A Legacy in Crayon

I’m studying by the snakes again, feeling the tip of my nose sink gradually into Mrs. Dalloway as they lift their bodies up to press the warm glass of their tanks.

Every few minutes, there’s a vague scuffling from upstairs.  A chemistry major opens or shuts a door (I can’t tell which), possibly walks, lab coat swishing, to get a drink, or to gaze at the walls, grateful to be looking at something large, solid instead of bubbling liquids or brittle chains.

The plant beside me, which in the half hour I’ve been here has grown enough to sag against its stake, suddenly droops to the floor.  The rubber bands holding it to the short bamboo are taut, and I hurry to lift it, sliding a little on tumbled dirt.  Lacking a meter stick or a cue or a fire poker, I prop the plant against UMM’s very own triceratops skull.  It’s a cast, I know; I’ve read the plaque several times, always losing hope near the end.  Anyway, I figure it’s better to save something alive than to preserve something dead (that never was alive, really; always read the plaques).

This evening was the MCSA Fall Retreat, which I have been, in theory, planning for weeks. In actuality, I made a schedule weeks ago, pestered seniors about presenting a few weeks ago, and ordered the food yesterday.  Things went smoothly regardless, and the highlight was Allison showing me the stairwell, which, since 1960, has been tattooed in crayon with names and dates.  Rodney Briggs, I saw; the man who pushed for UMM to become a public liberal arts college.  The governor of Louisiana, who perhaps isn’t governor anymore.  Our current Chancellor, neatly signed in red cursive.  And then, at the bottom of the stairs, requiring, amazingly, one to stand on the last step and arch one’s back painfully to write, I found two of my friends.  Dated almost exactly a year ago today.

I’m not sure why it struck me.  The romanticism of the old brigade being shipped out, I suppose.  And the dreadful knowledge that I’m next.  I signed my name near theirs, adopting the ridiculous posture, and trying, with five-year-old patience, to form each letter neatly.

If I don’t have any other legacy here, if no one remembers that I studied by the snakes, or was a secretary, or dropped an entire White Berry Cooler at Higbies, at least there’s this.

Snake Watching

This afternoon as I trudged through the Science Building on my way to class, I was tired.  Tired because I can’t sleep in the the summer.  Not by choice, but because apparently something in my chemical makeup decides that it’s more fun for me to lie awake at 4 am, or to awaken suddenly after a dream in which my right hand sports a constellation of disgusting bug bites.  Tired also, from keeping up with four kiddos under 4, all of whom are delightful, but all of whom have seemingly bottomless energy stores.

I paused briefly, as I am wont to do, by the snakes’ cages.  8-Ball the Ball Python was curled snugly in his heated box, but Ramses the Boa Constrictor, who I have rarely seen move, was sliding over and around his faded tree limb.  Old skin was peeling off his muscular body in thin white sheets, and he seemed desperate to be free of it.  Every so often he lifted his head and neck high into the air and peered around in agitation.

I came back to the snakes as soon as the professor nodded us on our ten minute break.  Someone from the biology department had apparently been in to clean, because Ramses’ skin was piled on top of his cage.

I couldn’t resist touching it, and was a little shocked that it felt exactly the way I thought it would; it was crackly and dry, like a piece of your skin peeled from a bad sunburn.

Even later, after class was finished, I plopped right down in front of Ramses to watch him finish the job.  There were still bits of shredded dead skin hanging from the sides of his head.  It took him a few turns around his rock and water bowl to get rid of them.