Dinosaur Trail

Fiction, special to the Clarion Content every other Monday.

From Kate Van Dis, read more at The Palmetto Blog here.

photo by Kate Van Dis

photo by Kate Van Dis

Dinosaur Trail

by: Kate Van Dis

Sarah was just twenty-nine years old, and so too young to have an existential crisis. I mean, she hadn’t even had her Jesus year yet, which according to her thirty-three year old brother, was a year to be reckoned with. And yet, when she was jogging the other day – trying to get some exercise because her therapist told her it would help with the panic attacks – she stumbled upon that dinosaur.

She had to stop jogging because something about the sight of it made her want to cry. Maybe it was the washed out color, like a toy that had been left out too long in the rain – the soggy gray-green of elementary school paper mache. Or maybe it was the fact that the dinosaur was all alone at the edge of the forest, standing inside a chain link fence.

Why the fence? Was someone afraid it would escape? Why the dinosaur at all, with its oddly proportioned legs and neck, it’s distended belly? As a child, Sarah had been convinced that there had in fact never been such a thing as dinosaurs and that the archaeologists and paleontologists had somehow gotten it all terribly wrong. It wasn’t a conspiracy theory so much as a steadfast belief in the failure of the systems that governed her, a belief she wasn’t entirely ready to let go of. It seemed entirely possible, didn’t it, that her parents, her teachers and now, her employers, her therapist, even, had all gotten things terribly wrong? This push towards success, this striving to be happy – why did all matter, Sarah wondered, as she climbed over the fence to be closer to the dinosaur, pressing her sweaty back against the its stumpy leg. Why did it matter when they were all supposedly headed for extinction anyhow?

If she asked the dinosaur, who may or may not have existed in the first place, what would its opinion be on the meaning of life? On the continuation of the species? On the persistence of memory? She looked up at its pale face, its reaching neck, the deep sockets of its sky-blanched eyes. Dinosaurs were millions of years old, if you were to believe the textbooks. But this dinosaur right here, this dinosaur made of wire mesh and concrete and plaster, this dinosaur which didn’t resemble any real or not real dinosaur she had ever seen or read about, this dinosaur couldn’t be much older than her own grandfather, who she had visited just last month in his nursing home. He had been stooped over his oatmeal in the rest home’s dining room and Sarah had been sitting next to him, sipping her cup of weak coffee and smiling. Rose, he’d called her, the name of his late wife, her grandmother. And instead of correcting him, she’d plucked a raspberry from a bowl at the center of the table and held it up to him.

What is that? He’d asked.

It’s a raspberry, grandpa, she said. Try it. But when she placed it on his tongue he cringed and reared back like he’d been bitten. He had grown so far from the freshness of life.

Her grandfather had survived the death of a child, two world wars, and a stroke that robbed him of the ability to read or write letters or dial the numbers on a telephone. What had this dinosaur survived, Sarah wondered? Hurricanes, felled trees? Certainly the march of progress. What would she survive, Sarah wondered. What was left in the world for her to lose or to endure, or if she was lucky, to love? The dinosaur didn’t answer, but the trees swelled in the wind, the branches contracting and expanding the way a heart does inside a human chest. And to Sarah, who was still crouching beside the belly of the dinosaur, that seemed like answer enough.


Kate Van Dis

Though Katherine Van Dis is a long time Durhamite, her roots are in Michigan, where much of her fiction takes place. After seventeen years in the Bull City, she thought she would try her hand at fiction set in the south. Palmetto Blog Durham is a project dedicated to the people and places of Durham. Each tiny fiction is paired with and inspired by an original photo taken in the city. Katherine’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review and The Carolina Quarterly. She is currently finishing up a short story manuscript.

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