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The Dig || Anthony Kane Evans

by Anthony Kane Evans

i.


She was covered in a thin patina of dust when he first saw her. He, a tourist; she, on an archaeological dig, down in a shallow pit. The sun beat down on his bare head, down on her fisherman’s hat, khaki-coloured like the rest of her clothes.

“Find anything?” he called out.

She looked up, blinking into that merciless sun. The rim of the hat was not enough to shield her sky-blue eyes, she had to use a hand as well.

“Shards, nothing but shards!” she said.

“Shards?”

“Fragments of pots,” she said.

“Those blue eyes of yours, they sure stand out amongst all that sandy-coloured earth,” he said.

“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” 

“Oh, no! Just an observation.”

“Well, if you’ll let me get on with my work …”

“We’re on a tour,” he said.

He pointed over to the guide.

“There are more interesting things to see in the main tent,” she said.

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know, like shards,” she said.

“Tell me, do you really enjoy all that digging in this heat?”

“What I enjoy is the finding, the discovering,” she said.

“When they finally blow the whistle and let you out of there, what do you do?”

“We go eat in the food tent.”

“And then?”

“Look, how old are you, twenty-two? Because I’m thirty-six years old,” she said.

“Twenty-eight,” he said.

She threw down what looked like a medium-sized paint brush.

“I don’t believe you!” she said.

“I’ll come back tomorrow and show you my passport!”

“I’m sure your tour guide will have something far more interesting lined up for you, like a donkey ride.”

“Oh, tomorrow he’s threatened to take us half-way up a mountain to visit a vineyard.”


ii.


Next day, he hired a moped. They wanted to keep hold of his passport. 

“I need it!” he said.

They were understanding.

“We take photocopy, Mr. Lewis,” they said.


It took an hour and a half to get to the dig. A strong wind from the Bosphorus blew across the island. The Meltemi, they called it. It kept some of the tourists away, despite it being high season. Still, it was hot inland, the further he rode inland, the hotter it got, the more he lost the rhythm of the ride, the more the dust got in his eyes. Yesterday, in the minivan, with all the windows open, it had been a pleasant enough journey. And yet here he was, fully in the open air, sweating like a …

“Maybe I’m not going fast enough!” he said to himself.


He parked by the main tent. Strode over to where she had been yesterday. She was there, brushing away with that absurd paintbrush.

“Been down there all night, have you?” he said.

She looked up, squinted.

“I mean, you look just the same,” he said.

“Not you again!” she said.

He threw his passport down into the pit. She picked it up. Blew dust off it. Opened it. Studied it.

“If this job doesn’t work out,” he said, “You can always get work at customs.”

“This work is voluntary,” she said.

“Voluntary!”

She threw his passport back up. He caught it.

“So, you’re twenty-eight. I’m still thirty-six, almost a decade older than you.”

“I’m sure you look younger when you’re scrubbed up,” he said.

“But I’ll still be older.”

“Well, I happen to like you as you are, all dusty like that.”

“Look, I just broke up with somebody. I’m not looking for romance.”


Mark sat down by the pit. He worried his lower lip for a minute or two. She went back to her work.

“Why’d you break up?” he said.

“Because he didn’t want me to come out on this archaeological dig,” she said, “He wanted us to spend the summer driving across the Continent.”

“And where is he now?”

“I don’t know. He blocked me on the social media and wouldn’t return my phone calls. I was actually ready to compromise.”

“Well, I for one am glad you didn’t,” he said.

“Look, why don’t you go on that donkey ride and chase somebody your own age!”

“It was a trip to a vineyard.”

“The donkey ride must be coming up soon!” she said.

“Tomorrow. Say, how about we go out and eat together this evening?”

“No.”

“You’re a tough nut,” he said.

“I hope so. Now, if you don’t mind …”

She picked up a trowel.

“Till tomorrow then,” he said.

She didn’t reply.


He went towards the main tent. Opened the flap. Went in. A young man with a magnifying glass was examining fragments of objects on a long table.

“The famous shards, I presume?”

The young man looked up, blinking hard.

“Has the Leeds party arrived, already?” he said.

“No, I’m Mark Lewis, I was with yesterday’s party, but I got confused and forgot to come in. Any chance of a quick run-down?”


The young man obliged. Mark’s knowledge of Ancient Greece was severely lacking. However, he recognized writing on some of the shards.

“Graffiti!” Mark said.

The young man laughed.

“No, no, no. Shards were often deliberately broken off pots and used to vote with. You wrote your name on the shard. See here, Kimon, that’s a name, see.”


Mark found out that the woman he’d been talking to was called Helen Fenwick. That she was an Associate Professor with University College London. He thanked the young man, now he, that young man, he might only have been twenty-two years of age. Mark climbed onto his moped.

“Heigh-ho, Rodeo!” he called out as he rode out of there.

The rhythm was back in his ride.


iii.


Helen Fenwick looked up at Mark Lewis.

“What happened to the donkey ride?” she said.

“Well, it’s like this, all the women were over fifty, and then I recalled what you were only thirty-six and that you’d told me to chase younger women, so here I am.”

She almost smiled. Almost. She went back to her digging. She was using a small pick. What they call a mattock. Mark had spent the previous evening looking up archaeological terms. He, he pulled out a paperback copy of The Odyssey, which he’d picked up from the local village after his ride back. It’d been recommended by the young man in the main tent.

