Tuesday, October 02, 2012

SPE : "Forgive Me, Richard Dawkins"

(For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: "Archaeopteryx, Inc." I gave Wendryn this prompt: "And everything was going so well, too.")(This is called "Forgive Me, Richard Dawkins")

I didn't have any illusions about my desirability as a mate. I looked like a substitute teacher, which is what I was, rumpled and slightly pasty like a donut left in the box for 2 days. My novel was in what seemed like its millionth set of revisions and rewrites, and my prospects for a career in any field dimmed quickly as each month passed. I felt like a fading star, watching from the bench as younger, stronger players celebrate a victory. "This is what happens when you chase your dreams, kids," I wanted to tell my students.

I went into the online dating world not out of any burning desire for a mate, but more to shut my mother up. Her cries about the extinction of our "line" had fallen on deaf ears thus far, but as 30 years old neared in the windshield, her arguments became less easy to ignore. It would be nice, I convinced myself, to have someone to go to museums and movies with, and to have someone to talk to other than my mailman, my editor, and the crusty nonentities in the various teacher's lounges across the county. So I bought in, and before long, I was exchanging slightly flirty emails with Jamie, a brunette with a severe looking face, her hair pulled back with hip glasses and an Roman nose.

We agreed to meet at the library on Columbus Day, a day off she shared as a bank manager. The floors were cool marble, and outside we could see a fall storm chopping the river into whitecaps. I had one of my better dress shirts on, and she wore a long, dark, modest skirt with tan boots and a big white sweater. We walked together, looking at the different exhibits, making aimless small talk and evaluating each other's mannerisms as we maneuvered around whiny toddlers and moms pushing strollers.

We came into a large hall filled with fossils. She stopped in front of a diorama showing a bird like creature, glaring at us from a foam branch. It reminded me of Snoopy playing vulture.

"Look," she said cheerfully. "They made that one look like a bird."

I stood behind her. I was looking at the way her hair, let down in a beautiful corona, fell across her shoulder. She wasn't the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, but she would probably crack the top 20, and she seemed to enjoy my company.

"I'm sure it's all based on logical deductions." I tended to over lecture, treating everyone within earshot like they were a student.

"What is?"

"The colors, the bone structure. It's all based on the fossil evidence, and logical inferences and deductions."

"Fossils," she said dismissively. "Whatever. You don't really believe in those, do you?"

I stopped short. She took a step or two away from me.

"Believe in them?" I was trying to keep my voice down, but some disbelief crept in. "I don't have any alternative to believing in them. They are real, as real as the floor we are standing on."

"Those scientists don't really know what happened."

"Well, no," I said. "They weren't there. But they can make really good guesses."

"I never believed in any of that stuff."

"What stuff? Science?"

"No," she said, chuckling. Her laugh was musical and her eyes danced. "No, all that evolution stuff. There's no way they really know that."

She took another step away, towards a display of bones, showing the progress from a dinosaur limb into a bird wing. I didn't know what to say next. I thought about the comedian Dana Gould, who has a joke about dealing with his father's irrational beliefs. "What am I supposed to say? He thinks gay people give off heat!"

I stepped closer, so I wouldn't be yelling across the exhibit at her. She went to high school and college. Or she said she did. I traced the curves of her hips and waist through the skirt and sweater. She was attractive, even under the layers. There was no denying that. I mentally weighed the possibility of pretending to listen to her lunacy in the hopes of getting her into bed. I knew I could do it. But could I live with myself?

"They're pretty sure," I said more quietly. "Plus all the evidence points in that direction. That's the beauty of science- if you have a better theory, the floor is open."

We stopped again, looking at the tiny flecks of bone with the drawings showing what they would look like at full size.

"Where do you think the fossils come from, then?"

"Oh, I believe the fossils are real," she said. "I don't think there's some company, some Archaeopteryx, Inc, going around the world, placing fossils everywhere. I just don't think that we know all that much about what things were really like. It's a lot of guessing."

I looked down at the floor. The soft brown toe of one of her boots was pointed right at me. It's really good guessing, I wanted to say. Guessing based on all the available evidence. On carbon dating. On ice core samples. On...science, for goodness' sake. I was no paleontologist, but I knew enough to know that they weren't just guessing. She really was pretty, and she looked willing. Weren't there enough things in the world to talk about, other than the fossil record?

"I guess you must be getting pretty hungry," I said, trying to sound suave.

"I am, actually. Do you want to go grab a bite?"

"Absolutely," I said. She walked out of the exhibit, back towards the lobby and the cafeteria. I followed, watching her hemline twitch as she walked. There was a tiny line of lace across the bottom of the skirt, and it made the fabric look like it was dancing as it fluttered along. Forgive me, Richard Dawkins, I thought.