So everything’s stuck together until it’s somehow unstuck. A dolphin moves. A thousand dolphins move. The sun’s so hot it splits a palm tree down its trunk, coconuts spill, things roll, things roll away. A bird spends all day with its beak at a coconut trying to open it—no luck. And by ‘bird’ I mean ‘dinosaur.’ It’s Pangaea and birds aren’t invented yet.
This particular dinosaur is winged and has teeth like small wedged stones. This dinosaur has two clawed feet and eyes on the sides of its head and a triangular flap mounted on its forehead like a shark fin. (Which sharks are invented, but they don’t have lives long enough to circle the continent.) In any event, a pterosaur. She is a little like a lizard, minus front feet, plus sharp wings. Ten thousand million years from now she will hang in bones and strings from some ceiling somewhere in London. But here there are no ceilings. There is no London. England is not an island at all, but some brick aching to unwedge itself from the wall.
And there are no bricks.
Can you imagine? All the land together, and this bird-thing frustrated in the sand. She picks the coconut up in her claws, flaps until she flies. Heads north for the nest, where her other eggs are. In a tree the sun hasn’t yet decided to burn down.
There are her three yellow-speckled eggs, and now this fourth one, round and brown. She nests atop them all.
The coconut grows warm and itchy, as coconuts are wont to do.
And inside this particular coconut, from this particular split tree, this tree the sun itself seemed to split, as if it meant it, as if it meant for things to roll away? Inside the inside, where the milk is, where the milk grows warm, is a man. A tiny man, naked, coming up for air whenever he can, treading milk, kicking his feet so long and hard he can’t help growing the muscles that grow there.
Elsewhere there’s a woman inside a snail shell, a snail shell she found and stabbed the snail out of with a stick she found, a stick she found and sharpened, sharpened enough to stab a snail. Now she lives inside it, and it is a good home, cool and clandestine, solid-sheer, and the light that presses through is soft, as if passed through yellow windows. Though there are of course no windows. Only wind. No glass, no frame, no latch.
I wish to say she found a feather, but where on earth would she find one, given there are no birds? She collects long grasses in which she wraps herself. She braids a little cocoon for her torso. She smoothes mud over the undersides of her feet and lets it harden, she smoothes mud over the overside. Her toes protrude and when she stretches them the mud cracks a little under the give. She can somersault. She can crawl over hot sands, if she slathers her palms in mud too, carrying her house on her back, the whole world a heavy sheer shell. She fits a small enough stone, a stone small enough to roll in front of the opening of the shell, when she wants to stay inside. And safe. The world isn’t invented yet. It isn’t a woman’s place yet, just a place—where a woman might be.
There are no airplanes, only air. No fishbowls, only fish. The sea is scattered with them.
A pig nudges itself from the jungle. Puckers its snout, swings its nose back and forth, smells the woman, smells the woman who is giving off this sharp scent like fear, because it is fear, she’s seen the pig, and how she’s not bigger than one of his toenails in the cleft of his foot.
Oh God, she would think, but there is no God yet, there is no Oh yet, there is no language. Can you imagine? There is no word for toenail. There is no word for cleft. And when the pig charges and chews her in her shell, there is no word for that. There is no crunch and squish and teeth.
This is an unhappy story for the man too—that’s why in dinosaur museums there are no small skeletons: the things they ate, as beasts, were crushed body and bones and all. If there was a soul, that too. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t well for the man, who, once that bird got him out of that coconut, chewed him to bits and puked him up in a runny gunk for her young. That man is split three ways between some pterosaurs. Though of course if we had it our way, the first man and the first woman would be here too in The Museum: brisk, all muscles, small enough to be swallowed whole. We’d align their bones before the beak. Running side by side in stride. The beak of the bird-before-the-bird, her wings wide apart and her jaw pried and the claws of her two feet tucked.