The Topic At Hand: Lost and Found

I am smoking a cigarette when She tells me about Tiktaalik. She is miles away but her voice is urgent in my ear, tinny through the miniscule speaker in my cellular phone.

“Tika-what?” I ask.

“Tik-taa-lik,” She says, annunciating as precisely as she can through several hundred miles of distance between us and about as much static.

I can almost feel Her next to me, Her hand in mine, Her breath in my ear. I am trying to win her and it is unclear if I will. This moment, me on my fire escape wishing to kiss her and Her in her studio apartment wishing for I-don’t-know-what, feels particularly precarious.

I take a drag of my cigarette. Actually, it’s a Djarum vanilla, because it is college and I am attempting, for the first and only time, to become a smoker. It is high time, in my estimation, that I begin to acquire skills that “normal” people seem to possess innately, and smoking is one that I have set my sights on. My efforts will ultimately prove to be futile, thank god.

But I don’t know this yet.

I try to hide my nervousness and my scattered breath. She hates it when I smoke, which gives me a spark of hope. At least She cares.

“What the hell is Tiktaalik?”

“It’s a fish,” She says. “Well, a prehistoric fish, with legs. They’ve just written an article about it.”

“Oh,” I say.

“A researcher found the fossils a couple of years ago,” She continues. “In Canada. Evidence suggests that it could breathe both underwater and on land. They think it’s a new link in the biological chain of evolution. A pretty big deal.”

The cold Boston air sweeps around me, but I lie back against the grating of the fire escape and look up into the dark sky. The buildings on Beacon Hill surround it, shadows against the artificial light of the T station and Mass General Hospital not far away, creating a tableau that is mine and mine alone.

The news of the discovered fish and the novelty of the fact that she is talking to me compound, and I wonder if my Tiktaalik-ian brothers and sisters had the capacity for this distinct feeling of aliveness in their tiny, proto-reptilian hearts. Did they, too, beat with a dual fear and hope for their ultimately lost future? Could they possibly have known that they would lie dormant and undiscovered for millions of years, only to complete a cycle for a race of beings they never could have known? Will we? Will I?

I have clearly paused too long, because She asks me if I’ve heard what She’s said.

“Of course,” I tell Her. “Of course I did.”

tiktaalik

It is years before I think, again, of Tiktaalik.

She and my fire escape have faded, almost all at once, into the past, along with the vapors of my long since discarded, failed smoking habit. All the way across my limited universe, three thousand miles from home, I sit with my hand resting lazily on the knee of The Woman Who Will Become My Partner.

But I don’t know this yet, either.

“Trip out on this,” Pete says.

All of us are sitting in his apartment, engulfed in a hazy shadow of gray smoke.

Pete is in the process of lighting a Marlboro Red, so his words come out with an unintentional lisp, one that muffles his words.

“Trip out on this,” he repeats, somewhat more clearly.

His eyes are gleaming in the florescent light from overhead, and he drags on his cigarette for emphasis.

“You won’t believe what Samantha told me today.”

Collectively, we roll our eyes. Samantha is his current fling, his flavor of the week. In the one meal we have all shared with her, we have learned that she is not the brightest crayon, to put it lightly.

“Come on, Pete,” his brother, Patrick, says, wandering out of the kitchen. “What are you doing with that woman?”

Patrick waves his spatula for emphasis.

“Quiet, fool,” says Pete, angling his beer bottle at Patrick.

Patrick shakes his head, mouth twitching under his moustache in disgust, and returns to the stove.

“So,” Pete continues, “We’re talking the other day, and it comes up that she believes that she was, in her past life, the first woman to walk the earth.”

He lets this sink in.

“Are you serious?” The Woman Who Will Become My Partner asks. “Details?”

“She thinks she crawled out of the ooze with the crustaceans. All Adam and Eve and nonsense like that. She says she remembers being in the water and watching the sun rise over her head.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I tell him.

“Yeah,” echoes The Woman Who Will Become My Partner. “She’s whacked.”

As we laugh and question the woman’s sanity, I pause, imagining Samantha, with her dull, wide-set eyes, stumbling from the ocean amidst a gaggle of giant crabs, psychedelic rays of light and color illuminating her round shoulders. After ten years of acid, it’s her own private acid trip, this vision, in tune with the thousands she’s already taken, the ones that have no doubt eaten holes in her brain like Swiss cheese. It truly seems crazy.

Then I remember the cold, the vanilla cigarettes, the phone, Her, and Tiktaalik, that damned fish, fated to be covered over in silt and sediment.
Does Samantha, I wonder to myself, dream about a fish with legs wandering its poor way along the sand, inexplicably doomed to an extinction that it cannot have predicted? Does she reach for its scaly back, tweak its toes, run her hand across the bumps of its spine? Does she ask herself how long it will take them to discover her?

Pete reaches across me for another beer. The Woman Who Will Become My Partner brushes the back of my hand and the thoughts fall away, with them Samantha, the fish, the fire escape, and Her. Laughing, I catch The Woman Who Will Become My Partner’s fingers, and am catapulted back into the present, into what I myself have unearthed after eons and eons and eons of waiting under rock: My own whirlwind, topsy-turvy, and ultimately hopeful future.

——

The image was created by the author, using materials from works by caccamo, kevinzim, patrick kiteley, and Jared Hawkins.

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    • Saul

      Among all the things I like about this, I'm impressed by the way you manage to make the unfortunate Samantha into a figure of some depth and nobility even while thickening her silliness.

    The Author

    Rosa Jurjevics

    rjurjevics
    Rosa Jurjevics is, among other things, a freelance writer and filmmaker. When not doodling on napkins, she divides her time between animating, meeting deadlines, and spending hours wrangling computer files. Her written work has been featured in the San Diego Reader, Bitch Magazine, Real Simple and Buzzine.

    Rosa currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. She can be reached via email at rosajurjevics [at] gmail [dot] com.

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