THE DAY THE ZOO BROKE LOOSE
The t-rex towered above Oliver and Sarka, who craned their necks to watch the dinosaur. It had sharp teeth, the strongest bite ever recorded, and a mouth large enough to get full use out of those features— according to the skeleton's museum display at least.
Oliver had his doubts. "With such stubby arms, it couldn't have been much of a threat."
Sarka Nazarenko tapped her lip. "Hmm."
It sounded like a lullaby's hum, but he knew it hinted at adventure. She held out the stuffed brontosaurus her mom had bought her. "We could test its teeth on this."
Oliver Arkwright rubbed his jaw, while staring at the skeleton’s. The t-rex's teeth hung a good ten feet in the air, hovering above the display railing. "Our teachers have always told us to examine and inquire."
Sarka's smile grew as wide as the t-rex's. "Yes, they'd be disappointed in us if we didn't test whether or not the display is accurate. We are such good students for thinking of this."
Oliver turned around to find his mother. She and Mrs. Nazarenko were in the sand pit, helping their younger children excavate dinosaur bones. No doubt his mom would be interested in finding out if the t-rex's bite lived up to its reputation. He waved in her direction. "Mom, come watch this."
Both Sarka's and his mother looked up. Brushing sand from her cheek, his mother said, "I'll be there in a sec. Your sister has almost collected all the bones to build her dinosaur."
Sarka shifted from foot to foot as they waited. After an eternity that lasted a minute, she said, "Let's go ahead and climb the guard rails. It's only the end result they'll want to see."
"Okay, there's no harm in setting up the experiment," Oliver said, leaping onto the railing that was helpfully right below the t-rex's jaw. That couldn't be a coincidence. The museum must've made it that way knowing kids would want to test out the t-rex's jaw. The curators were so thoughtful.
While Oliver stopped on the second to last rail, Sarka continued to the highest one, placing a hand on his shoulder to keep her balance. Before lifting the stuffed brontosaurus, she squeezed Oliver's shoulder to get his attention. "On the other side of the exhibit, there's a sign that says, 'Do not climb on the railing.'"
Oliver breathed a sigh of relief at their close call. "The railing on that end of the exhibit must have been damaged. It's lucky that we chose to climb on this side instead."
Sarka nodded. "Someone could have gotten hurt. Thank goodness the museum left a warning."
With her free hand, she lifted the brontosaur into the air. Its fluffy neck fell short of the t-rex's sharp teeth by inches. The other children around the display turned from the t-rex to her with the same gaping expression they reserved for the dinosaurs: eyes wide, mouths open, while saying, "Ooohh."
Not wanting to disappoint his audience, Oliver told Sarka, "You should be able to reach the jaws if you climb onto my shoulders."
Sarka didn't waste a second. She bit the brontosaur's neck to free her hands and clambered onto Oliver's shoulders with the ease of a koala climbing a tree. He wobbled but gripped the railing to hold steady. When she had her knees planted on his shoulders, she raised the brontosaur overhead.
Behind him, his mother said, "What are you doing?"
Oliver tried to freeze, but a shiver ran down his spine. She was using her “wake up, you're late for school” voice, not her “Aawww, look at the amazing thing you've done” voice. As the shiver faded, it was replaced by a worry. He might have miscalculated her interest in seeing their experiment. That had happened more than once.
Sarka did freeze. The brontosaur came to a dead stop inches from the t-rex. While Oliver twisted around slowly to ensure Sarka didn't fall, she continued to hold her hands in the air like she was surrendering to the police. Once turned around, he found his mom and Sarka's staring them down. Their younger siblings stood behind their mothers, snickering as they watched.
"What do you think you're doing?" his mom asked.
"Science?" he said, hoping it was the right choice.
His mother crossed her arms. Mrs. Nazarenko tapped her boot heel against the tile floor.
"Wrong answer?" Oliver asked.
His mother breathed in, then let it out in the form of a sigh. "Getting down this instant is the right answer."
Sarka slithered from her perch atop Oliver to reach the top rail, and then hopped off from there. "It was an educational experiment."
Mrs. Nazarenko adjusted Sarka's beret. "The only thing you need to learn from this experiment is to never do it again."
Oliver jumped off the rails, landing at his mom's feet. "We only wanted an answer to a question. We had good intentions."
She took his hands in hers. "Which won't keep you from getting hurt. Your dad will be returning from the war soon. If you fell and hurt yourself, you won't be able to do anything but lie around while he takes your siblings out to play. Is answering your question worth that risk?"
He looked at his feet before shaking his head. "No."
She ruffled his hair. "Then please be good. You're going on a field trip to the zoo tomorrow. I fear to think what experiments you two will try with living carnivores."
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Sarka said. “Since they’re alive, if we want to test out their bite strength, we won’t need to get near them. We can simply throw things at them.”
Mrs. Nazarenko placed a hand over heart. Oliver’s mom patted her shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. The school nurse promised to keep a close eye on them.”
The birds chirped loud and rowdy. Sarka yawned deep and tired. The world was awake, but she wanted little more than to sleep. The baby cardinals in their nest were an alarm clock preventing her from doing so. Eight o'clock was too early. School shouldn't start until noon.
Her classmates stumbled around her like zombies. Their parents and teachers formed a perimeter around the children, keeping them from wandering off in their sleepy daze. Oliver emerged from the crowd to sit beside her, yawning hello. She yawned back in friendly reply. While some friends had secret hand signals, Sarka and Oliver had secret yawn signals.
His mother walked beside the bench to play with his hair, leaving it ragged as if he had just gotten out of bed. "That's better," Mrs. Arkwright said.
Sarka’s mom shook her head. "I'll never understand your taste." Her daughter’s perfect french braid attested to that.
Mrs. Arkwright snapped a picture of the two of them with her phone, catching them both mid-yawn. "It gives him flare."
"I’ll give you that."
The field trip buses pulled into the parking lot in a procession that blocked out the rising sun, which granted haloes to the vehicles. As far as Sarka was concerned, they were as good as angels for rescuing her from a day of class. When the buses parked, Sarka and Oliver staggered into line, waving goodbye to their moms.
"Look out for each other," Mrs. Arkwright said.
"We will," they said in unison. They always did that.
"But don't egg each other on," her mother said.
"We won't," they said together. As if they ever did that.