This chapter is part of the ongoing serialization of The Archaeologists, the new novel by Hal Niedzviecki to be published by ARP Books in Fall 2016. The Archaeologists is being serialized in its entirety from April to October with chapters appearing on a rotating basis on the websites of five great magazines. To see the schedule with links to previous/upcoming chapters and find out more, please click HERE.
June—Tuesday, April 15
June pretended to take a sleeping pill. It didn’t work. Norm gave it to her. Of course it didn’t work. She didn’t take it. She can’t. She might be—
She should tell him. She should do what normal couples do. Wake him up, pee on a stick, hold his hand while they wait. It’s too early, she thinks, words zapping through her mind as she lies in bed next to her snoring husband. Lie, lies, lying. He knows. What does he know? After June came in from the backyard, staying out there just long enough to confirm that nobody had—that he was still—Norm had sat her down and very sternly asked her if she was alright. He’d asked her if she’d been having trouble sleeping. June said yes. He asked her why, what was bothering her? June looked at her hands. Norm sighed heavily. You don’t really think, June had finally said, that they’ll build that road? Norm didn’t answer, just squinted at her as if trying to see her better. He’d looked old, then, his face pulled in by worry and confusion.
He gave her the pill. Kissed her forehead. Then, muttering something about goddamn bureaucrats, clearly still agitated from the meeting, he took one himself.
Now he snores sonorously, sternly. June slips out of the covers. This is the last night, she promises herself. Then I’ll—
She pulls on her jeans, her mud-smeared sweatshirt. She pads down the stairs and into the dark kitchen. She feels—strangely—unobserved. The feeling of someone—some other self—is absent. Her muscles ache slackly, devoid of pulsing electric tension, striated need. She doesn’t feel—him. Tonight she’s tired. She wants to sleep. She wants to be in the big warm bed, curled up under the down-filled duvet, her head on her husband’s shoulder.
But she’s not done. Why not? she asks herself, feeling suddenly giddy with the idea. Reverse the process. Cover it all up. Instead of going straight out to the site, she lingers at the back sliding door, staring through the glass into the yard masked in moonlit cloud. Norm keeps asking her what she’s doing back there. He asked her again tonight, when she returned from the backyard to face his gentle inquisition. He’s not an idiot. He knows it’s not—June hasn’t been eating. Or sleeping, June thinks. Or cooking or shopping or doing the laundry or any of that shit. So no wonder he’s—
He’s just trying to help. And suddenly she wants him to. Help her. Hold her. She thinks of smiley boy reporter, the community meeting, not even six hours ago but already a world away, red-haired lady and her piercing monotone—I’m Very Disturbed. The way the professor traced her palm with his stubby finger. The way Rose stared through her and into her. They know. They all know. Of course they don’t. Not really. They can’t. But—
If she covers it up. Then they won’t—
They’ll come for him, June thinks. She can’t let that happen. She won’t let that happen. June puts her hands on the glass, feels the cold against her palms. The backyard looks barren. Where is he? Where did he go? She doesn’t want this to be about her. Am I really so—
Jesus. Jesus June. So she’s lonely? So Wississauga is just a big sprawling nothing? So what?
And if there’s life growing inside her? It doesn’t seem real. One long waking dream. The big trees sway. What goes on above? What goes on underneath? Invisible demarcations, ageless patterned movements marking the microscopic shifts from life to death and back again. June closes her eyes. She’s tired, that’s all. The window glass feels cold on her palms. She’s so tired. She curls her hands into fists, raps them gently, rhythmically, against the glass door. It’s a beat deep inside her, primal and unconscious. She realizes it’s the same sound she’s been hearing inher head, the same rhythm she’s been reflexively moving to while working in the hole. The glass trembles. She hits harder. For a moment she thinks she’ll smash right through. That’ll wake Norm up. He already thinks she’s losing it. She just wanted him to—
Jesus June. You’re pathetic.
The only problem is that everyone believes it. You believe it, don’t you? And Rose, and Professor Nordstrom, and that horrible reporter, and buckskin lady. They all believe it. They all want to believe it. Why shouldn’t they? Isn’t it true? Tonight, June isn’t sure. A cold hole in the ground. No one there. No one watching her. June leans her forehead against the window, feels the shudder as she bangs the glass gently, persistently, following a song lost in the pulse of her heart.
When she opens her eyes again, there’s a shadow over her view. June freezes, her fists distending against the glass. A man is staring in. June gasps. But he doesn’t seem to see her. He gazes through and past, like she’s not even there. He’s scraggly, his pale face dotted with patches of wispy beard. Young guy, June registers, he can’t even grow a beard. He’s wearing an army surplus jacket. The jacket’s too big for him. It hangs off his skinny frame, a tattered shirt handed down to a scarecrow. June breathes again. He isn’t particularly intimidating. Why doesn’t he see me?
Get out of here, June thinks. Go. She feels the blood rushing, her cheeks wet with rage. The hole, the bones, the wet messy truth beneath the earth. After what seems like an eternity, the man-boy finally turns away to face the sloping spread of the backyard. Don’t you dare. She should call Norm, call the police. She unlocks the door and gently slides the glass open. Man-boy stands at the edge, peering down at the plastic tarp cover. June steps up behind him. She wishes she had something—a rock, a club, a spear to press into his knobby back. Her hands are empty. He’s lanky, tall, has a couple of feet on her. He stinks of sweat and smoke and something else, some underground odour June can’t place but immediately feels overcome by. She gasps, suddenly short of air. The stranger turns slowly, as if only slightly curious about who or what is behind him. He stares at her with hazy bloodshot eyes. He’s high, June thinks.
My husband’s upstairs, June says firmly. She isn’t afraid of him. Slowly, deliberately, never taking her eyes off him, she bends her knees and gropes for the handle of the heavy shovel. Tim blinks flatly, doesn’t seem to notice.
It’s cool, he whispers hoarsely. Everything’s cool.
Get out of my backyard, June says.
Yeah, the man-boy says. Cool. No problem. Just…just give her to me. And everything will be…cool.
Some kind of junkie, June thinks. I don’t know what you’re talking about, she states flatly.
I saw you, man-boy says, clearly agitated. I saw you. I was…I’ve been…up there. He motions to the trees jutting out of the gorge.
You didn’t see anything, June says. But her gaze wavers to the dark branches overhead.
Yeah I saw it! I saw everything! Man-boy shakes and spits a little as his voice rises. She’s—I’m supposed to—they’re mine! I have to—she’s mine!
June brandishes the shovel. You get out of here right now, she says evenly. Walk away right now or so help me god I’ll…
Man-boy’s head lolls pathetically, his eyes bulge, confused. I grew up here, he mutters.
June steps forward suddenly. He stumbles back, loose earth sliding down the walls of the hole.
Just—he’s begging now. I know you have her. I saw you.
He’s been watching her. Then maybe there never was—
You’re a liar, June says. Who sent you?
His bloodshot pupils, unfocussed, roll in the whites of his eyes. He turns quickly and grabs a handful of tarp.
Don’t touch that!
He snatches it across, exposing the hole. The clouds part, silver light sticking. The hole glows. Man-boy groans.
You’re a liar! June screams. She swings the shovel, connects with his spiny back. He teeters on the edge, then plunges in.