Excerpt from Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Breath and Bones

A Novel

by Susann Cokal

Breath and Bones
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 416 pages
    May 2006, 400 pages

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Print Excerpt

She refused to look any closer. She heard the workmen approaching and felt a wave of relief that her duty here would soon be done.   They came in stepping carefully, holding the immense canvas-wrapped picture removed from its crate.

The tall man gestured. "Against that wall. "

"And be gentle," added the blind one.

The workmen propped it up, that artistic behemoth that had vexed her since the day her husband had bought it and proved that although he was willing to raise her to the state of matrimony, he could not shake off the hold of past fascination.

Travel had loosened the canvas wrapping until it now billowed like a sail. The workmen pulled it away to reveal the flat image of a woman, skin startlingly white, hair brilliantly red: an echo of the figure in the tube. Again the widow shuddered, and she looked away for what she thought would be the last time.

But what she saw was hardly more reassuring. The motion of so many feet and limbs had carried over into the cylinder, and the corpse inside was moving:the arms thrashing bonelessly, the hair storming around the eyeless face, and the lips parting as if to tell a story.

Immaculate Heart

She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim . . .

- Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House

Kapitel 1

This was our first glimpse of Denmark. Very flat it looked, just out of water, and no more . . .
- Helen Hunt Jackson, Glimpses of Three Coasts

"Don’t move," he said.

So Famke stifled her cough. She held her breath and tried to stay very, very still while the two frog-green eyes took her in. Up, down, and up again, a pencil tapped out her measure on the page, with a faint sound of scratching as he made refinements here or there.

Famke also had to repress the shivers, for it was cold in the room. She was wearing only the thinnest of summer chemises and was aware that Albert could see everything beneath, right down to the triangle of red below her belly, which was as bright as the hair on her head. She felt exposed, proud and nervous in the way of a girl showing herself naked to a lover for the first time. But this was not the first time, and her companion was not pleased.

"Darling, do try to look alive," he murmured. "And graceful—or do you think nymphs are often hired for work on farms?It is more than positioning the bones, it’s in the spirit, in the hands . . . like this"—he demonstrated— "see, darling, the energy and beauty flowing from my fingertips? You are a good mimic; now mimic me. "

Famke tried to follow these latest instructions without, as he had previously enjoined, actually moving. She knew Albert didn’t mean what he’d said, or not the unkind part of it; he always got grumpy just after starting work. In any event, he had found her on a farm, and she agreed that he had been a rescuer of sorts. So her arms remained in the air, fingers splayed in the sorcerous pose she’d kept this past hour, as the slow winter light changed from blue to gray and the bells of Our Savior’s Church let the housewives know it was safe to step out to the shops.

Or perhaps she couldn’t help moving just a little. Her arms ached and her lungs tickled, and she had to breathe, after all.   All morning she’d been posing with hardly a word or a pause. A little sound broke from her nose.

"The devil!"Albert swore. In a better mood, he might have tossed in another "darling," but for now he knocked his sketchpad to the floor and strode off to stare moodily out the window.

Excerpted from Breath and Bones© Susann Cokal. Published by Unbridled Books. All rights reserved

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