The Oviraptor and I

Design by Etai Smotrich-Barr

When the oviraptor and I lock eyes, there is no understanding.

I have never been to the deserts of Mongolia, much less during the Late Cretaceous period, so I stumbled climbing the dune to get a better glimpse of her. Grains of sand seep through the mesh of my sneakers and I can feel them prickling under my socks, but it feels irreverent to shake out my shoes when we are appraising each other this way. There is a bead of sweat trickling down my back and if I couldn’t feel it tracing my spine I would have pictured myself as part of a still frame, a biology textbook diagram. Perhaps it’s the assault of the white sun that’s turning my brain two-dimensional, frying my depth perception until all I know is myself and the dinosaur.

Myself and the dinosaur. There is no understanding between us yet she looks me in the eyes as she yawns, curved beak cracking open to reveal tooth-like projections dotting the roof of her mouth. I know what the scientists said about those almost-teeth: that they were perfectly-shaped for bearing down on speckled shells, crushing them to dust along the unforgiving bottom jaw. That was how the oviraptor was bestowed her taxonomic name, two words neatly spliced together from a language as dead as a dinosaur, its translation coming apart under dissection as easily as a shell: egg thief.

That’s a misnomer, isn’t it?

It is quiet. We share no common language. Dry wind beats my hair against my face as I try again.

That’s not your name. Is there anything you’d like me to call you?

I am usually not bothered by a lack of understanding. I have grown accustomed to my words failing my thoughts. But this time feels final and there is still more sweat dampening the back of my shirt, making it cling. There is an apology waiting to peck its way through my chest, erupt from this brittle husk of a body and engulf this entire desert, if only she would just take it.

The wind is picking up. It whips up sand in swathes, needle-sharp where the grains fly into my flesh. I can hardly see how the oviraptor lifts up her elongated arm, oil-dark feathers brushing swells of pearlescent calcium under her belly. Eggs, nestled in the intimate warmth of her body, arranged in concentric rings around the edges of the nest. Precise and perfect, even through the swirls of dust shrouding the scene. I feel myself retreating, becoming an observer behind this curtain of a sandstorm and I cannot stand the fact that there is no understanding between me and the oviraptor. Between me and her.

As the storm continues to build, somehow I know that I will never get to call her what she is. It probably doesn’t matter to her anyway. Regardless of how the term stumbles from my mouth in this cobbled-together language tens of millions of years her junior, she will continue watching over her nest, her eggs, her children.

She is a mother and will not abandon her children.

I can no longer see her, and maybe that brings her relief. She can be left alone to brood. In the corner of my eye, there is a brief swell of tears that the winds do nothing to scour away.

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