Digging for dinosaurs

He saw flashes of beauty pass by too quickly, as if he was running through a forest and the sunlight was dancing about his vision.

Standing on the edge of the cliff, looking out towards the horizon as the sun starts to poke its head into the day, I feel like a bug beneath society’s boot. The first time I was here, 25 years ago, I had felt like this for the first time. I had been teased by hope and innocence into thinking I could be whatever I wanted to be in life, but innocence soon rots like dead rats while hope lies and cheats and buries its head up its arse every time it knows you need it.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of the early morning sun on a tired face, raised slightly. But then there’s nothing quite like any given feeling, be it hunger, jealousy, rage or fear. Did he even feel? He was out of the car; he was walking down the avenue with its clipped lawns and curtain twitchers; he was in the park by the river . . .

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

. . . pausing a moment, just a moment in case he was late, head lifted like a morning flower to reflect on what an amazing world . . . ; he was at the crossing and buses trying to decapitate him with their wing mirrors; he was standing outside of McDonalds, surrounded by school children and the noise level was. Just. Insane; he was outside the office; he was inside the office with coffee in his hand.

Granddad always knew where to look. I guess I picked it up from him. Looking for patterns where none should be. Looking for anomalies in the light bouncing off the damp, ocean-splashed, salty rocks. Granddad loved digging for dinosaurs. Even found a few pieces, mostly here, along the coast between Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Most of the time it was ammonites, belemnites and pieces of broken fishes. One time, however, before I was born, he found the jawbone of an ichthyosaur. Talk about following in the footsteps of the great Mary. I imagine if he could see me now, he might ask me what went wrong. My life viewed as a Hockney piece viewed from so far away; flat and distant.

In the office, Tom waited patiently for his PC to log in while sipping on his mug of coffee. He made his polite conversation to his colleagues and his manager. He was good, thanks. He’d had a great weekend, thanks. Yes, busy was good, wasn’t it? Laughing at the unfunny. Every time he said ‘Good Morning’ a small piece of his heart turned to distorted stone. Did he even notice? He had been walking the same steps at the same time every working day for the last 11 years. He was a master at the routine. Most of him didn’t mind, but there was that small fragment of his memory, the small part of him that still read New Scientist with a twinge of bitterness and regret, that nagged at him. He wasn’t meant for this. This wasn’t his path. This was wrong. Sometimes the nagging voice sounded like his Grandfather. Sometimes like he thought he sounded as a child. Sometimes…
‘Earth to Tom?’
He suddenly became aware that Nick, his boss, was standing over his shoulder.
‘Sorry Nick. Not quite awake yet. Gimme a couple more coffees.’ Tom lifted his mug and laughed heartily. Fortunately, Nick joined in.
‘You’d been staring at a blank screen for a few minutes. Thought maybe you needed rebooting!’ said Nick. More laughing. Inane. ‘Once you’re sorted, come into my office. Need 5 minutes of your time.’
There was an email…in the heading it said ‘Digging for Dinosaurs’. There was nothing in the body of the message.

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

Never, neverland. Spinning and whirring around, down the rabbit hole. He needed to remember. He needed to fight. In the kitchen, another coffee, more small talk and the laughing. Killing him.

So this is where it ends. At the base of this cliff. As in any good story, this is where it began. Lou thinks I’ve just gone to get coffee. By now, I’m sure she’ll realise I’ve been gone too long.

Tom was sitting in Nick’s office. It was, as senior manager’s offices go, warm and friendly. Nick was called Nicolas Whale. As such the office was decorated with models and pictures of Blue, Sperm, Humped and Killer Whales. And some others Tom could’ve named if he was still 7. Tom had no home comforts at his desk in the open plan. Work was not somewhere to be comfortable, only professional.
Tom adjusted his tie.
‘I have some news.’ Nick said. ‘I need you to tell the team. Call a meeting, front up and give them the news.’ As he was speaking, he flicked through some papers in a folder. When he found the pertinent one, he picked it out and handed it to Tom.
‘We’ve been bought. You know it was on the cards, right. Well, the board approved and the lawyers are thrashing it out. All good for the future, eh?’
‘Yes,’ Tom uttered. ‘Of course.’ He paused a beat. ‘That means we’re global now?’
Smiling, Nick nodded. Tom knew Nick had been pushing for the sale. He was a shareholder after all. ‘There are some structural changes and some redundancies. I need you to tell the team. It’s all here.’
Tom looked at the sheet of paper. He noticed the new company logo: Exxon Mobil Corporation.

