Under a Rock
by Sarena Ulibarri
It had gotten to the point where no one even greeted me when I stumbled in bleary-eyed after work and went straight to bed. Not the husband, not the kid—not even the dog would deign to lift his head and sniff or bark at me. Normally, I was gone again before they woke up. Weekends, I often still worked at least half days, and the others in my house were always gone or absorbed in TV during the other half. I had become like a ghost in my own house.
Then I caught the first cold I’d had in years. Sick enough that management didn’t want me sneezing all over the conference room, but not so sick I wanted to be in bed, I suddenly found myself on the couch next to my thirteen-year-old daughter, Abby, with the realization that I had no clue how to interact with her.
“Uh,” I said. “You don’t have school today?”
“Oh. Uh, what’s been interesting in your life?”
Abby shrugged, face in her phone. “A dino tooth showed up in the backyard yesterday, so that’s cool I guess.”
“Is…that some sort of game?” I turned away to sneeze.
“No, it’s literally a giant dinosaur tooth. You didn’t see it?”
I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been in our backyard. I had vague memories of it being large and somewhat wild when we moved in. If the dog or kid had really dug up a fossil, that was pretty neat. Maybe we could take it to a museum.
“Can you show it to me?”
She shrugged again. “You can see it for yourself if you just look out the window.”
Is she just trying to get me to leave the room? I sighed, blew my nose, and wandered toward the sliding glass doors that opened onto the yard.
A giant dinosaur tooth sat smack in the middle of our un-mowed back lawn. Truly giant: a good eight feet tall, and twelve or more from root to tip.
“Who put this here?” I yelled. The strain on my throat brought on a coughing fit.
“What?” Abby yelled back.
I recovered and went back to the living room so I wouldn’t have to yell again. “Who put that thing back there?”
“No one,” she said. “It just showed up.”
“Giant dinosaur teeth don’t just show up in people’s yards.”
She gave me a look like I’d just said the Earth was flat. “Yeah, they do.”
“No, they don’t.”
“Oh,” she said. “Are you one of the shark people?”
“Most people think they’re dinos, but there are some people who insist they’re the right shape for sharks.”
“A bit big for a shark, don’t you think?”
She shrugged. “That’s why more people think they’re dinos.”
“Want to tell me what the hell is going on?” That sent me into another coughing fit. Abby looked curiously at me.
“You really don’t know? Have you been living under a rock?”
No, I wanted to yell. I haven’t been living under a rock. I’ve been working sixty hours a week so you can live in this house and go to your dance lessons or your softball games or whatever else it is you do. Instead, I concentrated on getting that nasty chunk of mucus out of my throat and into a tissue. Abby handed me her phone.
“This is fancy,” I said, smearing fingerprints across its sleek black case. “How long have you had this?”
“Read it,” she said.
I blinked, sniffed, and tried to focus on the screen. It was a newsfeed full of stories from around the world about people finding these giant teeth in their yards or parking lots or the tops of their buildings. The stories dated back a couple of years.
“Is it April Fool’s Day?” I asked.
“I think…” I stifled another sneeze and handed the phone back to her. She pinched it gingerly, then wiped it with her shirt. “I think I need to go back to bed.”
I woke later, sure the whole thing had been a weird fever dream, but the tooth was still there. I slid the door open and stepped outside, then ran my hands across the giant tooth. It felt like cool marble. A slight hollow sound dinged back at me when I tapped it. I tapped my own teeth for comparison. According to the articles I’d seen earlier, the first few people who found them charged admission to see it, but that industry evaporated when they became more common. There was hardly a city in the world without at least a few.
Footsteps rustled the grass behind me, and without turning to see who it was, I asked, “Are there other parts of the dinosaurs showing up too? Bones and claws and scales? Er, feathers?” Dinosaurs were supposed to have feathers now; at least I hadn’t missed that.
When no response came, I turned and saw my husband. He looked more startled than I’d ever seen him, but he was looking at me, not at the giant tooth in the yard.
“Uh,” I said. “You see this thing, right?” I patted the tooth with the palm of my hand.
He glanced up at it. “Of course. But what are you doing here?”
“I still live here, last I checked?” He pursed his lips. I sneezed so hard it threw me back against the tooth. “Sick day,” I explained, wiping my nose.
“There’s a team coming to collect it.” He waved vaguely toward the monstrosity, and even as he spoke, I heard the beep of a backing truck. He unlatched the gate.
“Where are they taking them?”
“Government’s gathering them up, dumping them all somewhere in the desert.”
“Seems a waste,” I said, but no one was listening to me anymore. Three men and a buff woman loaded the giant tooth onto the flatbed of a truck. As they tied it down, the thought struck me hard that if I hadn’t been sick today, it would have come and gone from my yard without me ever knowing about it. How much longer would it have been until I heard about the phenomenon at all? One would probably have needed to drop straight onto my desk before I’d notice. How many other major events had I missed in the world?
The dog flapped out the dog door, sniffed my leg, then walked over and sniffed the tree in exactly the same manner before peeing on it.
