Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax
{bast and the bonesetter}
        cory bradley

The din of wild cheers from the concert hall escapes from the double doors as Bastian Ives slips into a corridor of gas light and peeling paint. He staggers to the doorway of the dim rehearsal room, his silken shadow stretching across dirty checkered tiles.

The room is empty but for the old bonesetter in the corner, chewing on a cigar and eyeing a newspaper. He raises his head briefly at Basts’s entrance, then turns again to reading.

“How’d ya do?” the bonesetter asks, his words finding their way around the cigar wedged between his yellowed teeth.

Bast limps into the room. “Got my ribs rattled by a dandy drummer.”

The bonesetter folds the paper and sets it aside with a smirk. “Cocky bastard, that one,” he says. “Brass is the future of competitive musicry, I say; takes some skill to manipulate the metals in a man’s body, but tympani? Why, there ain’t no strategy in beating on kettledrums!”

Bast is forced to smile at the comment. “Still hurts like hell.”

The bonesetter snorts. “That it does. Let’s have a look at ya.”

Bast drags his pummeled body to the old man, his face aged by a lifetime of scowling against cigar smoke. The bonesetter helps Bast carefully unhook his suspenders and remove his shirt; if he was surprised by what he saw, the bonesetter didn’t show it.

Bast was once told that at first glance his naked torso appeared to be without skin, an illusion formed by tattoos mimicking the striae of his underlying musculature. These contours, however, merely served as the lines of a stave, decorated with music notes to transform Bast’s upper body into an ever-changing tableau of musical notation.

“Nice bit of artwork ya got here,” the bonesetter says in an exhalation of smoke as he crosses the smoldering cigar to the other side of his mouth.

Bast grunts and winces at the old man’s prodding fingers, meticulously examining Basts’s ribcage with deft fingertips.

“Not your first performance, I see,” the bonesetter says. “Years worth of old injuries here.”

Bast nods. One tattoo for every break, crack and fracture fused by The Chamber surgeon.

“Clean work, though,” the bonesetter adds. “Twasn’t no back alley barber that pieced you back together. This is the careful work of a bona fide concert physician. You fight with OPUS?” he asks.

Bast shakes his head.

“Well,” says the bonesetter, turning to retrieve a coil of linen from a glass-fronted medicine cabinet, “good news is that ‘dandy drummer’ bruised yer ribs like so many rotten peaches, but nothin’ broken far as I can tell.”

Not yet, Bast thinks as he raises his arms, allowing the bonesetter to wrap his chest tight.

The night isn’t over yet.