Friday, November 16, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Eight

Maddie's continuing adventures in the land of the Maya. To find all the installments, click the Jaguar Sky link to the right.


December 24, 2010

     Maddie startled awake to the harsh buzz of Joan’s alarm clock. She sat on her bed, motionless, in rumpled shorts and t-shirt, while Joan washed her face and got dressed. A knock sounded at the door. Joan opened it.
     “Good morning, Tom.” Joan looked at Maddie then back at Tom. “I need a moment of your time, please.”
     “Not now, Joan.” He glared at her and motioned for her to exit the room. She looked at Maddie, shrugged defeat and went out.
     Maddie looked up at Tom. He stood in the doorway, filling the space. His eyes were bloodshot, his forehead furrowed. He pressed his lips together.
     “Time for breakfast, Maddie. Unfortunately, today’s flights back to Miami are already overbooked so I’ll have to send you back tomorrow.”
     “Christmas Day? You’re sending me home on Christmas Day?”
     “I don’t want to hear a peep out of you. You’ll do as I say and not disappear from my sight for a moment, understood?” She nodded. “I can’t afford to waste a whole day babysitting you at the lodge so I’m confining you to the lab tent while we’re at the dig site. Get a move on. The sooner this day gets started, the sooner it will be over.” He squinted at her and his voice softened just a bit. “You might want to brush your hair.”
     Maddie stumbled over to the mirror and peered at her reflection. Her eyes were puffy, her hair disheveled. She pulled the ponytail holder out of the tangled mess and brushed out most of the snarls. She put the ponytail holder back in and let Tom steer her by the elbow all the way to the dining room.
     At breakfast Tom announced that Maddie was being sent home the next day for inappropriate conduct. He refused to offer details or answer questions.
     “This is no one else’s business. This is my project. I don’t want to hear a word out of anyone today unless it has something to do with our work or I’ll consider you to be exhibiting inappropriate conduct as well. Understood?”
     Everyone assented, though most raised their eyebrows. Tom rushed the team out of the dining room and down the path to the dig site. He steered Maddie into the lab tent and pointed to a chair. Pete stood by, smiling. The rest of the team hovered just outside the tent.
     “All right,” said Tom. “Maddie, you’ll follow Pete’s instructions. You’ll work in the tent and not leave it without me by your side. If I can’t find you I’ll assume you’re AWOL and call the police. Remember, stealing artifacts is a felony. Understood?”
     Maddie nodded and pressed her lips together. Tom looked at her for a minute then stomped over to the mound. Joan followed him. Colin stuck his head into the lab tent.
     “What’s the matter, Maddie, wouldn’t you make lovey-dovey with Dr. Davies? Is that why he’s sending you home?”
     He turned and sauntered over to his work area before Maddie could form a reply.
     Ben stood and stared, his face sad, but Maddie wouldn’t meet his gaze. Eventually he, too walked over to the mound and got to work.
     Pete set a shoebox of slides next to the microscope. He stood just a few inches from Maddie as he talked to her.
     “All right, Madeleine, the slides are all labeled. Just like yesterday, look at each one and divide them into two groups – plain dirt and anything else. I’ll examine them later since you don’t have the expertise to identify any of the organic substances they’re likely to contain. At least I can be fairly certain you won’t exhibit inappropriate conduct with a set of slides.” He snickered then turned away.
     Maddie watched as Pete joined the others at the mound, ready to scrape up his samples the moment they uncovered another few square inches. The stone structure originally had a thatch roof that had collapsed into the building and decayed over time. Pete took samples of the debris as the team cleared the top of the structure.
     Once again Maddie spent her time peering at slides through the microscope. Her neck ached and her eyes burned but she kept at it, determined to do a good job no matter what. Every now and then she looked up to watch the others. Joan was nowhere in sight most of the morning.
     Pete spent much of his time standing nearby while Tom, Colin and Ben lifted trowelfuls of soil from the top of the structure. They uncovered wobbly lines of football-size grey stones – the tops of walls. But Maddie sat in the tent with her slides.
