by Olivia Schwartzman

You love to birdwatch, so we decide to go to the Galapagos. You decide, actually. I’m at work when you send me our plane tickets, departing next week. We need a vacation, you say, to reset. I have spent most of my life pretending to be present, so pretending to birdwatch is easy for me.
You pack the binoculars, the sunscreen, the birding books. You repeat the names of the islands: Santiago, Genovesa, Floreana. I think about the likelihood of dying in a volcanic eruption. The plane is a puddle jumper, the seats crammed together like teeth. We manage not to touch the whole way there.
The first bird we see is a finch. That’s a finch, you tell me, and I happen to be actually listening rather than pretending. Darwin’s theory of evolution started with these finches! You’re excited, speaking quickly. He noticed they looked alike but had different beaks if they lived on different islands. They evolved from the same ancestor, but they adapted and became different species. I don’t have cell service in the Galapagos so I can’t verify this information, but I recall a vague memory of middle school science class. Cool, I say. The finch bobs its head in a jittery dance, then flies off.
The next day we see swallows, blue footed boobies, albatross. You scribble names down in a notebook, clutch at your binoculars. Did you see that? You keep asking over and over. An iguana makes menacing faces at us on the beach. The Galapagos feel sinister to me, with black crags of volcanic rock and prickly paddle cactus lining the hills. The air has a different vibration, the sky cycles through thick fog to brilliant sun in the space of a few hours. Vines wrap around tree trunks too tightly. The islands exist too close to the heart of the world, the hot core brought to the surface. You love every minute of it, you can’t stop smiling. Hey, I say, when we get back, should we redo the kitchen? You ignore me, intently watching a mockingbird. At night you barely sleep, roaming the beach in search of penguins.
On our last day you take a deep breath and tell me that you want to stay. You have reached a level of clarity that you haven’t had in years. It’s being near the birds, it’s being in this prehistoric landscape. How could you return to our little life, our little kitchen? In the Galapagos there is the ever present and the always changing at once, you feel you are part of evolution in action. I blink a few times, nod. I’ve vacated my body, I’m high above the islands. I see the archipelago as a little splotch in the big blue sea. It’s a blank expanse. There’s nothing here, except everything. Okay, I say. Well.
On the plane home I rest my head against the white plastic of the window. I wonder, many years from now, will we meet again somewhere? The supermarket, a meadow, the bottom of the sea? Will you have longer hair, will you know how to catch a fish? Will you have a beak, a tail? Will your arm be a wing? What version of yourself will you have become? And me, will I have changed by staying in my place, not knowing I was any different? Our eyes will meet across a canyon of unbridgeable distance. There will be some spark of recognition. We will call out to each other uncomprehendingly, no longer speaking the same language.

Olivia Schwartzman is a writer from Los Angeles with a degree in Creative Writing from Oberlin College. Her work has previously appeared in Wilder Voice and Eleven and a Half. She currently lives in Italy and works as a copywriter.


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