Barry, our museum tour guide, walks us into the exhibit. A large banner over the entrance reads ENTER A BRAVE NEW WORLD OF PREHISTORIC WONDERS. We came here because we feel lost, biologically. We are excited to learn about ourselves. Barry smells like fish.
We follow Barry into a room whose skeletons swallow us. He tells us about discoveries–gravel quarries and clay pits filled with clues and bones and little bodies that scraped around, trying to infuse the pit with life, with moving pictures. “The science has evolved quite extensively since,” he admits. “Though it was something like that.” He gestures to a table thronged by children, where he invites us to dig with our hands and brush grit off of germy plastic. We must look young to him, the way we will look young to all men, for a time. We adjust the straps on our training bras and politely decline, too busy looking around in the giant stomach of this room.
Barry walks us to a wall display and tells us about the Megalosaurus, the ‘great lizard,’ unearthed in England. These bones are incomplete, making a partial set of hips. Before us sits a femur the length of our legs. “He’s got a simple name because he was found first,” says Barry. “They had to get creative eventually. The first discoveries jolted science; they hadn’t expected to find more.” This is all well and good, we agree, but when does it get somewhere? Barry goes on about particulars and etymology. Megalosaurus begins to stomp in our minds. An apex predator confined to Latin and plastic display cases? We smirk at each other.
We continue to follow Barry through rooms. Debates about the supremacy of cold-blooded and warm-blooded life. Fur or feathers. We think about our beach vacation and sunbathing, and how nice it would be to sit on a rock to bake because we had to. We think about where our wings would grow if evolution decided to give them to us. We think about shaving and razors and haircuts and the whole fashion of manipulating the body into approved shapes. We wish our teeth were sharper, stronger.
In the Cretaceous swamp room, Barry wipes his forehead. “Hoo-wee,” he huffs. “Verisimilitude.” He gestures around at the hot and humid air. “This fella here is a type of Hadrosaur known as Barsboldia. He’s one of two creatures named after Rinchen Barsbold. Because of the duck-bill, though, we call him Daffy.” How do you know it’s not a female? we ask. “Well for starters,” he says with a knowing grin, “this here is a replica. Not totally true to size. But they haven’t exactly figured out how to sex the dinos. So this one’s just Daffy.” He slaps the replica again. We nod, noticing the sweat stains under his armpits. Bugs titter over the loudspeakers. We move on.
The artist renderings of dinosaur life in the Hall of Pictures strike us as Renaissance; perfect bodies in motion, perfect bodies that execute perfect kills. “Here,” explains Barry, “we have a Panzercroc who’s succeeded in catching a Dawn Horse. This being the Age of Mammals, it was rare to find such a large cold-blooded creature on the hunt. Even rarer to see a creature of this size hike up onto its hind legs. But if you’ve seen a Jesus Lizard run, you’ll get the idea.” He smiles awkwardly and tilts his head.
When we look at the plastic-glazed picture, we see ourselves superimposed on the predator. Our stomachs burble, and we notice plains all around us. Barry standing so prone there, in the grass, with his stupid jacket and tuna breath. We imagine smelling him from far away, the way his scent would change when he learns to fear us.
We stalk after Barry until we see comets. Explosions. Volcanos. Tar pits. The retreat of the earth into frigid stillness, something stolen. We ask Barry for a bathroom break. It’s all a little too much.
In the bathroom we drop quarters into a tampon dispenser and catch our breath. We splash water on our faces because we’re hot all over. We feel sick and throw up feathers, hollow bones, beaks. It’s like roadkill in the toilet. That’ll never flush, one of us thinks. When did we even eat those? thinks the other. Must be PMS, we agree, hungry again.
“You gals alright in there?” Barry whines from the hallway. We wash our hands and flatten paper towels on our foreheads. We don’t want Barry to see us sweat.