OBJECT BIOGRAPHIES by Brittany Thomas

OBJECT BIOGRAPHIES by Brittany Thomas

We drove to Dorset to be alone, not to hunt fossils.  

We drove south to sit in silence, to read books by bayed windows, to feed a tiny wood stove pieces of the year. We let ourselves be washed by the shoreline, our sore city spirits cleansed like frail Victorians suffering hysteria. What more can anyone ask of an English October? 

Here the Fossil Wardens beg your help: please take what you find. You see, our fossils make their way out of 66 million years of mud and clay to the Jurassic Coast only to fall on the beach and be re-claimed by the tide.  

Something calls them forward, calls them home to the sea. And here we interrupt them and call it hunting. Once called snakestones, now called souvenirs.  

I took home a palm-sized coiled ammonite, but not one I picked up on the beach. I bought this later, for myself, from the museum gift shop after failing my short stint as a fossil hunter.  

You were better; I complained that the sun was in my eyes at every turn.  

My ammonite is ribbed like a snail and curls deep into herself as though holding her secrets tightly in her core. She’s an ancient sculpture – geologically ancient – pulled out of deep time. And now she lives with me on my bookshelf, poor thing. I almost want to drive back to Dorset and set her free.  

She still smells like salt and sand, like the hundreds of shoals she swam through in her heyday. She was born in a tiny shell which she outgrew by stages, building her new rooms and sealing off old chambers as she went. How nice, to grow in one direction and never haunt your old life. Or how doomed – to carry it on your back forever. The mightiest ammonite laden and lordly as Zeus himself.  

Maybe I hoped there would be answers if we bent close to the sand and stones and spent the afternoon searching for petrified molluscs. Maybe we could exchange shame or sadness or loneliness for something as solid as rock. Part of the beach is taken up by the Victorian rubbish dump where you can find broken glass and buttons and bicycle spokes. The ghosts of other lives, just the suggestion of someone’s hedonism.  

I was good at collecting trash even if I was bad at collecting fossils.  

The woman in the gift shop was kind. The Fossil Wardens polish their ammonites before sale. The gift shop sign says which speaks to you and how do you want to be, later.  

Unpolished, erudite, chosen.  

We take these things home.


Brittany Thomas is a queer writer who was born and raised in upstate New York and currently lives in London. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Identity Theory, Maudlin HouseBullshit Lit, and Fifth Wheel Press’s Come Sail Away anthology. You can find her online @britomatic.

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