The Heartbeat of a Dinosaur
By Delia G
In between the first time Miss Jazzie opened our door and the
last time she closed her eyes, the stars shone brighter over our
house. There was another seat at the dinner table and my nails
were always painted. Daddy used to say that she needed a house
and we needed a home, so together we were beautiful no matter
how funny we looked. She, with her dark braided hair, crazy patterned
dresses, and cinnamon-scented skin, and I with my ears that didn't
work and my big green eyes that she said could see straight through
anything. We were like a garden with all different types of flowers,
growing in the same place. Somehow, seeming more alive.
I always knew when Miss Jazzie was telling a lie. She would look
down—instead of into my eyes—as if she was afraid I could see
into her soul, where she kept all those secrets. Then, when she
gave me an answer with those shaky, lying hands, I knew. Her
lips were tight as if she didn't want me to read them at all.
Why do you like this music so much Jazzie? I signed once,
watching her rock to music one morning while she was making breakfast.
I didn't remember what music was like, but I had felt the tape
player pulsing and I had seen Miss Jazzie close her eyes and swing
around while it was playing.
It reminds me of when I was young, she replied, signing
with her hands wet from peeling potatoes, and when I could
swing dance like nobody's business.
Why was it nobody's business?
She tilted her head and smiled at me. I guess because I was
the best there was, Babycakes.
Can you still dance like that? I couldn't tell if I was
pushing her further than she wanted to go, but it hadn't stopped
She looked downwards, setting down a potato mid-peel, and her
mouth got tight. Sweets, I danced with the dinosaurs. Don't
see none of them 'round, do ya? So you ain't gonna see me doin'
Even though I couldn't hear the words, I knew she'd been angry
by the tensing muscles in her face and the way she narrowed her
lips. Angry, I guessed, because she missed those memories. She
sensed my disappointment. 'Less of course you find me some
dinosaurs, she added, her eyes twinkling for just a second.
Of course she was surprised when I came home with it the next
day, but I was pretty sure she'd known that I wouldn't let that
twinkle disappear. I'd picked it up at a thrift store on the
way home from school. It had been two dollars, but the lady at
the counter gave it to me one, she said, because I was smiling.
Jazzie always did say that I could charm December into skipping
When she opened the box (which I had covered sloppily with her
wrapping paper) she smiled quickly before stifling it and raising
an eyebrow. It was a wind-up dinosaur, green and scaly, and ancient,
rusting around its toothy mouth. Baby... what in heaven's
name are you trying to get out of this?
Teach me to dance.
That evening, Miss Jazzie turned the music up so much that she
and I could both feel it vibrating in our bodies, up through our
feet and into our hips. She mouthed, Darlin', good thing you're
already deaf 'cause you certainly would be now with all this clamor.
When I hesitated towards her, she yanked my arm sternly. If
we're gonna dance let's get to it. She was smiling underneath
that stiff jaw, those displeased eyes. I knew and she knew I
knew. That was why she put up with me, I guessed, because she
didn't have to use so many words.
Slowly I moved with her—spinning and stepping and swinging and
rolling into her body, which, just as slowly, was beginning to
ease. I let her energy flow through me like a splash of warm
water, and when we were finished, she laid on the floor gasping
and smiling, gazing at me as I dramatically collapsed beside her.
Not so bad, kiddo. Haven't felt so good since who knows when.
She heaved herself upward. I got up and pulled her off the
floor by her limp arms. A'course, she mouthed, I'll
feel it tomorrow.
* * *
She's an old woman, and old women don't stay around forever.
The doctor was talking, but I saw less in what he said than
what I already knew. Daddy had spoken to him at the door with
his back to me so I couldn't read his lips. But I wasn't so concerned
with their conversation as I was with the soup, which I had been
haphazardly preparing to bring to Jazzie's room.
Miss Jazmine, he went on, is in a lot of pain. She has been
for a while now. She's refusing diagnosis, so I don't know how
long she has. I've tried to convince her to come to the hospital,
he patted my shoulder, but she wants to stay put.
I pretended to go to school that morning, and hid behind the
house until Daddy left for work. When I climbed into Jazzie's
open window, I saw that she was awake, but her eyes seemed to
be closing by themselves. Home already? She smiled.
I swear she knew all the secrets of the universe right then.
I sat down next to her. Jazzie, I signed, am I missing
so much of the world... not being able to hear words?
She took my wrist and squeezed it with the familiar powdery coolness
of her hands. Baby... words ain't nothin’. Fools use words
to cover up for what they can't feel, what they can't see, or
understand. But you got eyes that see what can't be heard.
She closed her eyes. Like the heartbeat of a dinosaur.