“Dinosaur Days” — Giri Viswanathan ’20

When I was younger, I used to walk with beasts. They dwarfed me, heaving across the ground, scales striped and ruby. Sometimes, they roared. The two roared at each other, and occasionally at me, though they mostly ignored me when I was there. When they roared, and fought, and scratched, I scampered up the stairs on fours into my room on the left-hand side of the upstairs landing. The floors vibrated, buzzing with thumping and clawing and primal rage. 

After a few minutes, the front door would creak open and slam shut. One would storm out of the house–I remember seeing his troubled face as he raced into the fading evening light. No matter where he went, he would always return by the next morning, waiting with orange juice and pancakes when I woke up the next morning. Sometimes, he would slide a sugary wafer across the table with a wink.

The staircase squealed as the other paraded toward the dim landing, bellowing as saltwater streamed from her scaled snout. 

The lock clicked on the room across from me. Her groaning behind the door faded into a faint scratching of her forelimbs against the wall. Silence blanketed the house like fog rolling after a summer rain.

On the stair in front of the window, I would perch with Jimmy clutched in the folds of my right palm. For those hours, nobody bothered me. I was all alone, and as I swung down the staircase and skipped across the laminate floor, I felt free. Gripping the edge of the acrylic tables, I glanced around, ensuring that the creatures had left. A family portrait often lay angled on the floor beneath the island; skillets filled with rice and vegetables littered the stovetop.

I climbed onto the surface of the kitchen island. It was the tallest part of the house that I could clamber up, and standing on top of it, my braided hair nearly skimmed the ceiling. Curling my fingers into gnarled claws, I raised my head to the sky and roared softly into the dying light.   

Early on Sunday mornings, I remember that the two dinosaurs–a leathered maiasaura and a high-strung oviraptor–and I would venture through St. James’ park in Westminster. I hugged Jimmy tightly to my pink raincoat, his soft fur stained and his seams beginning to unravel. The two behind me growled softly, and as we walked beneath oak trees glistening with dew and rainfall, their murmurs fell silent before the morning cry of the finches. At this hour, we were accompanied on these strolls by the occasional stray dog; rarely did we encounter anything else.

During one of our Sunday strolls in early August, I felt particularly exhausted. Hard specks clung to my eyes. I rubbed them wearily. Last night, as on the nights earlier that week, I slept lightly. Quiet had blanketed the house, but the stomping and the thumping, the growling and the wailing pierced the thin walls of my bedroom. While they roared, though they left me alone, allowing me to spend the night reading about ancient worlds filled with prehistoric creatures. My latest check-out from the library, an illustrated youth Encyclopedia of Paleontology, perched precariously on the ash nightstand. As I flipped through its pages, my index finger crawled across vivid renderings of the dinosaurs, of the allosaurus, the parasaurolophus, the velociraptor, and the triceratops roaming in the landscape of my imagination. 

Sketched in colored ink, in jungles and woodlands, I traced a maisaura huddled protectively over her nest, one of few species in the Cretacious who passionately loved her children, her eggs, and what they, encased in amniotic fluid, could be. I learned how to identify the allosaurus by the ridge over his eye, just like Jimmy’s, and the protruding spines of the stegosaurus. Rarely could I understand the dense blocks of text, but I remember turning the creased pages, my eyes poring over mysterious creatures in strange lands. By the faint lamplight in the heavy quiet of the house, my eyes burned with exhaustion as I read into the night. 

Now, in the early morning, I began to realize that I should have slept earlier. Though my eyes burned, I held my arms close and raced ahead of the gigantic creatures. Beneath the grey haze of the clouds, leaves drifted from oak trees in muted tones. Painted in red, yellow, orange, and brown, the leaves left splotches of color wherever they landed. They looked the same in my books, too. Behind me, tails swaying as they walked, Maisaura and Oviraptor glanced at the damp asphalt. For the rest of the day, both of them would be gone, though I could not imagine what they did for those long hours. Sometimes, I spent them reading some more; other times, I played with Jimmy or I went to school. These mornings were the only time we spent together, when the roaring, the scratching, and the snarling ceased for a while.

Ahead, a man was tugging on a steel chain, lifting a metallic curtain from his small booth. At this hour on a Sunday morning, I think he was the only other person we saw at St. James’. He stepped into the small enclosure and flipped switches placed inside. “Soft-Serve Ice Cream,” spelled in tungsten lights, glowed above his booth.  We saw him often on these morning adventures, the two dinosaurs and I.

I was tired, and complaining to the two beside me, the sweet texture of ice cream sounded appealing. Maisaura approached him, weary but dignified. He gazed at the dinosaur and cheerfully asked, “how may I help you?,” in a sing-songy voice that sounded as if he belonged inside the television shows I watched. 

Maiasaura grumbled, a deep, guttural groan. She turned to Oviraptor, whose eyes flared in discontent. He howled at Maiasaura, his teeth gnashing; his feathered plumage bright in the morning sun. The asphalt vibrated as Maisaura screeched. The man stood inside his booth, turning dials and peering out at us with his eyebrows furrowed. I didn’t often know what they clashed about, why they screeched and howled and yelped. They never touched each other, though. Oviraptor’s tail would beat against walls and his legs would scrape the ground, but never would he lay a claw on Maiasaura. Their words hurdled above my head, and I didn’t care to piece them together. Every night, as if a ritual, they roared at each other. Yet, they insisted on accompanying me on these Sunday ventures through St. James’ Park, where they would walk together, in silence burdened by thought and exhaustion. 

Oviraptor turned his head towards the gravel adjacent to the walkway. I giggled as he nuzzled my rain cap with his forelimb.