     “Phoenix, you are sad.” Kin looked at her with concern.
     She sat with her elbows on the lab table, her chin resting on her hands. “I don’t think you should be talking to me. You might get in trouble with Dr. Davies.”
     He returned two trowels to one box and rummaged in another until he came up with a handful of paintbrushes and a couple ice picks. “Why, Phoenix?”
     “He thinks I stole jade artifacts from the site. He’s sending me home tomorrow and I’ll probably go to jail.” She wiped tears from her cheeks.
     Kin stared at her. “Did you do it?”
     “Of course not!”
     “Then everything will be fine.”
     Maddie punched the microscope then rubbed her throbbing knuckles. “Fine. Right. My life is ruined.”
     Kin smiled at her. “The gods take care of you, Phoenix.” He turned and trotted back to the mound with an armload of tools.
     A short while later Maddie lifted her head at the sound of voices in the clearing. She looked up to see Tom striding toward her, Father Angelico at his side. She grimaced and looked back down at her work.
     “Good morning, Maddie.” The priest’s voice was full of concern.
     She looked up at him but did not speak.
     “I just came to wish everyone a merry Christmas Eve and invite you all to evening services in the village. But Dr. Davies tells me you will be going home tomorrow under…unfortunate circumstances.”
     Maddie looked up at Tom, who refused to meet her gaze. “I guess so,” she managed to say.
     Father Angelico gazed at Maddie with concern. “If you would like to talk about this, Maddie, I am available. I will be happy to help you sort out your feelings.”
     Maddie shook her head.
     The priest turned to Tom and said, in a low voice that was still loud enough for Maddie to hear, “You see what I meant when I spoke with you before.” He shook his head. “What a shame.”
     He shook hands with Tom, waved good-bye to the other team members and headed back toward the lodge.
     At lunch Maddie didn’t dare speak but the other team members complained between bites of food. Colin whined about the weather, the bugs and the lack of media-worthy finds.
     “I did warn you all that archaeology is mostly gruntwork,” Tom snarled.
     Shonna bounced into the dining room, helped herself to a chair at the end of the team’s table and ordered lunch. She darted Maddie a look of concern then peered at Tom. Neither one returned her gaze.
     “I can hardly wait to find out what your building is.” She forced a smile.
     “Me either,” said Ben. “It’s almost like we’re waiting for it to be born, so we can find out if it’s a boy or a girl. Or a grain storage room.”
     Shonna nodded. “We’ll know the ending soon, I’m sure.”
     “Don’t you mean the beginning?” Colin corrected her. “Ben compared uncovering the structure to a birth, so that’s a beginning.”
     “Actually, it’s both,” said Shonna, “at least from the Maya perspective.”
     “That can’t be,” said Ben.
     The students looked at Tom.
     “She’s right,” he admitted through clenched teeth. “The Maya didn’t even inflect their verbs -- no past or future tense. Everything is in the eternal present.”
     “Ms. Rollins,” said Ben, “could you please explain what you meant? I’m having a lot of trouble understanding how the Maya thought about time.”
     “We all do, Honey,” Shonna replied. “Their minds were so expansive compared to ours. Look at it from Einstein’s perspective. Quantum physics. Time is not linear; it’s a dimension, just like the three dimensions of space, so all of it exists all at once.”
     “I don’t get it,” said Ben.
     “Think about it this way. Birth is the end of pregnancy but the beginning of the baby’s life outside the womb. End and beginning at the same time.” She looked at them all. “When you three graduate and your college career ends, what will they call the ceremony?”
     “Commencement,” said Ben.
     “And what does the word commencement mean?” said Shonna.
     “Beginning!” Ben beamed. “I think I get it!”
     “You probably do, Honey, if you just let your mind do its thing instead of starting out with too many preconceived notions.” She shot a pointed look at Tom.
     “Wow,” said Ben, “you sure know a lot about the Maya. I don’t understand why Dr. Davies doesn’t want you to help us out here.”