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

A sheet of paper with names and words and a diagram, but he couldn’t read it. Couldn’t focus on anything but a single name. He felt like the floor was collapsing beneath him, wrapped in a landside, fighting the falling rocks. One name. One person. He knew it meant that everything was different now. Everything was about to change. He’d once had a dream where he was running down the high street, trying to escape from something. Everything was familiar but he didn’t recognise any of the shops or restaurants. He’d woke knowing he should be certain of where he was but he couldn’t be sure. He felt like that as he walked out Nick’s office back towards his desk.
One name.
Lou.

Granddad first brought me here when I was 6 or maybe just 7. Lou first came here after we’d been together for a couple of months. I proposed to her on this spot, and this is where I will ruin the rest of her life. Ruin it more than I’ve already have. That first time was the moment it really ended. It was an overcast day. Granddad said it was best to come when the weather was rubbish. Kept the tourists away. Only serious hunters like him and me would bother. I loved him for calling me a serious hunter. And then… I couldn’t believe my luck, our luck. My first proper fossil hunting weekend away. My first time digging for dinosaurs, and we found one. Not a whole one, clearly, that would have been just too good to be true. But we found some bones, a tooth, and a full claw. It was like the world and my future opened up to me that moment, when I saw that shiny tooth sticking out of the monotonous grey limestone. I yelled to Granddad that I’d found something. Something good. He took his pick out of his pack and handed it to me. And so began my instruction.

Lou, he thought. My Lou. My life. Shit. Shit shit shit. He looked at his hand gripping his mug to see that it had turned white.
Back at his desk now, he looked over his shoulder to where Lou sat, heart pounding.

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

A rumbling thunder struck, a vision of the future. Standing, sweating, struggling to keep it together, fighting the sick burning in the back of his throat. And everyone looking at him. At. Him. Hate and anger and he wasn’t an evil man and he hadn’t killed anyone. So please?
Hadn’t he?

It took a couple of hours to be sure we’d collected everything that we thought was left in the cliff face. Granddad was pretty certain that nothing else remained. He spread all the bits before us and looked at me with sad eyes. He reached into his pack and passed me a can of coke and a cheese sandwich. Eat, he had said. Then we’ll clean them. I asked him if everything was ok, and he looked off towards the sea and repeated his instruction to have my lunch.

He read the page that Nick had handed him. Full of the promotional agenda setting he was used to – that he had written himself many a time. To this point, he thought he’d been part of it. And Nick clearly thought so too.
There was the spiel about progress and global markets and the right thing for everybody concerned in the long term. The glowing praise of the new owners and then the middle section of the shit sandwich: the restructure and the redundancies. Twelve people forced to leave after a month’s consultation (once the sale was approved by the lawyers of course). Half from finance and half from IT, including the development manager. Lou.
It tore Tom apart but he was a professional. He had to do his job. Had to.
A couple of clicks on his mouse to check the room availability and then he sent the invite to the company. Meeting at 10 in the big room.
And he was standing in the room with all present. Nick standing at the side, arms crossed and that knowing smile.
He said the words, spoke the rhyme of the shit sandwich, the good, the bad and the good again. He listed the people who would lose their jobs, voice breaking slightly as it spoke the words Louise Jones.
He couldn’t look at her, at any of them.
He couldn’t look at her, except when it ended and they all filed out the room muttering and shaking their heads and their whole bodies, when she wouldn’t look at him.
He stood there in the empty meeting room, surrounded by his future.

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

Moments in time; thudding and pounding, soaring around his head. The moment when he failed the exam; the moment when he was charmed into this course and that job because surely he’d have a better future. That time when he fell in love and she’d died. That time when he came back alone and the money was there and he bought the house even though he wasn’t ready. That time at his Grandfather’s funeral when Jess was there and he hadn’t seen her since they were little and she asked him why he wasn’t into rocks anymore and he’d said it was long and complicated and he’d made his choices.
And Jess had looked at him with sad eyes.

