The Trilobite Grotesque
Alice Whittenburg
She said she was a rogue scientist but a real one, with a Ph.D. in paleobiology. Her specialty was trilobites. “The lenses of their eyes,” she said, gazing into mine, “were made of calcite, which has double image properties, birefringence. Studying calcite birefringence and the compound trilobite eye led me to invent invisibility.” It was like listening to a sleepwalker.

She said, “Last night. That kiss. Did you feel it? Fingers caressing your hair? That was me, come unseen into your Mama’s house to find you in your bed.” 

She said, “Do you know about the Trilobite Grotesque? It was made for Duke Cosimo de' Medici, who sent it to his Welsh mistress. It was lost in Powys and recovered in Chengjiang. Men betrayed themselves for its sweet jewels and coruscations. Now it’s here in our town’s museum, and you know we want it. When I grab it I’ll be unseen, but the Grotesque will be visible, so I’ll hide it in your van. You’ll take it to our secret place.”

When I found the dingus in my van, I drove it to the drop and left it. Next day she wasn’t where she said she’d be, and the Trilobite Grotesque was gone. The police found a telltale RFID chip under my floor mat.
In my cell I think about that Grotesque, a many-splendored monster, dazzling and elusive like she was. Maybe she was just a good liar, but at night I still feel her clever fingers in my hair.

First published: August 2015
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