I decided quite suddenly that I needed to find out where they were taking the giant teeth. It felt strangely important, like knowing that would make up for not knowing about any of this for the last several years. I hurried back inside, a little winded from even that much movement, and traded my robe for a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants, then grabbed a box of tissues and my car keys. On my way through the living room I spotted Abby, still on the couch.
“Uh,” I said, “You’re…you’ve probably got things to do. Friends and shows and games and such, right?”
She looked up from her phone, raised an eyebrow at me.
I followed the truck as it negotiated through city streets, occasionally steering with my elbows so I could blow my nose. My daughter sat morosely in the passenger seat, staring out the window.
There were other parents I worked with who talked constantly about their children, always so involved in their activities and education. My answers to their inquiries ran along the lines of, “I think she’s in seventh grade now?”
I didn’t know how they did it. I was always dead tired when I got home, and every bit of “free time” was consumed with some unpleasant task like grocery shopping or calling the plumber. My husband worked full time as well, but his hours were more flexible, less overtime. A co-worker suggested I see a doctor about chronic fatigue, and I had agreed it would be a good idea. If I could ever find the time.
The truck turned onto the highway and I glanced at my gas gauge, doubting my commitment to this quest. A few miles out of town, the truck started down a long dirt road into nowhere.
“Maybe we should turn back.”
“No!” Abby yelled, and I was startled by her sudden passion. “I’m already live-tweeting this. We have to follow through.” She snapped a picture through the windshield.
The truck had caught up to a line of similar trucks, all with giant fangs strapped to their beds.
“Why teeth?” I pondered. “It’s like some cosmic monster tried to take a bite out of the Earth and broke its jaw.”
“Sounds legit,” Abby said.
“Yeah?” I looked over at her, cracked a half-smile.
“O.M.G.,” she said. “Look!”
I turned back to the road, prepared to stomp on the brakes, but it wasn’t an impending crash she was pointing at. The tooth on the truck in front of us was dissolving into nothing, twinkling in the afternoon sunlight like dust. Abby scrambled for her phone. The thing completely winked out of existence.
“Did you get it?”
“No.” She stuck her head out the window, then climbed up on her knees and leaned her whole torso out. I grabbed the belt loop of her jean shorts and pulled her back in. I had at least that much motherly instinct left. “It’s happening to all of them,” she said. “Can we get closer?”
The dirt road was wide enough to my left that an oncoming car could have safely passed, but there seemed to be no one else on the road except the tooth trucks. I swerved into the other lane and sped up, pulling alongside one that had halfway dissolved. Abby filmed on her phone, then pointed ahead. “That one’s just starting to go.”
I sped up. Just as we approached, my chest seized and the coughing started. My eyes teared up; it was hard to see the road.
“Just a little faster!” Abby yelled, but I knew that one curve in the road, one rogue pothole, and we were done. My chest burned. I groped for a tissue. I pushed the accelerator for another moment, then let off it. The trucks whooshed past us on the right. My car tires thunked into a ditch. It took another two minutes for my coughing fit to resolve.
I leaned my head back on the headrest. “Did you get the video?” I croaked.
Abby pecked at her phone screen with quick fingers. “Yep,” she said. “But the internet’s slow over here, it’s taking forever to load.”
“We can…” I suffered a rattling breath. “…upload it at home.”
“No! I have to be the first. Come on, come on… Yes!” She raised her fists in the air.
Together, we pushed the car out of the ditch, but the effort did me in and I had to lay the seat back and rest for a while. While I rested, Abby took a walk up the road to see where the trucks were headed. She showed me another video when she got back: a large canyon or crater, empty but for the natural rocks, cactus, and scrub oak, and a line of flat bed trucks parked along the edge, the drivers all scratching their heads.
The next day, I woke up still sniffly and swimmy-headed. When I called in, my supervisor commented on my daughter’s video, which had apparently gone viral, as though to indicate that if I was well enough to be chasing after giant teeth, I was well enough to be at work.
“Did you watch the video?” I wheezed. “Pretty sure you can hear me hacking up a lung in the background. I’d be happy to send you a petri dish of my phlegm if you like.”
Fortunately, no such proof was required.
When I wandered out to the kitchen, my husband asked, “You didn’t quit your job, did you?” The concern in his voice was clear. We could be at risk of loan default and foreclosure within a month if I had.
“No,” I said, “Just another sick day.”
Abby was also sick. She sat red-nosed and wrapped in a blanket on the couch.
“Look.” She held her phone up to me, proud. “The video already has a million views.”
I wondered if there was some way to monetize this newfound internet stardom, then realized this also meant my fifteen minutes of fame were probably used up as “that annoying person coughing in the background,” as so many of the comments called me. Oh well. I was never one for the spotlight.
I handed the phone back to her. “That’s great,” I said. “Sorry I got you sick.”
She shrugged. “It’s pretty cool that you wanted to go out there.”
“Yeah?” She scooted over so I could sit on the couch next to her. The dog jumped onto the couch and curled up in my lap. “Let’s stick around here today, though. You can tell me what else I’ve missed.”
Tags: Sarena Ulibarri