Frog sits on log. Log rolls over onto frog, frog falls off log into bog, bog grabs and sucks down frog. Frog drowns in bog. Remains of frog solidify over thousands of years, millions of years. Scientist collects fossil of frog and piece of log in bog, organizes to catalog.
Scientist sitting up late in Arctic Alaska feels lonely, goes on Tinder, sees my picture and swipes right. Scientist spends summers doing fieldwork, often sits up late cleaning fossils from frogs and logs in bogs. Thinks back to extracting frog/log/bog fossil in July out with colleague and dog, shirtless, t-shirt wound around his head to keep cool. In the picture, dog sits next to Scientist, tongue pink, raised taste buds like seeds on a strawberry. Scientist's mouth is open too, laughing as dog licks his hand, around them the rustle of long grass and cattails, the croaks of frogs. Scientist finds picture, feels lonely, goes on Tinder, sees me and swipes right. Secondary photo is of him alone with fossil on the windowsill. Frog in fossil is superorder batrachia, genus triadobatrachus, and species massinoti—the oldest kind of frog.
We can talk now if we want, but we do not talk. We think that Tinder is just for fun, swiping like in a videogame, like the 1980s game Frogger where the frog hops across the freeway and tries to avoid getting flattened by cars—this is how we feel about dating.
Cue prologue. Scientist studied fossils back in college, back when frog/log fossil was still in bog. College-age Scientist talks about fossils and evolution with his Then-Girlfriend, talks about prehistoric plants, about Devonian ferns and conifers, about subterranean oceans. Then-Girlfriend listens, begins to think of the world as connected, buys him a pot of bamboo. Scientist is touched, tells her bamboo is one of the oldest living plants, how after four long years of waiting it shoots up and takes over whole forests.
They have sex on the stiff, lint-smelling mattress in his dorm with the bamboo on the windowsill and she comes for the first time with him inside her. Both College-Scientist and Then-Girlfriend think about bamboo as a metaphor for commitment, for a love quiet but well-tended, meaning that they will last beyond college, beyond scientists' grueling future of research travel. His first fieldwork position is nine months away studying bamboo fossils in Argentinian forests. Scientist looks at the morphology of Guadua zuloagae—skypes with Then-Girlfriend. Voices crackle like burning leaves over the microphone; picture lags, becomes dark, pixelated. Her face moves patchy in the blue light, like a strobe. She says, "I miss you. Wish I had you at home."
Scientist goes on a walk and thinks about home as a concept, home as construct in country songs, home as a place in a bed with the cool skin of another human being pressed against chest, about the comfort in that weight. Sees dead frog, killed by the Jeep he drove into camp. Bends down to admire the splay; frog has been smashed so cleanly that its soft parts are in perfect high-school dissection. Here are the nares that lets air in and out while breathing, here are the pharynx and lungs. Here are the maxillary and vomerine teeth for holding prey, here is the pericardial sac—still somehow intact with the delicate silver of untouched heart within.
Scientist calls Then-Girlfriend on a satellite phone. Tells her he's coming back early, that he wants her to marry him, that he wants to try and build a home. When he gets back, that happens. They live together that way for five years, keeping potted bamboo on the windowsills. But for a young researcher without fieldwork, it can be difficult to pay off college loans. Wives get sick of crackling microphones and computer screens. They get sad and lonely.
One night, Scientist's Wife gets drunk and goes on Tinder. Just for fun, like swiping in a video game. Sees a man shirtless out hiking in the desert with his dog. He reminds her of her husband. A week later, drunk and lonely, she takes a cab to shirtless man's apartment and they have sex. She comes with a soft cry as he moves inside of her, sweat glistening on her clavicles as she enjoys the weight of him, enjoys the soft sound he makes when he comes, his hand holding tightly onto hers. This is both the beginning and the end of something.
Scientist now is thirty-four, always out in the field, rarely home in San Diego, rarely sees his dog, has to have friends look after it, has to have his ex-wife look after it. As he swipes right, next to him on the windowsill of his research hut in the Arctic is a fossil of a prehistoric frog/log/bog. He placed it there thinking how the world is not connected, how there will be no sudden spurt of personal growth, only the slow plod of history and evolution. Wonders what he is doing to evolve.
I am five miles away. We see pictures of each other on Tinder, in the outdoors with our dogs. Where I stand in my seal slippers on the split bamboo floor in my kitchen, next to me on the counter is my lesson plan and textbook for my biology summer camp. Tomorrow we will be dissecting frogs.
Scientist and I are both recently divorced. We cannot handle being emotionally involved.
I imagine him on top of me, the weight of him, what it might feel like to come with him inside of me. The cool drying of our sweat as we lie naked, ankles tangled in sheets.
I decide not to message him. He decides not to message me. Even that brief moment of intimacy would be too much for us. Arms crossed and bodies closed, we keep to ourselves and stand in our separate kitchens, alone.