’s warm today, in the sun. I lie on my side on the grass by the shed, my head resting on my outstretched arm. I come from the beach, and this is when I feel the most at home: the flattest I can get myself against the earth, I can sneak beneath the breeze, beneath the chill. If I close my eyes, maybe the grass will be hot sand. But I am watching for movement. Watching for animals. I am laziness and calm incarnate and a squirrel thinks so too, approaching me as if I would not kill it with my bare hands.

Its head twitches from side-to-side, standing tall on its hind legs, front paws held close together in a nervous rodent version of prayer, looking strangely human. I move slowly, not from strategy but from curiosity. But from the remnants of my lazy rest in the grass. I sit up, inch-by-inch, and drag my fingertips out, across the grass, not entirely expecting this creature, sciurus griseus, to act like a cat and approach me, but ready for it nonetheless.

I’m rewarded. My movements are no longer lazy or curious, but mechanical and swift. I am not a lethargic, lonely woman. I am not wasting my days in longing up here on the mountain. I am not so trapped I do not even know what is trapping me. I’m swift.

It scratches my wrists, my thumbs, but I don’t let it bite. Biting is death. I leap up to my feet, for better leverage, my toes bare in the warm grass, the gauzy cotton from my dress flicking at my ankles from the maneuver, and, with both hands buried in wiry, plush fur, I twist.

It’s quiet, the noise the bones make breaking. I imagine it sounds much louder inside the squirrel’s head.

The things that kill me are always only loud to me.


It’s been three months since I hid the rat skull beneath the flowerpot. It should be ready. Beneath the floorboards, I have the grey squirrel in three pots, simmering, biological washing powder this time. Behind the sheets, beneath the floorboards, my castle is almost finished. Sometimes when the bones don’t fit I use them to make other structures, other dwellings, and maybe one day I’ll have a whole kingdom.

I lie down on the floor next to the pots of squirrel bones and smile. I feel only peace. I do not think.


The jagged ways I sleep can catch up to me. I sleep just hours at a time because I need to be able to come here in the night, in the dark, while Daniel sleeps. It’s the best time for it, it’s the best time for me. But sometimes I sleep too long and sometimes I sleep in the wrong places and sometimes I sleep at the wrong times.

I wake to the smell of hot chemical. Two of the squirrel pots have boiled nearly dry, a thin and freakish crust of powder settling onto the bones. It hurts a little to breathe but I quickly put more water in each pot and turn the burners off. I need to get out of here but my fingers twitch to build. I want to finish my castle. It’s hard to climb out from beneath the floorboards when I feel like this.

Twenty paces. The flowerpot is still there. I squat close to the pot and the air smells clean. I was expecting that earthy smell at the end of decomposition, sweet and terrible at the same time. The brush has grown thick around it but I can pry it away. I lift the flowerpot and the skull is gone.


It’s Daniel and I’m only twenty paces from the gardening shed. Twenty paces from the open floorboards, from the smell of hot chemicals, the smell of someone neglecting her work. Twenty paces from the bones, from the castle, from my home, my safety, from everything I pretend. My hair is tangled, dirty, matted against my scalp and my dress smells a little like sweat, chemicals, and rose oil, a nearly-gone reminder of a wife on a mountain between the desert and the sea who wears long dresses and rose oil.

He’s looking at the shed.

“Everything is fine,” I say.

“What are you doing?”

“Working on the garden. I’ll come in the house later, after I clean up.”

He stares at me, and he stares at the shed, and the floorboards are completely pulled up. He has to see.

His eyes are wild and they are not entirely kind anymore but I am not entirely afraid because here is a truth unspoken between us: if he upsets me, he probably thinks I might leave, and he needs me more than he needs to upset me. But I am afraid of sharing my place here, of letting him see what I do. I’m afraid of what I will feel when it is no longer just mine.

I think about the child he wants me to bear, the mother he wants me to be, and I’ve never felt so hollow. I’ve never felt so inhospitable. I just want to be beneath the floorboards. I am tiny, as small as I feel, small enough to live inside my castle made of bones.

“Okay,” he says.

I finally wonder who fears the other more.

But I do not clean up and I do not come into the house. I go into the shed, and I go beneath the floorboards, and I pull them closed above me, and I do not come out and he does not come to check on me and I do not know how long I am down here. I do not want to emerge until I finish the castle, until every bone of every animal I’ve ever killed has been carefully stuck into its place, even the squirrel, too new, too dirty still, too wet to glue, so I have to tie everything tight with twine and embroidery thread. Those bones will smell foul one day, soon. I stand back, and I’m tired and I haven’t eaten much of anything in so long, just the tender leaves of whatever seedlings I have down here, just the boiled bits of squirrel that fell off in the boiling pot and I feel sick from their washing powder marinade. Sometimes I wake up on the floor and wonder if I’ve been sleeping or if I was just unconscious. How long am I in here? How long has he known about this?

It all sneaks up on me, when it is finished, when every bone is in place. I inhale, sharply, surprised. It fills the entire vast room beneath the floor. There’ll be no room for anything else now, no room for more bones, hardly even any room for me, and the shadows the bones and the gas lanterns cast on the walls are almost as intricate as the filigree castle walls themselves.

A castle to last forever, pure and white.

Julia Dixon Evans is a writer in San Diego. Her work can be found in Monkeybicycle, Hobart, Black Candies, Noble/Gas Quarterly, and elsewhere. Find more here, and follow her on Twitter at @juliadixonevans.