Angela was not prepared for the news on that May morning sprinkled with rain, in the deep silence of the laboratory where everything was still. She put her phone on the table scattered with soil and Pleistoncene bones of various sizes, holding her breath as if she were a dinosaur waiting for the crash of a giant meteorite.
With a broken look, she hugged the jaw of the adult male Hippopotamusantiquus on which she was working on constantly for about four months. She dried her stubborn tears on her white lab coat when she realised she forgot the acetone jar open. She drew closer and inhaled deeply. The pungent odour made her head spin and a smile soon blossomed on her lips. “Either you work under the fume hood or you wear a face mask. It’s dangerous to inhale certain chemicals- how many times must I tell you, kid?”
Even though many years had passed, she could still hear the echo of his voice reproaching her maliciously. She taught him, Ethan, to say “kid” during one of the endless days spent together while unearthing Mesozoic skeletons under the sunny Patagonian sky.
She closed her eyes, burning with pain, and in the hidden depths of her soul, she clung to the blinding glow of an atavistic light. That light had travelled the ladder of the geological ages, persevering in its entirety the face of an Ethan with short hair and a bit of stubble, intent on devouring one of the novels that they usually brought to an excavation site.
That light was the puzzle of dirty hands, of soil under nails, of jointless bones; it was passion sweated out for those mastodon creatures that commanded respect and admiration, unveiling the mysteries of their own evolution; it was the love that had died the ocean, torn distance to pieces, forgiven, consoled, when Ethan had left her to continue his research at the University of Alberta.
Returning to Italy after a year of extenuating work, Angela had worn it on her, in her stomach, her nostrils, her saliva, her hands. She knew that Ethan would have dedicated part of his academic career to the study of study of one of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils that were excavated in Patagonia, and she knew that it would not be possible for her to be with him in Canada
She continued to love him in the memory of that sacred and free-willed dedication for palaeontology that had made them a great team. She became an expert in various palaeontological preservation techniques: every fragment that she manage to reattach without smudges was another part of her that was slowly being rebuilt, dismembering the pain.
Actions that might almost seem simple, repeated with precision, had gifted her with a daily challenge: can memories be preserved until they stopped hurting?
That morning, it was a colleague of Ethan’s who called her from the other side of the world. “He passed away night, Angela; I’m sorry, but he wanted you to know that the pteropod on which you worked together many years ago, well, it was named after you…the article is finished, it will be published next week.”
The moving words could not sink in. Angela gripped her hands which were shaking with a fine tremor. She opened the lid of the acetone jar, filled the syringe and slowly glued the condyle onto the rest of the jaw: the preservation was complete.
She tried to get up, her cheeks were wet with tears.
Can you preserve love, kid?