To get to the t-rex, we have to walk past a closed gift shop and a few rusty swings and a merry-go-round. The place is a ghost town, and the only footprints we see are the ones we’ve left behind. I take out a stick of gum and fold it in my mouth. Big Red. I chew loud, and when I hear Jimmy clear his throat like he wants me to shut up some, I chew softer.
We’d been in Dinosaur World for a little over an hour, but already, we’ve managed to see and learn a lot. They had a pterodactyl on a pole, and the strange thing about them is that scientists say they were probably covered with fur. No feathers, they think, just fur. Just a bunch of furry, flying lizards cawing about, looking for fish. And iguanodons, so we learned, had these sharp thumbs they used to attack predators. Also, one of the best specimens came out of a Belgian coal mine back in 1925. We’d learned all kinds of things reading those placards, and while I hummed and made comments like, “I’ll be damned,” and “No kiddin,” Jimmy refused to say anything.
We reach the t-rex and are surprised to find a door on its right leg. It’s propped open, and a wooden arrow points us to the staircase.
“After you,” I say, and we move sideways up the narrow stairs. We climb, positioning our feet sideways, and eventually, reach a small viewing platform out the dinosaur’s mouth. There isn’t a guardrail, just a hollow spot where the teeth are supposed to be. We crouch low to keep from hitting our heads on the roof of his mouth. Jimmy steps on my loose shoelace and says he’s sorry. I bend to tie it, and Jimmy crouches too to get a better view of the park.
Maybe we’re twenty-five feet in the air but it feels closer to fifty. We can see all kinds of concrete beasts around us, and around them, there are dead trees with snowy tops. Icicles drip from claws and eyeballs. I sit down Indian style and lean back against the back of the t-rex’s throat.
“You used to want to dig up dinosaur bones, didn’t ya?” I ask.
“Yeah, a long time ago.”
“Yeah,” I smile. “I remember that. We should have come up here back then. It might have meant more to you then.”
“Well yeah Dad,” he agrees, zipping his coat the final few inches, “this probably would have made more sense when I was seven.”
“I know,” I say, quiet. “You’re right.”
A few minutes go by, and we stare out the mouth, and we see an old woman slip out from a hut with a snow shovel. She begins scraping at the main road where we’ve been walking.
“Some kind of cavewoman?” I ask, and Jimmy chuckles.
“Wasn’t she the one who took our money?”
I look closer and agree that he’s probably right.
I take another piece of gum and offer him one. He takes it.
“So what’s next for you?” I ask. “Big job? Maybe they need some extra hands here at Dinosaur World?”
“Yeah, that’s okay,” he says. A pause. “I don’t know…guess I’ll try to find some work back home.” He looks up at me. “I was thinking I’d probably stay close for awhile.”
“You want to live with me?” I ask. “I can kick Gary out.”
“No, it’s okay.”
We watch the woman shovel the ice. There’s really not much to shovel. I want to tell her to hold off, that she’s wasting her time. At the college, they wouldn’t have us start scraping until three or four inches built up. Otherwise, they said, we were just breaking our backs for nothing.
“Let me get a picture of this,” I say, and I dig in my jean pocket and accidentally flash a picture of my hand. “Okay, well I still have five more.” I tell him to smile, and I press up near the opposite side of the t-rex’s mouth, and then I keep him still in the frame and click. In the background, you can just make out a brontosaurs head.
“That’ll be a good one,” I say, winding the camera.
We look out awhile longer, and then he says, “Funny to think all these dinosaurs are gone now.”
“Well not funny,” he corrects. “Just…like the world traded them in for something else.”
“You think they’re going to have Human World someday?” I joke.
“I don’t know, maybe. But who would go?”
“Hell, I don’t know. Cockroaches are pretty tough. They’ll probably outlast us.”
I figure he’s ready to leave, and he’s done his time, so I try to push myself up against the back wall. He puts a hand on my shoulder and keeps me there.
“You remember when we pulled the plug on Mom?”
I clear my throat. I rub my hands together to warm them.
“Well, yes, I remember saying goodbye to your mother, if that’s what you mean.”
“No, I mean pulling the plug. That day. That day we decided to do it.” I rub my neck.
“Well sure, Jimmy. What do you want me to say?” He turns away and shakes his head.
“I don’t know, nothing. I was just thinking about it.”
Below, the woman keeps scraping, keeps shoveling at the ice. It’s hard to watch, to see the wind nipping at her, to see her hunched and pressing her weight to the handle.
“She wasn’t getting any better, Jimmy,” I explain. “You know that as well as I do. You probably know it better. I didn’t understand half the things that doc told us. Just that it was all no use.”
“It was no use,” he agrees. “You’re right. It was all no use.” He stands and moves down the staircase and I let him go down first. I put my hands to the top of the t-rex’s mouth and peer down. I can see Jimmy step back out onto the grass. He glances up at me.
“You coming down or what?” he calls.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just stay up here awhile.” He shrugs and starts to walk back to the car.
“How high up do you think I am?” He turns once more, tries to judge.
“Thirty feet, maybe.”
“Thirty, huh?” I nod. “That’s probably close.” I take a few small steps forward, then lean out another inch or so, just enough to get that fluttery feeling. Like swimming in cold water.
“Come on, Dad, can we leave now? It’s cold.” The brontosaurs is just to my right. His face is blank and his mouth is painted black.
“Yeah, we can go,” I agree, but I don’t move. “Hey, so what’s your favorite dinosaur anyway?” Jimmy’s got his hands in his pockets and he’s bouncy, trying to keep the blood flowing.
“I don’t know…stegosaurus maybe.”
“Really? And you didn’t want to get that picture with the stegosaurus?”
“Maybe on the way out, Dad. Just come down, okay? Hurry.”
“All right, all right,” I agree.
I stumble down those stairs and smell the cold concrete just inside the t-rex’s right leg. There are a few blank spider webs in the corners. I step back on to the grass and shut the door behind me. It’s painted brown to match the rest of the dinosaur.
“You read what they said about stegosaurs?” I call.
“What’s that?” We both have our hands in our pockets. I finger the camera.
“Says they might’ve had two brains. One in the head and one right before the tail. To control it.”
“Where’d it say that?”
“I don’t know, on that placard, I suppose.” On the way to the car we return to it, and we read the entire card. It doesn’t say a thing about a second brain.
“Well damn it, I picked that up somewhere.”
“Did you see a show on it?”
“That might’ve been it. Gary always keeps the television on to something like that. Maybe I just overheard it.” Jimmy poses beside the stegosaurus.
“How’s this?” he asks. He has his right hand on the beast’s neck and his ankles are crossed. He straightens his body some, then crosses his ankles again.
“Okay, this is good,” he tells me. “Take your picture.” I take my picture. I tell him we can get one-hour developing at the CVS near the house.
We wave to the woman shoveling snow. She waves but doesn’t seem to remember us.
“You want to drive?” I ask, holding out the keys. We are the only car in the lot.
“I don’t know. I can drive if you want me to.”
He thinks it through. “I’ll drive,” he says.
We’re an hour into our trip, and Jimmy’s telling me all about college, and about a few of his history classes which he thought I would have liked. One about Native Americans. Another about World War I. I try to sound interested, but I don’t know much about those things. Just what I’ve picked up over the years. On TV mostly, and from flipping through magazines.
We come to an off-ramp and he says, “Which one is it? This or the next one?” I mull it over.
“The next one,” I say, and it’s only a very short detour.