What was laid before us was this: two almost circular bones with hollowed edges, like someone had dripped water into a rock for years and then polished it. Granddad taught me the word ‘vertebrae’ and clarified that these were backbones. There were half a done bits of ordinary looking bone that probably came from bits of an arm or a leg, but they were so broken up it was hard to tell. The tooth that I found was about 6 inches long, curved and again, looked like someone had spent a long time polishing it. Sharpening it too. It was still as sharp as a blade and Granddad had insisted he was the one to pull it out of the cliff. But it was the claw. Intact and not like anything I’d seen in my books.

He knew she’d take it badly. Of course. How badly was to be discovered over time. Discussion would follow silence, probably fuel with rage and disappointment and accusations and How? Could You?
He needed patience and a plan. Maybe he would quit. Resign in protest. Blackmail even? Nick had nurtured Tom for a few years now. Steered him into management.
Yes, that was it. Resign.
In a minute.
He wanted to check that email. Just in case? (In case of what?)
Tom looked in his inbox. Nothing. Deleted items. No sign. He did a quick search and there was nothing with that title ‘Digging for Dinosaurs’. Nothing from Exxon at all.

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

He saw nothing. Nothing in his life, nothing in his future. Nothing.

The tooth suggested that this was a meat-eater, a carnivorous dinosaur. A real monster. In books and in museums, I’d seen that most dinosaurs had three long fingers at the front and a shorter thumb at the back. Each ended with the adapted fingernail. The deadly weapon. What lay in front of us that day was more like a primate hand, with the thumb towards the front and facing forward. Still just three fingers, but long and slender. Not powerful but almost like a primate’s; able to carefully manipulate. It was at this point Granddad had said to me that we couldn’t keep this. It would have to go to the museum for study. He could see I was crestfallen. Why, I’d asked. We found it? Finders keepers and all that? He explained to me that society had rules and if something important was found it wouldn’t be right to keep it. We had to share it and let people study it. I didn’t want to share it, I’d cried. It was ours. We’d found it. But he told me that life wasn’t fair that was the end of it. Tears were beginning to stream down my face.

He was determined. His head was down. No laughing now. The office quiet. He didn’t want to look at Lou, at anyone. He had his plan. He had his mission. He was typing his resignation letter. Maybe I could study again? Maybe I could get back into fossils? There must be a local club. Maybe I could volunteer at the museum? Maybe Lou will forgive me when she sees. When she understands.
An email popped up. It said it was from Chris Lewis. Not a name he’d heard of. It said it was about his letter.
Blood ran through Tom like a glacier.
He sat motionless. Fear existed within him.
He read the email again and again. It said that he shouldn’t resign. It said that he would be safe if he didn’t resign. It said that if he kept his head down and do as he was told he’d move on from Lou and everything would be ok.
It said he could keep the tooth.

. . . pounding, repetitive, rhythm, invasion . . . head nodding unperceptively . . .

Heartbeat? Death drums? Same thing. The sound of the universe laughing or the clockwork ticking of the world simply going about its business.

Honest to a fault, my Granddad. He looked in my eyes, looked at the tooth and then back to me. He then said he wanted to stretch his legs for a moment. He got up, walked to edge of the incoming sea and raised his head upwards. When he returned, the tooth was gone, safely hidden in my rucksack. C’mon, he said, let’s get this lot wrapped up and taken to the museum. You never know, they might name it after you. That was the moment I lived and died. The moment hope was born and innocence shattered like so much broken glass. I was so excited. I had the tooth and they might name the dinosaur after me. Tyrannosaurus thomasii? But. They didn’t name it after me. We never heard anything more about it. Even though Granddad wrote regular letters of enquiry.

Standing here now, all I can hear is the waves crashing below; a broken, warped sound. Don’t worry, I’m not about to throw myself off. I’m not letting them win.
I take the tooth out of my pocket and throw it into the sea, giving it everything I’ve got.
No. Not dying but waiting. Time for them to return and I want to be the first to see them. I want to be the first they see. I want to guide them, show them who the monsters really are.

 

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