Radioactive Skeleton at the Family Table
Scott Russell Duncan
is senior editor at Somos en escrito Literary Magazine and Press and was editor on the first Chicano sci-fi anthology, El Porvenir, ¡Ya!, which was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. In 2016 his story “How My Hide Got Color” won San Francisco Litquake’s Short Story Contest. His nonfiction piece “Mexican American Psycho is in Your Dreams” won first place in the 2019 Solstice Literary Magazine Annual Literary Contest. He is at work on a collection of short stories called Plurality. His novel, Old California Strikes Back, a mix of the reality of growing up mix-raced and of a fantasy tour of California with the head of Joaquin Murrieta will be published in 2023 through FlowerSong Press.
The family at the table ignored the Radioactive Skeleton and argued about the war no one remembered was happening, who thought their shit didn’t stink, who is going to Hell, who acted white or tried too hard to be brown, and what school some young people need to apply to and no one worried how about long the Radioactive Skeleton had been there or whether he emerged from the chair, the table, the stack of tamales or pot of frijoles, or the family body itself.
He ate silently, burning the cousins next to him.
“I haven’t decided yet!” Esther, left cheek bright red and a clump of hair falling loose already.
“Is anyone going to listen to my news?” David, the artist with a blackened left face and a scream of the sad lead singer on his t-shirt burned into his chest.
The batch of tamales took too long to make and not everyone helped enough. The little ones had already vomited and wanted to go home. The Radioactive Skeleton turned his skull and felt bad.
“I guess no one cares about the war.” Raul, dressed in black. “Or the police murders.”
“Cousin Sarah, married to, you know, the drinker, had passed. Bad heart.” Yolanda slumped back in her chair and stopped moving.
“There’s also twins; they are getting older; they don’t have long out there.”
“Mary, she’s still there in that big house. What will she do?”
“She’s more than a 100.” David, with the news was only a blackened shadow of arms bracketing the nearly finished plate on the table.
“No one is going to talk to him?” Raul tried to point using what was left of his hand.
The Radioactive Skeleton held the empty husk of a tamale.
A phone exploded under the table.
“No texting,” said a voice that seemed to come from the froth puddle that was little Cathy.
“Isabel talks to spirits out there. That will open a gate to Hell.”
“Aren’t spirits everywhere? Don’t we practice speaking to them until we become one?” Esther’s face melted like mascara tears.
“Oh, come on.”
“Maybe,” Grandma Lisa said, dropping the metal pot that was white hot and burning before she fell to the ground herself.
Radioactive sockets watched the family transform into a shadow or a glowing mound.
Plates still full. Voices empty.
The Radioactive Skeleton helped himself to ashes.
At home with the seared outlines.
The table about to crumble.