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(For Amy Rossi)

- 1 -

Breathing is harder now than it was when I set out: every time I stop to cough I bring up a tacky bit of blood. I guess you could say it’s my own fault. Early this morning while the lab was still dark, I surprised some white-coat whose nametag I didn’t have the chance to read—another Canadian, by the look of him—before he swung an elbow against my sternum, nearly crushing my goddamn heart. I’m trying, at the very least, to leave a confusing trail for the bastard, and for every bastard he must’ve gone and woken up. One dark smudge on the tree not ten yards from the Mazda pickup that I left tire-deep in the spongy grass at the edge of the wood, another in the low-hanging leaves to the northwest and southeast, double back for a few more, leave the rest up ahead…

The air is wet and smells like rot. Even my ponytail is dripping with sweat. Apatosaurus (Female) is quiet and compliant despite having never been outside the testing room before. I’m quite proud of her. At a little under four weeks old, she is approximately as tall and as heavy as a full-grown German Shepherd. It is a dog harness, in fact, that I’ve lifted from the shed behind the institution gate to make sure I don’t lose her. What do you think, Matheson, will they use the dogs to track me?  Will they threaten me with lead bullets or stun? I’ve got just one LCP .380 hidden under my windbreaker, safety on, which I took from the guard-post after one too many drinks at the staff party last night. It’s not my aim I’m worried about if that’s what you’re thinking—everything I learned from you I learned well—it’s that I’ve never fired at another person before. In the back of my brain I’ve got this specter of you stretching your legs, tapping on my optic nerves in time to my frantic breathing. Oh, Kid, you’re in over your head. I know it Matheson, I know.

- 2 -

It’s not an easy trek, especially in this condition. Roots draped in moss rise from the mulch. Cloaked arms of Death, all of them—stumble once and I might not feel like getting back up again. Step high. Apatosaurus (Female) takes passing interest in every leaf and branch in our path. I glance down at the roaming eyes on the sides of her head and rip a handkerchief-sized swatch of moss from a nearby limb to tickle her big, square mouth with, holding it in front of her nose like she’s some snotty kid in need of a clean-up. With excruciating sloth, she opens her maw and accepts it. Chews.

I tug, stop, turn, tug. She appears pensive.

What exactly do sauropods think about?

I’d been working out of the nowhereness of the Ginoza-son lab for less than two weeks when I first saw Apatosaurus (Female) twitch in her sleep. Some old stone broke in my chest then, and forgetting the wife you returned to, forgetting the words you’d said to me, I got into that piece-of-junk truck the institute lent me and rushed back to my micro-unit to call you, damning the time difference of all things. She dreams, Matheson! Imagine that. I went so far as to pick up the phone and hold it against my face before remembering it had been three full seasons since my voice was not an intrusion. In this life, an era.

Grey light through trees means close to dawn. Christmas Eve, I realize. It has been a full year now since my transfer to Japan. On another island in the Pacific, half a world away, it is cold enough to be snowing.

Infant apatosauri can run in short little bursts on two feet—you knew this already, of course, because it was you who first told me, holding my wrists, guiding my fingers over the casts of bones you’d excavated: tarsals, metatarsals, phalanges, ungual—but I couldn’t quite believe it before seeing it for myself. When it suits her, she pulls me in her wake and I’m flying: legs clumsy over uneven terrain, free hand pressed against the space between my ribs, willing myself not to trip or cough again. Mostly, though, as now, I’m the one straining ahead and it is her that’s slowing us down. We are so close to water I can smell it over the forest’s decay. This way, I keep telling her, though she makes attempts to wander in every direction but toward me. This way, you murmur with me. This way.

- 3 -

We made some pretty grand hypotheses, Matheson. You have to admit. You intended to make promises when you were able, assuming you were able to bring yourself to leave her. I said I’d follow you wherever the old bones of this earth called you. When we fucked, it was an ancient tooth you spoke of giving me—I don’t wear jewelry—from somewhere far away. Ulaanbaatar, maybe. I don’t remember. You’d bring it back and I’d know I was wearing something that endured. I promised flesh and blood in exchange.

So here I am making good on it, though not in the way I expected.

Pebble beach at last: large sky-colored stones receding into stone-blue water. Inflatable lifeboat beached on the shore like a soft-shelled reptile, equipped with two oars and a non-working motor. Farther out, an old tugboat shrugs in the waves and waits. I look from the lifeboat to the tugboat to Apatosaurus (Female) slack at the end of her leash, lifting one front leg and setting it down again gingerly on the pebbled terrain.

S’matter, Kid? you say in my ear. Can’t stop now. It’s too late. And here I feel you run a finger—ring finger, gold-ringed finger—from the sweaty gulf between my clavicles down to my coccyx, like you’re cutting me open.

That’s the problem with us a species, isn’t it, Matheson? We can’t stop digging up what should stay dead.

I inhale, grip Apatosaurus (Female) under her belly and lift, and together we waddle to the lifeboat. She lifts her head and peers over the rubber sides that cradle her. Bracing my back against the craft, I push my weight against it and it hurtles into the water. Goodbye, solid ground. Apatosaurus (Female) bellows. Despite the bovine face, the knollish body, that long, trusting neck, she has the cast and pitch of a woman on her knees in the bathroom, shoulders squared off to the toilet, cordless phone in hand, God-willing-any-minute-now-he’ll-call-to-take-it-back, phlegmy and incapacitated by grief. In the water I shiver and sweat, cold up to the knees and feverish above them. Blood comes up when I cough again. Step high. Not long, now. Matheson, I’m coming for you. I’m coming home. It will be New Years when I next land on your doorstep. I know: when I knock and you open up, when I smile, when I take a nice, even breath, when I step aside, when I show you what I have to give you, you will—


Cody Klippenstein grew up in Vancouver and lives in New York state, where she recently received her M.F.A from Cornell University. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, The Malahat Review, Joyland, The Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Cornell, and is currently at work on a novel.

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LF #074 © 2015 Cody Klippenstein. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, January 2015.


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minor aberrations
in geologic time

by cody Klippenstein