The History of Fossils

The history of fossils is the story of a woman found buried in the soil behind her house, her body marked only by the ends of a handful of feathers spiking up from the ground.

In life she had loved one who was far enough away to make language difficult, and distance between visits long, and the silence and longing took a toll on her body as her youth was gradually wept and sighed out of her, and her flesh began to betray her, and at some point she understood that she had little time left.

So she filled her room with books about things that stayed and the materials that maintained them: trilobite shells and leaves and smiles and tubes and feathers and teeth and spines. She studied how the earth and stone remembered the shapes of fortunate things. And one night she convinced herself that she, too, might be fortunate – why should she, too, not be fortunate? – and closed her book, and pulled a shovel from the shelf, and crept outside, and dug a hole, and buried herself in the soil, and slept. (As a way to slow down time. As a way to preserve herself as best she could in the hours and days she had.) In the morning when she woke she dug herself out and brushed the earth from her hair and went into her house and on with her day. And at night, she returned to the soil.

She learned to hold her breath through the night. She learned to open her eyes underground, and to pack her open ears with stones. She learned to treat the earth like water, to use her lips and fingers to move the soil in little eddies that turned to rippling gravelly kisses as they traveled to the surface. (In this way she invented a language made of the very tiniest of earthquakes. She was always speaking to her beloved. She never knew if he heard.) (He had.)

When she dreamt in the soil her body remembered, keeping impressions of her dreams in the flesh of her – sighs fossiled into her lungs, fingerprints creased into the muscle of a shoulder, the whorls of a moan hardened into a shellscape at the base of her throat. There were fingertracks cut into her spine like wormtrails, a handprint petrified into the tissue of her thigh. Feathers and diamonds grew from her head as her hair melted to an almost-amber that trapped the images of the beautiful things she draped herself with in her dreaming of him and for him. Each morning when she raised herself up and out of the earth, she felt these traces turning her inside out as the fossils of her longing tugged her increasingly back toward the clay.

When they found her, they wrenched her up and out by the feathers. And when they cut her open they found a reliquary, her body turned into a cabinet holding the residues of her dreaming. They gathered the fossils into one of her stockings, and sewed it closed, and gave it to the one she had dreamt of. He went home with the stocking and waited for nightfall, and opened it up, and took out the relics, and strung them together into a necklace. He stripped off his clothes, put on the necklace, took a shovel from the shelf, went outside, dug himself a bed in the ground and covered himself with soil, and he went to sleep enveloped in a whispered symphony of tiny earthquakes.

[You can return to The Elizabeths this way.]