Jurassic Love

by Raul Palma

This early, the sky looks primordial. A flock of ibises pass overhead while cars stream into the lot, their windshields throwing all that sunlight at us. Men in yellow shirts and short-shorts herd the cars into the various parking zones. Now it's King Kong that's spilling into Jaws. Soon the whole lot will be full, the whole park bursting with people, lines so long that it's a wonder people still have fun.

Paola and I are beating the crowd, running to the park entrance when she lets go of my hand. Now she's pacing around in a circle, dragging her sneaker along the floor like she stepped in shit or something. She sits on the floor, her back curled against a concrete barricade. At first I just stand there, money in hand, looking at her cry into her sleeve. The shadows of all those people entering the park wash over her. I want to touch her, tell her things will be fine. But when I sit next to her and put my hand on her knee, she slaps it away.

"Fine," I say. "You want to sit out here and be like this. Then fine." And I leave, except when I'm just a few feet away from her, I turn back, sit with her again, and say, "I'm sorry. I know you're sad." And as she's crying, I say "Maybe the new Jurassic Park Land will cheer you up."

"Why would I care about a park?"

"Haven't you seen the movie Jurassic Park?"

She hasn't.

"So a mosquito lands on a dinosaur, sucks its blood, and later gets trapped in amber. It's preserved there. I don't know. For like a million years. So scientists find this ball of amber. Where? Somewhere. Probably Africa. It's a ball the size of your fist," I say, taking her hand and showing her. "They just find it and they extract the blood from the mosquito. They decipher the dinosaur's DNA this way. Fucking science, right? And now they're replicating them, right here in Florida. Right here in Islands of Adventure."

"Stop lying. I know you're kidding me."

"Kidding you?" I say, and laugh.

"Yes. Kidding me. There's nothing wrong with saying 'Kidding me.'"

"Maybe they don't have dinosaurs in Spain, but you'll see when I take you to the dinosaur encounter. You'll pet a dinosaur," I say, as I pet her leg. She's smiling and teasing me and my silly story, and for the moment that terrible tension between us is forgotten.

* * *

Tension? Well, there's a rumor that I cheated on her with my "wife" in economics. At least that's what everyone in school is saying. The thing is I did. How could I not? In an alley behind the town's bowling alley, and later in a park by her house. Deny, deny, deny, my father had said, and so I did. Those days before the class trip when Paola would call and ask me why I'd done it, and we'd stay awake on the phone all night, I'd deny and deny until she was asleep. And later when we'd meet for lunch, or in the hall in route to class, or exchanging notes, I'd hold her close and kiss her and ask, "Why? Why would I do something that could ruin us?" She wanted to believe me. And eventually I think she really thought she could.

Originally from Seville, Paola's family moved to West Miami during the post-Franco era when oil prices quadrupled and inflation crippled Spain. Actually, they first moved to Syracuse of all places. She spent most of her pre-teen years buried in snow, which suits them just fine for moving to a place like that. They eventually moved to West Miami, which is at least a reasonable place to live. I met her a month later, and we've been dating since.

I've figured out what the trouble is with Paola. She watched her sister come of age in Seville: dancing in the plazas at night, making out with boys on park benches, racing through cobbled-streets on the back of mopeds. West Miami is different. It's not the glam and glitz people think Miami is about. Less beaches, more swamps. No plazas for mingling, really, just shopping malls and that thing of staying home most nights to play video games or watch television. A few months ago, we're at a park and Paola straddles me on a bench and tries to make-out with me right there, while kids are playing in sandboxes and swings, and I push her off and say, "What's wrong with you? We don't do that here."

Often, during our lunch breaks, we sit at the top of the football bleachers and look out across the parched field as if Spain is on the other end of it. Here it's private and we can kiss—her tongue tasting of pizza and coke. She talks about taking me away, putting me in a plane, and showing me her home town. She has it all planned out. I could work with her father selling jet engine parts. I could marry her, get Spanish citizenship. "We could really leave this place," she says. And though I nod and smile and talk about how wonderful living in Spain would be, I have zero interest in speaking Spanish or leaving Miami.

But this trip to Islands of Adventure is something I have looked forward to. And when the sun crests over the trees at the edge of the parking lot, I kiss her even though we're standing in the line to get into the park and there are people everywhere. I kiss her because I can. And because we're going to pet a dinosaur today.

* * *

Inside the park, she stops to admire the panoramic view—the skeletal beams and tracks of the rides rising into the sky. Roller coaster cars rise and fall, the screams fading into the chatter of the crowd. Venders peruse through the main plaza, selling Dr. Seuss hats and popcorn and cotton candy. Nearby, children play on a mat that squirts water into the air, gleefully yelling when the water splashes their faces. We see some of our classmates wearing Dr. Seuss hats and taking group pictures. When we wave at them, they walk away.

"Maybe they didn't notice us," Paola says. She leans over a railing and looks into the park's lake. There are turtles and koi fish. She points to them and says, "Look," but I direct her vision across the lake to the Jurassic Park themed buildings, which have rows of date palms that make the land look especially prehistoric. "I bet you don't have that in Spain."

"Palms? Sure we do. We have a bunch of them."

"No," I say, gesturing towards the various themed areas. "All of this."

"This is beautiful," she says. "But it's all fake, no?"

I slap a brochure into her hands and say, "And how about this?" It's opened to the Triceratops Encounter ride, and it reads: For the first time ever, humans can pet a 'living' dinosaur. "What to do you say?" I ask. "Want to check it out."

"I still don't believe you," she says. "But fine. Let's go see this dinosaur of yours."

