“Oh hi,” said the boy eating a ham sandwich at my kitchen table.
“Glad you brought your own food,” I said. “I’m tired of buying for all you kids.”
“I brought you a gift.” It wasn’t wrapped. I had never seen one in this condition before. It was 45 cm of polished wonder, grey spotted with tan, every leg bristle intact. It must have been collected live. I examined it from every angle.
He nodded, took another bite. I judged him to be about 16. His clothing was perfectly ordinary; his accent only noticeable because I was looking for it.
“So who are you?” I asked. He knew my name.
“Call me Chad. I’ve heard stories about you my whole life.” While he talked I gently picked up the trilobite and turned it over.
“Oh my God! The ventral surface too!” Through the translucent papery belly I could see everything from the interior was gone.
I made Earl Grey and we talked. Mostly I talked. He asked about my childhood in Missouri, how I met Phil, all the places I’d lived and which ones I liked best. They never answer my questions, but there was one I had to ask.
“I had a visit once from a girl younger than you. She was sick. She told me it was incurable. She said her name was Lane. What happened to her? She looked so much like my niece, I thought she must be…”
Chad held up his hand. “I don’t recognize the name. She must have been from after.”
I shook my head. “I know you all choose ordinary one-syllable names, never give your real names. But I could tell she was from somewhen close. Closer than you.
“My sister’s daughter disappeared at the age of 10; we don’t know if she’s alive or dead. But Lane looked so much like Laurie. I think Laurie survived. I think she had/will have children.”
Chad stood up, brushed the crumbs off his pants. “Thanks for the tea.” He held out his hand for the trilobite. “You know I have to take that back. I wanted you to see it. I knew you would like it, because my great-grandmother wrote about her visit. She mentioned the display case.”
I looked over the ancient creature carefully one more time, then gave it back. “Thank you.” I smiled, squeezed his shoulder, watched him fade out.
Lane had been fascinated by my fossil collection. She had even taken my picture beside the case.