The Iliad is not for beginners,” he’d said.


After a while, Helen glanced up. He flashed her the cover of his book.

“Thought I’d better try and come up to speed,” he said.

“What for?”

“Well, when that dust is scrubbed off you, I reckon you’ll come up shining like an intellectual or at least an academic.”

She carried on digging, working the trowel and dusting with that absurd brush. He read. Every now and again, he took a sip of water.


A shadow moved across his book. He looked up. There was a guy up there. A tall guy. A big guy. 

“What the fuck is this?” the guy said.

“Johnny!” Helen said.

“Mark,” Mark said, “Mark Lewis.”

The big fellow lifted Mark up by the scruff of his neck and threw him down into the pit.

 Then he jumped down into it himself.

Johnny!” Helen shouted.


Johnny raised his foot, like he was going to stomp on Mark. Mark reached out, grasped hold of a loose rock and whacked Johnny hard across the knee. He fell back screaming like a stuck pig. A number of shadowy figured appeared above them. They, and Helen, dragged Johnny out of the pit. Mark sat up and peeked out. They got Johnny into a car and drove off. He was still yelling.


An older man, with a long white beard made his way over. He looked down at Mark.

“We apologize,” he said, “But, you know, we cannot be held responsible. You really shouldn’t be on site without a guide.”

“I’m a friend of Helen Fenwick’s,” Mark said.

But the old man was no longer looking at him. 

“Is that the rock you hit poor Johnny with?”

“Yes.”

“So, you removed it, then?”

“Yes, sorry.”

“Here, help me down, can’t you, boy.”

“Certainly.”


Mark helped him down. The old man grunted as he set foot in the pit. He bent down.

“Pass me that excavation brush, will you? The large one.”

Mark passed it to him. He was looking in the hollow which had been left by the removal of the rock that had whacked Johnny across his knee.

“I do believe, young man …”

“Mark Lewis, twenty-eight, so, not so young.”

“I do believe, young man, that you’ve uncovered something here.”

“A shard?”

“Oh, no. Not a shard. It looks like, by Jove, I believe it is. A kylix.”

“A what?”

“A drinking cup. Wine, don’t you know.”


After a while, Mark had to take over with the brush. The older man, Professor O’Hanlon he called himself, occasionally used the trowel. After half an hour’s work, the professor called a halt.

“Hermes!” he said.

“Who?”

“In the middle of the drinking vessel there. The god, Hermes, perhaps you know him as Mercury? It looks to be from around four-hundred and twenty BCE, when Young Alcibiades was a general lording it over Athens. When Euripides’ play, The Suppliant Women was first performed. These names must mean something to you, of course, if you are friend of Helen’s.”

“Oh, yes,” Mark said, “She talks about them all the time.”


iv.


Helen turned up at Mark’s hotel the next day. He was down by the pool, a mojito, and The Odyssey by his side.

“You!” she said.

“Oh, hello Helen,” he said.

“You!” she said.

“Here, sit down, let me get you a mojito.”

He sat her down on a deckchair, next to his lounger. He went into the hotel bar and got her a mojito and a bag of oregano-flavoured crisps.

“And, please, if you could bring a couple of coffees over to the pool, in, say, ten minutes.”


He gave her the mojito and opened the crisps.

“You!” she said.

She drank some of the mojito.

“First you disturb me at my work, then you break my boyfriend’s kneecap …”

“Ex-boyfriend!”

“Break my ex-boyfriend’s kneecap. And now, now you are going to be credited with the discovery of a precious silver kylix. It’s too much, too much!”

Mark offered her a crisp. She refused.

“We’ll sort it out,” Mark said, “You’ll get the credit, you’ll see. I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for you. If this desperate Johnny character hadn’t attacked me, I wouldn’t have lifted that rock. Don’t you see, none of it could have happened without you. I’ll call Professor O’Hanlon, we’ll get it all sorted out, you’ll see.”


She was breathing hard. Very pale. Shining bright. There wasn’t a speck of dust on her. 

“Thirty-six, my ass!” Mark said.

“Now, don’t start that again. Why, my boyfriend, he’s in the hospital!”

Ex. Ex-boyfriend.”

“My ex-boyfriend.”

The barman came out with the coffees.

“So, you’ve got the day off?” Mark said.

“It’s the weekend.”

“Oh, so it is. Listen, we go to your hotel, pick up your swimming costume, come back here and go for a dip, what do you say?”

“I haven’t brought my swimming costume with me.”

“We go into the village. I buy you a swimming costume, it’s the least I can do. The very least.”

“The sea,” she said.

“The sea?”

“I want to swim in the sea.”


They sipped at their coffees. Mark looked into her blue eyes. They weren’t quite here. They were somewhere else. Maybe in Ancient Greece. Maybe in 420 BCE. Mark thumped his copy of The Odyssey. He had a feeling that he had a lot of reading ahead of him.



***


ANTHONY KANE EVANS has had around sixty-five short stories published in various UK, French, US, Canadian, Nigerian, Singaporean, and Australian literary journals, e-zines, and anthologies. Journals include London Magazine (UK), Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal (UK), The Tusculum Review (US), Going Down Swinging (Australia), and The Antigonish Review (Canada). E-zines include Litro Magazine, New Pop Lit and Short Édition. Though born in Manchester, UK, he is currently to be found in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he has made several documentary films for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

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