She feels like their bones are stretching and grinning at her as she walks by, the lights reflecting off their empty eye sockets like miniature suns eaten by black holes. Her son runs ahead, searching for the bones of the T-Rex. She can hear the echoes of his footsteps against the skeletons that line the walls. She stops to read about each creature and imagines how beautiful they must have looked against great plains of grass or weaving between giant trees in forests untouched by the hands of man. She imagines their claws and their footprints and their breath against her face. She imagines the way their voices must have bounced off the earth like thunder. She feels like if she listens hard enough she might hear their hearts still beating through their bones. She feels like they deserve to see their own memorials, to know that they are celebrated and remembered.
Her son circles back and tells her that he’s found the T-Rex and pulls her towards its huge body. He tells her that the T-Rex had teeth the size of bananas and the two of them stand in front of the fossil, the bones of its ribcage as tall as her. She tells her son how the dinosaurs used to walk across all the places where people now live. He asks if they ever lived in where their apartment complex is or in the field behind his school. She tells him maybe. They move through the exhibits, and he stares into the fossils’ big mouths, and she can tell that he can’t imagine the flesh that used to be wrapped around them. She wishes she could show him how real they once were by splitting open their bones so that he could hear the way blood once pumped through them. As they reach the exit, he asks for ice cream, and they stop at the McDonalds inside the museum. She buys two cones of vanilla soft serve and they let their teeth chatter as they crunch the soft cones. Her son asks her if dinosaurs liked ice cream, and she tells him that ice cream didn’t exist when the dinosaurs were alive, and he can’t understand why not.
After they finish their ice cream, they visit the butterfly center. Before they go in, her son spots terrariums full of spiders the size of her palms and cockroaches that jump through the air like squirrels. He loves the rows and rows of tiny chrysalises outside the center where the butterflies are growing, some of them half emerged from their silk wrappings. When they step inside the center, the humid air wraps around their bodies, and she can feel the sweat bead at the small of her back. They both stare at the hundreds of butterflies moving through the air, their wings like small heartbeats in their ears. She feels like an intruder in their paradise. They both speak in whispers and signs with their hands. A large blue butterfly lands on her son’s shirt and they watch as it flaps its wings at him before taking off. Her son tells her that it feels like the butterfly gave him a kiss and she tells him that that’s the name of a song; afterward, she can’t stop humming. They watch butterflies alight on leaves and thick slices of oranges and grapefruits and pink sponges soaked in sugar water. As they leave the center, the docent asks them to check their clothes for any stowaways, and they inspect themselves in the huge funhouse mirrors that make them look shiny and surreal.
They stop at the gift shop before they leave and flip through the rows of books and bins of miniature dinosaur figurines and buckets of gemstones. Her son runs his hand along the shelves of glass dinosaur eggs and asks if they are real. He’s disappointed to find out that they’re not, but she reminds him that they can always pretend. Before they leave, she buys him a stuffed t-Rex that he insists will count for his birthday present. She knows that by the time his birthday comes around he will have forgotten about this bargain, but she gets it anyway. It’s bright green with a small pink tongue that reminds her of a cat’s. He pretends that it is eating her arm and she laughs and tells him that it tickles, and he tells her that she’s lucky it’s not a real dinosaur or else it would hurt. He also tells her that it is a nice dinosaur who likes ice cream. On the ride home, he falls asleep in the car with the dinosaur in his lap and his head against his chest.