Condiments surround the perimeter of the arena: mason jars full of sweet relish and sauerkraut, flanked by bottles of tomato ketchup, honey mustard, hickory smoke barbecue sauce. The dinosaurs have come prepared for a feast. We size them up, place bets and scribble numbers in black ledgers. The two Tyrannosaurs are approximately the same height and build, evenly matched. Both sets of arms equally puny. Each swipes at the air in futile fury to hold the other one back. Their foreheads drip sweat. We egg them on, in awe of their healthy appetites. Happy to witness, for once, two creatures who don’t stand naked in front of a mirror every morning hoping that the fat will shrink away, counting calories at the breakfast table, making empty bargains with a bathroom scale that can promise us nothing.
“People are strange creatures,” she once told him. “If you look into their navels the right way, you can see their mothers.” An outrageous claim, but very soon he began to believe it was true. When he awoke the morning after, the bedsheets had been kicked to the floor: the aftermath of fingerprints on his exposed stomach. Over breakfast, between mouthfuls of scrambled eggs and overcooked hash browns, she had endless stories to tell.
Easter had not yet arrived when she abandoned him and their two-year-old son. He sat at the kitchen table well before sunrise and punctured eggshells with the wrong end of a spoon, whisked the raw yolk in a shallow mixing bowl. He didn’t answer the door when the bell rang, only looked out the fisheye lens and muttered peephole like a curse underneath his breath.
Peephole peephole peephole people peephole people people people…
Over and over, he repeated the word until it began to sound rather familiar, rather like another.
Years later, his son’s school compositions hung secured by a magnet on the refrigerator door, the only flaw a single, incorrect spelling. He didn’t know where to begin explaining that the o inside was silent: a dark hole that appeared in the road ahead without warning. How easy it was to fall in! To surrender to the temptation of a periscope’s lens, the promise of catching a glimpse of something other.
After that, he found himself hovering by the small boy’s bedside at night. People were gateways to the past, he concluded, closing one eye and looking in with the other. Our bodies, like seashells, a container for the uncontainable ocean.
A father stands inside the observation room of a maternity ward, waiting. He thinks:
If only our skin operated like a glass display case—transparent in a way that allowed us to peer inside one another, at once able to comprehend the intricacy of our innermost workings. If only we could see our organs arranged within like trophies on a shelf. Then we would always be privy to witness their beauty, as well as their inevitable, impending failures. We could find weakness and strength in torn cartilage and atrophied musculature. We could watch as a heart struggled to find its last beat. Catch a glimpse of the fetus before it emerged into the world.
And that glass enclosure would refract light—as glass does—reflecting a picture of the surrounding landscape off its surface so that we might sometimes be confronted by the mirrored image of ourselves, our own facial features, our own transparent display case of a body. A showcase of our most prized possessions, on exhibit for all the world to see. These filthy city streets transformed into history museums and art galleries, or backlit jewelry counters at high-end boutiques: intersections teeming with people, warm bodies safe-guarding their precious, transplanted stones.
Neonatal wristbands decorate our forearms like bracelets. Here I am, they proclaim, look closely at what you see because this is who I am, deep down, when that jacket unzips and that shirt comes off, when I unbuckle my belt and the velvet curtain parts. See this brain? This is how I perceive. See these lungs? This is how I receive. See this heart? This is how I leave, this is how I love, this is how I live. And with a simple incision—a simple exchange—this is how you will one day keep living, too.
just received her MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts, where she spent her days photographing toy dinosaurs and eating free pie. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Gold Line Press chapbook competition, and an excerpt was included in the Curbside Splendor anthology The Way We Sleep. Her short fiction recently appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review and Ghost Town.