* * *

The line is short at the Triceratops Encounter. Evidently, it's not one of the more popular exhibitions. The day has warmed up a bit, but there are fans throughout the line, which make waiting a little less uncomfortable. Paola says, "I don't know about this. You'd think if there were really a dinosaur here, there'd be more scientist, more international interest. I mean, if there's really a dinosaur here. That would be amazing." I direct her attention to the television monitors, all of which are playing a documentary produced by InGen, a bioengineering firm. A woman in a lab coat explains that the cloning process is made possible by extracting the DNA of dinosaurs from mosquitoes trapped in amber. "The DNA strands were incomplete," the woman says, "but we were able to use the DNA of frogs to supplement the strand." Paola is glued to this presentation, which shows scientists extracting the blood and working in laboratories filled with little baby dinosaurs. She's so consumed by the presentation that she hardly notices that most of the people waiting in line are young children.

The line moves. We're approaching a large corrugated steel shed. Weaving through the line and trying to see past the columns and palm leaves, I finally see the dinosaur. I show Paola, and she sees it too. But then the door to the shed is closed, and an attendant asks us to stand back. "The doors will open shortly," she says.

"Wouldn't it be amazing if this were real?" Paola asks.

"It is real. Ask the attendant."

"I'm not going to ask her that. That's embarrassing."

After a few minutes, twelve of us from the line are invited into the large corrugated steel shed. Over the crowd, I see the rust-colored triceratops. It's bowing its head, eating hay, it seems. It's clearly motorized: looking left, bowing its head to eat, then looking right, and grunting. Beside it is a trainer, and she's petting its neck. She says, "Listen up everybody. This is Max. He's a friendly dinosaur, but I ask that for your own protection, you stand away from the triceratops." It is strange that there is nothing between this triceratops and the visitors, except for a waist-high steel fence. I mean, this should be a dead giveaway that the whole thing is a ruse.

The dinosaur grunts. Paola steps back, almost tripping over my feet. She kisses my cheek and says, "I can't believe this is happening. I'm kind of scared."

The trainer offers a brief presentation on the triceratops, its eating habits, sleep patterns, stool samples, but I'm not paying attention to any of it. I don't care about the triceratops. I'm looking at Paola. She's smiling, growing more confident, taking in everything this actress has to say. It's the first time, however, since I initiated this prank that I no longer find it funny. I'm embarrassed, in fact, that my girlfriend could be so gullible, believe anything I tell her. I mean, she wasn't really supposed to be convinced, and it's so clearly not a real dinosaur.

When the trainer asks, "Would anyone like to pet Max?" Paola takes me with her, pushing me to the front of the line, cutting off children and their parents even. This earns a few dirty looks. All righty then," the trainer says. "What you want to do, hon, is let Max smell your hand. He's like a dog, you know? He needs to smell you first, warm up to you, hon."

Paola seems scared, but she holds her hand out anyway. When it grunts, air shoots out from its nose, which startles her. She looks to me for comfort, and I reassure her with a nod.

"It's perfectly all right if you want to touch it now. He really likes you," the trainer says.

"Touch it with me."

So we both reach out and caress its head. It feels like a basketball, all those little bumps on the skin. And after a few seconds, I say, "All right, babe. Let's give the kids a chance too." And I tug at her, but she's not moving.

"I have some questions," she says.

The trainer smiles. "And what questions do you have for me?"

"Well," Paola says, still petting his head. "Is it always in here? This is a small space, no?"

"Oh," the trainer says. "Good question. No. Max is not always here. In fact, in one of the large fields behind Islands of Adventure, we have a place where all these dinosaurs can run and play. Max really loves being with all the dinosaurs there, but he also really loves greeting some of the park's guests too. Isn't that right, Max?"

Max grunts.

"That sounds like a nice place," Paola says. "Can I go there too?"

"Sure is, hon. Maybe one day it'll be open to the public. Maybe. Who knows?"

* * *

For the remainder of our day at the park, we enjoyed the rides. Now and then, we run into friends or peers, but they avoid us. I'm beginning to think they don't want to be around us because of what I did to Paola. But Paola hardly notices. She's wearing that experience with Max on her. Even when we ride the roller coasters or water rides, Max is all she can think about. At the end of the day, there's a brilliant fireworks display. We lie in the grass on a hill and watch all those lights turn to smoke. She rests her head on my chest, watches the show, but then she straddles me and kisses. She grinds her hips into mine, reaches into my pants even. I'm not stopping her. Nobody is looking at us. They're all looking at the sky, at the lights reflecting in the lake. "Maybe we should start moving before the show ends," I say. "We can get ahead of the crowds."

"No," she says. "Let's stay here longer."

"You don't understand, Paola. With as many people that are in here now, leaving the park will be a nightmare if we wait much longer. You wouldn't understand unless you've been here before." So we leave the park, even though the fireworks are still going off, and we sit outside waiting for the bus, our backs against the concrete barricade. I'm torn about this dinosaur business. With the fireworks booming off in the distance and with Paola leaning into me, holding my hand, I say, There's something I need to tell you."

She sits up, looks at me.

"That triceratops wasn't really alive. It was motorized."

She takes a moment to think about it. Then she laughs. "No it wasn't. I touched it. I know you're kidding me. You like to kid me."

"It was motorized," I say. "A machine. Machinery. Didn't you see it repeating the same movements over and over again?"

"But what about the mosquito and the frog DNA?"

"It's Hollywood."

"So why'd you tell me this was true?" she asks.

I didn't answer.

She scooted away from me. Under the flash of the fireworks, I see her cry, and then I look away, out at trees at the edge of the parking lot, which might have been dinosaurs if I had wanted them to be.

BIO: Raul Palma is a PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he is also an Assistant Editor of Fiction for Prairie Schooner. Winner of the Sandoz/Prairie Schooner Story Prize and the Soul-Making Keats, Mary Mackey Prize, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alimentum, decomP, NANO, Saw Palm, Rhino and elsewhere.