Maiasaura turned back to the man inside the booth. The man smiled and handed her a sugar cone underneath a swirled, airy cream. Maiasaura delicately reached for the cone and placed the ice cream in my palm. 

Would Jimmy like one? 

I didn’t think he could eat. His mouth was sewn shut, after all. Even I knew that.

Sometimes, the two just didn’t make sense. As I licked the swirled side of the cone, I glimpsed Oviraptor out of the corner of my eye. His rough scaling shifted colors slightly depending on how he felt. Ordinarily, I could decipher his body language with relative ease; as he became flustered or sentimental, his scales glowed a deep crimson. 

As he peered at the ice cream and back to Maiasaura and me, though, his head cocked to one side, though, I peered at him with a furrowed brow. I wasn’t sure whether it was my lack of sleep, but I was almost certain that his scales appeared more subdued. The colors cooled, from a vivid red to a richer, burned purple. He squinted at me through gold-specked eyes, but when I met his gaze, he mouthed a toothy grin. I wasn’t quite sure what I found in those eyes, whether it was peace, loneliness, or grief. For a second, the tear ducts flanking the sides of his eyes dilated before rapidly closing. I grinned at him, pretending I didn’t notice.

Maiasaura turned away from the ice cream shop and glanced at the clock ticking inside the small parlor. Her hindlimbs raked the grass behind her. She gestured at me while murmuring to Oviraptor, words flying above my head. I moved towards her, and she nuzzled me between her snout and wrapped her front limbs around me. She gazed once more at the clock and hurriedly left, trotting down an adjacent pathway toward the Business District. 

Oviraptor clutched me in his feathered arms until Maiasaura merged into the crowd of professionals just beginning to leave their homes. Now, with just the two of us, Oviraptor and I continued walking down the tree-lined pathway. He towered above me protectively as we crossed an empty street, my white sandals scraping against the road as I skipped.

As the sun became visible over the treeline, golden light glowed across an empty grass clearing before us. My eyes were still heavy, but the ice cream had given me an unexpected surge of energy. I glanced above my shoulder at the tall man walking beside me.

“Dad, can we play dinosaurs?”

As we stepped onto the moist grass, he sighed and looked toward me. 

“Sure, Luce. Let’s go!”

At school, I loved to play dinosaurs. I loved to spend hours in the library, reading about the different species: their diets, their shapes, their lives in a world so foreign and fantastic. I loved to jump around the playground, flying like a pterosaur or sprinting as fast as I could like an ornithomimus. When I played dinosaur, I became powerful. I felt free.

But everyone else made fun of me when I talked about dinosaurs. I heard whispers and flickers of rumor about me. When they saw me with my books, they began to laugh and point. When I explained to them how oviraptor had been misnamed–that, instead of being an egg-stealing dinosaur, it was actually fiercely protective of its young–they all snorted at me. “If you like dinosaurs so much, why don’t you go marry one?” some shouted. “Dinosaurs are for boys like us, not for girls like you,” others chirped. “It’s okay, sweetie. They’re all dead anyway,” the teachers chimed in.

Alone, with Dad at dawn, nobody else was here to mock us. His expression was weighty, burdened by deep thought. Still, though, his lips curled into a smirk as he exclaimed, “I’m the T-Rex and I’m coming to get you!”

I burst into laughter as I took off across the empty field. Birds fled into the air as I sprinted in loops across the grass, my pursuer close on my tail. His hands were curled and tucked toward his sweatshirt, his claws flickering as his boots thudded across the damp surface. I imagined his tail extended behind him, balancing the dinosaur’s gait as he trotted along the uneven surface. I pumped my arms faster; my legs began to burn. But I had to keep going. Right now, we were dinosaurs, and if I got caught, I would be eaten.

Behind me, the T-Rex was getting closer. In a desperate bid to stay alive, I dropped Jimmy on the grass; I could move faster with less weight, after all. Dad reached his arms wide, roared, and in one swooping motion, picked me up from the ground. Wrapping his arms around me, he spun me in circles above the ground. I was his dinner now, but I couldn’t help from chuckling as we twirled dizzily in the morning haze.

Puffing in exhaustion, Dad set me down and, laughing, stretched out in the middle of the field. I ran over to pick up Jimmy, his eyes crookedly stitched onto thin fabric. Dad called my name. “Lucy,” he shouted, “come over here.”

I found a dry patch next to him, and he placed a hand around my shoulder. I leaned into the soft fabric of his sweatshirt. His breathing was more ragged now, but steady. 

“Lucy, I wanted to tell you something now, so you aren’t scared,” His voice was quiet as he spoke.

“What’s happening, Dad?” The world grew quiet, damp and heavy like a wet towel.

“You know, your Mom and me, I…I don’t know what’s happening” “What do you mean, Dad” “I don’t think it’s working out, Luce. I just can’t deal with her anymore.”

No, no, no. A knot formed in my stomach. My hands shivered in fear.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to see each other as much, Luce.” His nostrils flared and his scales flushed in different hues. He bared his teeth as he spoke to me.

“I’m going to be living somewhere else, Luce. For all of us, I think it’s better that I move out.” His voice became coarser, more garbled, like when I couldn’t understand him or Maiasaura. I blinked, and his tail skimmed the surface of the grass behind him. 

A groan escaped Oviraptor’s throat. He kept murmuring, but the words flew over my head. His scales glowed a rich crimson. 

Later that night, Oviraptor and Maiasaura roared once again. As the house shook, I peeked around a corner to the kitchen, where our family portrait lay shattered underneath the kitchen island. When Oviraptor stomped towards the door, I sprinted up the staircase. With a wink of his eye and a somber smile at me, Oviraptor slammed the door shut behind him. That night, unlike the nights before, he left for a long time. He didn’t come back the next morning.