It all starts with the sea. Byron knows this from the bright illustrations in his thick cardboard books of prehistoric lizards, cutting through tides and baring their endless arrays of teeth. But Mother, who leaves at half past six every morning to go work at the museum, tells him it all started even before the Earth served as a massive swimming pool. After the sun leaves and the frogs start singing, she opens the windows, welcoming the balmy night air, and sits on the Stegosaurus on Byron’s blanket (he always bunches the Plesiosaurus’ long neck in his tiny arms; it’s his favorite). Here Byron lets the picture books and giant sea creatures pile by the foot of his bed and listens to his mother transport him away to a different kind of sea: the primal soup of the universe, the twinkling shells above them, and, even bigger than the fish in his books, the planets, each with their own long gone seas and serpents and stories--imagine that! These nights are Byron’s favorite: he dreams of giant frogs gliding through lime green bedrock, of swimming out past the Mulberry trees and into the night sky alongside giant plenary creatures, all scales and fins and gills.
But today Byron is very much anchored. He is at Chariot State Beach with his mother, father, and sister Margaret. It is the kind of overcast East Coast day that can’t make up its mind if it is spring or summer. It is the kind of day that isn’t nice enough to really justifying taking off work, but could well serve as the placard for a fun (if not frosty) Sunday afternoon. There are no rows and rows of umbrellas lining the grey sand like peppermint candies, and no scent of the bacon-wrapped hot dogs Byron’s father always bought four of from the old Mexican ladies. There is only their family’s grey SUV, with the left back door that required a bit more effort than others to close, and the roar of waves against everything else in the world.
“Do you two think you can help me catch tonight’s dinner?” asks Byron’s father as he carefully maneuvers four fishing poles outside the car trunk. Byron nods as he hops off the car, a dinosaur book in hand. From past trips he’s learned that fishing is mostly waiting for his dad, and he’s already tried chasing away seagulls and putting his fingers close enough to his face to see if they turn into a delicious hotdog, so today, Byron is very proud he brought a book like his mother usually does.
Maggie, on the other hand, spits a “Nah Dad, fishing’s boring!” and runs off towards the water with a red shovel and yellow bucket in her red and yellow dress, kicking up a stream of sand behind her. Byron watches his mother sigh, remove her shoes, and slowly follow Margaret.
“Dad, I thought you said it was too cold to go into the water today! How come sis can, huh? I’m a better swimmer!” asks Byron, fingers turning white as he clutches his dinosaur book.
“She’s not going to, Byron,” his dad steadily replies as the SUV chirps, confirming it has been locked. “Your mom’s gonna bring her back over soon. I think she’s just a bit jealous that you managed to reel in that big Sunfish last week.”
Byron grins from tooth to tooth. That fish was as big as his head! Dad had put it in a soup with onions and potatoes afterwards, and the smell warmed up their whole apartment. “Yeah! That soup was delicious! I felt like a Plesiosaurus!”
Byron’s dad chuckles. “Let’s try to catch one just as big today, okay?”
By the time their first catch finds its way into their family cooler, their mother has brought out their jackets and Byron has already read his dinosaur book twice. “The Triceratops has three horns. The Stegosaurus has the smallest brain of all land dinosaurs,” he mutters, eyes squeezed in an attempt to entrap these creatures in his brain.
But a “Byron, don’t you ever do anything fun?” interrupts his memorization. Byron opens his eyes to see Margaret prancing around the pier, swinging her bucket around. “Dinosaurs are dead! Who cares? Look at all the crabs I found!” She proudly holds the yellow bucket in front of her, and Byron notices the backs of tiny crabs buried in the sand, like shy silver bottle caps.
“I think they’re very nice, Margaret,” interjects their mom, setting down her own book on her chair. Byron’s chest feels strangely heavy until his mom adds, “But I think dinosaurs are quite important, even if they are dead. Most of my work involves looking into a telescope at a world that has happened ten years in the past.”
“I’m nine!” chimes Margaret. “Does this mean you’re seeing a world that happened before I was born?”
“Yes, exactly! And the world of dinosaurs--which Byron is experiencing through his books--is no different.”
“But if I wasn’t born yet, why should it matter to me?” Margaret frowns and digs her hands into the bucket of crabs.
Their mom pauses. “Take a look at that pelican over there,” she motions to indeed a pelican over there, ruffled up on a pier post. “With the exception of magpies and other members of the corvid family, like crows, no birds show signs of self-awareness. If this pelican saw itself in a mirror, it would think it’s looking at another pelican.”
“I don’t understand how this deals with me,” says Margaret, but she would very soon know. The great pelican unfolds its wings and, like the Great Red Dragon, dives in one extravagant swoop towards the Girl Clothed in the Sun--the unassuming Margaret, with the crabs she so proudly collected an hour ago crawling through her fingers, nails stuffed to the brim with soft sand once the stars and now recycled by the sea, finite body and brain only now grappling the beginning of being--the great pelican opens its big beak and swallows Margaret and her bucket of crabs.
The pelican flies forty meters east and dives into the sea. Surprisingly, there are no screams. There is only Margaret’s red shovel and the grey SUV in the parking lot.