     Tom blew out a breath. “She doesn’t have the appropriate credentials. Eat your lunch, please.”
     “That’s right,” Shonna said. “I haven’t been approved by the team leader.”
     After a quiet walk back to the site, with Tom at her elbow the whole way, Maddie resigned herself to several more hours of sheer boredom and a stiff neck. She gazed through the microscope at slide after slide until her vision blurred.
     At least Dr. Galloway is all the way over there instead of leaning over me to adjust the damn microscope.
     She placed a slide in the “plain dirt” pile and slid another one onto the microscope’s viewing platform. Kin ambled up. He set a handful of dirt-filled baggies on the table next to Maddie.
     “These are C-5,” he said. “Dr. Galloway says you write on the bags.”
     “Thanks, Kin. At least it’s a break from being bent over this microscope.”
     He returned to the mound. Maddie got out her Sharpie and began labeling the baggies. She shrugged her shoulders as something tickled her neck. The tickle continued down her back and around her side. She realized that her t-shirt harbored a fairly large bug of some sort, possibly the biting kind.
     She pulled the hem of her shirt out of her shorts and shook the shirt briskly. The bug scampered around her side and into her bra. Panicking, she glanced around. She was in full view of the entire team. She got up and ran around behind the back wall of the lab tent – the only wall they hadn’t rolled up that morning.
     She whipped her shirt up to her armpits and unhooked her bra. A large black beetle leapt from her body and landed on the dirt. It scuttled away into the underbrush. Maddie heaved a sigh of relief. She had begun to refasten her bra when a hand closed around her wrist. She looked up to see Pete Galloway bearing down on her. She opened her mouth to protest and he clamped his hand over her lips, silencing her.
     His puffy lips were creased into a wild grin as he whispered “Oh yes!” over and over again. He grasped both of Maddie’s wrists with one large hand and kept his other hand clamped over her mouth. She struggled, trying to twist out of his grip. He forced his knee between her legs and leaned hard against her, pushing her toward the ground. Her bare back scraped on branches as she fought him. He shoved hard and she took several steps backward, crashing up against a tree.
     Suddenly the underbrush shook and Kin appeared around the corner of the lab tent. Pete looked up in surprise. Maddie twisted her head and bit down hard on the hand that covered her mouth. Pete yelped and sprang away from her. She tasted blood and spat several times onto the ground.
     Pete turned and fled into the jungle, clasping his bleeding hand with the uninjured one. Kin took a step toward her.
     “Phoenix, you OK?”
     Her breath rasped from the effort of struggle. “I think so.” She fumbled with her clothes. It was all she could do to fasten her bra with trembling hands. Kin averted his eyes until she was fully dressed again.
     She looked around. “Is he gone?”
     “Gone, Phoenix.” He looked at her with concern. “I watch out for you now, OK?” He balled up his fists and punched an imaginary adversary.
     “Thank you, Kin. You saved me.”
     “We go tell Tom.” He took a step toward the clearing.
     “No!” Maddie stepped in front of him. “No, Kin.”
     “Phoenix, that man try to –“
     “I know, Kin. But he didn’t. It’s over. Besides, Dr. Davies would never believe me.” She wiped her wet cheeks. “He thinks I’m a liar and a thief. So let’s just forget it.”
     Kin stared at her, perplexed.
     She squared her shoulders. “Let’s get back to work.”
     She stuffed her hands into her shorts pockets to stop them from shaking. They came out from behind the lab tent, stepping over tangles of overgrowth. Tom looked up from his work on the structure and frowned. Maddie realized that her hair was tousled. Her hands shook as she slicked it back down.
     She hurried back to her work in the lab tent. Pete reappeared some time later with a bandage on his hand. He resumed collecting samples around the structure. Kin managed to stay between Pete and Maddie the entire afternoon. He even walked back to the lodge with the group that evening and did not leave until Maddie was securely inside, with Tom at her elbow.