Maybe he shouldn’t call her that. Too girly. A diminutive pet name focusing on what she looks like. Too old fashioned, he worries, something not for girls anymore these days, something his parents’ or grandparents’ generation would have said alongside white picket fences and a green, well-manicured lawn, the station wagon in the driveway, its cargo top filled with the colors of summer escapes. She’s more than that. Blooming scientist, loves nature, second smartest in her third-grade class, behind the kid whose parents work for the lab back home. Advantage, Chuck thinks, but then regrets thinking that and sits down on an epoxy-coated tree trunk from eons ago. It’s OK to sit here, right? Nobody with a nametag stops him. Treadmill of buses out front. More kids fly in and out of the Early Humans section across from him. Where are mine? he wonders. There, there, and there: he spots them scattered around the installations and the simulated dirt pit where a family of hominids have buried their dead and symbolized it, the fiberglass cave walls brightened by spotlights and, on cue, a voiceover. JT looks like the other boys in shorts and t-shirts with skateboards emblazoned on the front; Cousin Dylan is, well, Cousin Dylan, a curly-haired ginger with a speech impediment that sounds like a single-stroke engine missing half its stroke; and there’s Marybeth pushing her way to the front of a bio-diversity panel suspended from the ceiling, telling the other kids that what they don’t understand is how this leaf there, this one, the one she’s pointing to, is different than all the other leaves on display. The colors make it stand out. Chuck glances at his watch. Two hours until noon, after which will be a walk down to the planetarium and then the art museum, where, Lord forgiving them ahead of schedule, the boys will ogle and giggle at the naked ladies in paint and stone and Marybeth will want her sketch pad and coloring pencils, especially for all the horses she can’t take home. She moves into the field of flowers sculpted from the Paleolithic era, which reminds him that the new diet is not working out. All the extra meat has ticked up his cholesterol levels, so said Dr. Know-It-All, Burgeoning Specialist in Middle-aged Men Affected by the Economy and the State of the Union. JT comes running back to him, a double helix spinning behind him, and he says, “Daddy, I found it!” “What’d you find, buddy?” And he says he found the bone scratched with circles inside the primitive grave. Cousin Dylan starts scaling a wooly mammoth’s leg, and one of the staff members with the motto Where Fun and Science Meet! on her shirt puts an end to that; Chuck waves. As for Marybeth, she’s lost in the fake flowers, and he can’t help but think it again, his little yellow flower in a world always on the brink of crumbling on top of itself from all the char and burn it recycles; a dab of gold floating on a pool of black; the future. He smiles at her and says it anyway. Oh, buttercup.
About the Writer
William Auten is the author of the novel Pepper’s Ghost (Black Rose Writing, 2016), and his work has recently appeared in District Lit, Origins, Rum Punch Press, Canada’s Saturday Night Reader, Sliver of Stone, and SunStruck Magazine. Work is forthcoming in East Bay Review, Red Earth Review, and Sequestrum. Find him at williamauten.com.