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Image by Ta Z


Living Fossils

          I hope my bones are okay, I thought as I rowed past the museum. Even though I wasn’t allowed to keep them, I felt a proprietary affection for them, like a parent for their kid’s baby teeth. These weren’t teeth, but the rib and femur of a young adult male Homo erectus from Java. I’d published an article about him and had a whole photo album dedicated to the excavation, my first ever. He was a long-lost grandfather and first-born son to me. I showed him off more than I did my newborn niece.

          I was just wondering if he’d been a strong swimmer when I hit a bump. I peered into the water, thinking I’d hit a bike ramp or something. A shadow, barely perceptible under the murky surface, slithered down the length of my boat, jostling me a little. Apparently not content to go on its way without a last word, it spun back around. Two yellow eyes peeped out of the water, and a long, dark, shiny snout opened in a wide, irritated, toothy grin.

          I blinked, dumbstruck.

          What was the etiquette for crocodile encounters? We don’t have them in Canada, as the climate is unsuitable, but this one did not seem to know or care. He waited expectantly.

          “‘Scuse me,” I said.

          He hissed a grouchy, begrudging pardon, snapped shut his jaws, and disappeared. I didn’t even have time to be scared.

          Later, when the flood receded and cleanup got underway, I read that a ten-foot crocodile had escaped the zoo and washed up into the museum’s crocodile exhibit. He’d been surveying the trace fossils, calm as any human tourist, probably looking for a family resemblance. I imagined him holding his forefoot up to the giant claw prints or grinning into the glass case of teeth. Would he talk his friends to death about it like I did? Try to instill in them a connection with their ancient relatives? A colleague of mine had found a crocodile tooth at the dig. A predator, I’d thought, and dismissed it. Now I wondered what her specimen and mine would have felt about one day working together as museum pieces.

          I’d always preferred primates, but maybe it was time to consider the crocodiles. Tomorrow, I'll go to the zoo and pay my new friend a visit. His experience, I think, will mark him out. We’ll recognize each other and I’ll be able to read my questions in his face.

Ina Briar is an aspiring writer living in Canada. Her work has appeared in Microfiction Monday Magazine.

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