The Extinction Museum: Exhibit #71 (flap of lichen preserved between two panes of glass)

Tina May Hall


Lichenlingur they called me—little lichen, two-natured, algae and fungus, both clinging things. I hid my face in Mother’s skirts when the neighbors came. I listened from under the table when the old men told stories and drank the golden liquor made from my namesake. Mother swabbed my scraped knees with it and the burn went right down to the cartilage. In those north woods, the reindeer nibbled lichen from the boulders. The old men told of bears and larger things, trolls perhaps, that they had glimpsed in the brush. One year, no game was to be had and we soaked lacy flakes of lichen for soups while the old men grumbled about beasts in the caves. All we found were bones that year, scattered on the forest floor, and those went into the pot also. When seven young men from the village disappeared on a hunt, everyone agreed action must be taken. On the coldest night, the old men trudged into the snow with torches and spiked chains, swords and muskets their grandfathers had saved. The next morning, they filed out of the woods, faces grey with the chill, hands wrapped in blackened rags, hauling a big sack of bones of unidentifiable origin. The bones, when boiled, smelled of rosemary and rose petals, orange blossom and vanilla, the scents the girls of the village had dabbed on letters to their lost loves. Those bones sang, no matter how deep we buried them.