Find a Question
- The Grave of Valkyries – Part 1
- The Grave of Valkyries – Part 2
- The Evidence
- A Stopping Place
- The Storm
- Ragnar’s Hall
- Not Like Indiana Jones
- A Homecoming, A Gift
- Dragon Heads
- Dust and Misogyny
- Stone Walls
- The Vikings
- Circumstantial Truths
- Dance With Me
- Find a Question
- A New Home
“Tell me what’s wrong Derrick?” Kiara’s gentle voice soothed the jab of loneliness that had cut into his gut. He sniffed and willed the lump in his throat to go down.
“I just miss you,” he said again. “I miss our home.”
“What do you miss most?” He heard her shift on the couch as he thought about that question.
“Obviously you,” he huffed.
“Besides me, doofus,” Kiara giggled. Derrick smiled. Across the line, the soft thump of fabric hitting the floor interrupted his thoughts. The sound sparked a memory he hadn’t thought about in a while.
“You’re not gonna believe me,” he chuckled. “I miss our laundry detergent.”
He did. Detergents in the UK smelled different from the ones back home. He’d yet to find one that reminded him of the purple bottled detergent they got from dollar tree because they were broke college kids. One of their favorite things to do was wash a huge pile of blankets, build a nest of them once they were fresh out of the dryer, and have a cozy movie marathon. The floral-and-chemical scent that emanated from the newly washed blankets never failed to set him at ease.
“Really,” he agreed with her.
“I’ll see if I can send you some.”
He imagined some poor postal worker scratching their head at the idea of sending laundry detergent internationally.
“You don’t have to, babe,” he reassured her quickly. “I’m just a little homesick. Don’t waste money on that.”
“If you’re sure….” She paused for a minute, and Derrick wiped the moisture from under his eyes. “Is there anything else going on?”
“I think my classmates are falling in love, and it’s almost worse than watching my mom and her boyfriend.” He meant to be sarcastic, but there was a ring of truth. His mom would really like her boyfriend, soon-to-be fiancé if he finally got it together and proposed. Scott was a nice guy, and he’d asked Derrick’s permission beforehand, but the loving gazes were nauseating.
“You snap-chatted me about that already,” Kiara reminded him. “What’s really bugging you?”
He hesitated. “Do you ever think what we do is pointless?”
He didn’t enjoy thinking about it, but this investigation began to wear on him. What if they had less than what they started with, at the end of it all? What if they walked away from this, wasting a lot of time with nothing to show? He started archaeology to have a physical job that didn’t involve sitting in the office all day, but more and more things were popping up that made him question his decision. Things like not having funding, being unable to study what he wanted, framing his grant proposals to impress wealthy museum donators, and focusing on ‘attractive’ history instead of important history. Kiara probably had it worse since her thesis would involve investigating the slave trade through maritime remnants. No one wanted to hear about that.
“I don’t think it’s pointless, babe.” She sighed into the receiver, and it felt like she was next to him, breathing in his ear as they chatted in bed. “Yeah, it feels hopeless sometimes. As a black woman, I know I will work harder for recognition in this field, but I want to do it because it’s necessary. I want little black girls to know we can tell our history.” It was Kiara’s dream to have an archaeology summer camp for kids to help them understand African Diaspora and how history and archaeology work together. Derrick couldn’t wait for her dream to come true.
“This case has the potential to be huge,” Derrick whispered and ran his hand down his face. His fingers tangled in the damp curls, the sharp sting helped to ground him. “I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be a flop.”
“I’m sure it’s not,” she said. “And even if it is, who cares? You tried your best to give those women a voice.”
“I’m not sure I can do enough.”
“We can’t.” It was a brutal, to-the-point reminder. “Unless the dead start communicating via Ouija board, we must do our best and hope we’re correct. No point in getting upset because the results might not be perfect.”
“I just don’t want to do them an injustice,” he mumbled. “These were real people.”
“I know, babe,” Kiara cooed at him. “And that you care is the most important thing. Just do what you can. There’s always time later to find out the rest. Don’t stress yourself out too much.”
He hung up a half-hour later and returned to the living room. Kally and Taylor were sitting on the couch, awkwardly sipping their tea. Derrick sighed and sat across from them.
“I guess you heard.”
“Not if you didn’t want us to,” Taylor replied. His expression looked cautiously sympathetic. Meanwhile, Kally was frowning into her mug.
“I felt that way a lot in undergrad,” she began. “‘What’s the point?’ I’ve literally had professors that started the field when women could only be archaeologists’ wives. One even said I’d need a sugar daddy to even hope to make money in this field.”
“Then why do it?”
“Do you know what my thesis is about?” She locked eyes with Derrick, and her unblinking stare made him squirm a little.
“Not really,” she admitted. She never talked about it much.
“It’s about burial practices involving non-gender conforming individuals.” Derrick supposed that tracked for Kally. “Do you know why I chose it?”
He shook his head.
“Because after my aunt’s car accident, they buried her under her dead name. Her entire funeral was everything she would have hated, all because her parents didn’t approve of having a trans-daughter. Anyone who knew her would know that was wrong, but anyone who didn’t would only see ‘Christopher’ and assume gender conformity.”
“I’m sorry….” That was a heavy discussion topic. One he didn’t feel he had the right to comment on. Kally waved away his apology.
“Even if I don’t have all the answers, I can do my best to let the bodies and relics speak for themselves. Maybe people like my aunt will be better off for it, or maybe I’m wasting my time, but I don’t believe in throwing my hands in the air and giving up because I don’t have a perfect solution. Of course, I also try to be respectful about the remains.”
“Well said,” Taylor agreed. He patted Kally’s knee and grinned at her.
“What’s your thesis?” Derrick asked, suddenly curious. Taylor sipped his tea.
“The Welsh national identity is complex,” he finally said. “A lot of who we are, down to the language, was dismissed in favor of Britishness. But Wales is home to ancient history and complex society remnants. I didn’t know just how old until I went to Bryn Celli Ddu.” He paused and looked into the distance. “Standing in that henge, knowing that there had been thousands of years between those builders and myself, I felt how small I was.”
“That’s a huge big brain moment,” Kally chimed in. “Seeing how much we don’t know.”
“Exactly,” Taylor agreed. He looked at Derrick with a smile. “In my experience, most people that choose this field do so because they have questions. Ones they’d do anything to answer, even if it means sucking up to donors for grants.”
“We’re all chasing the butterfly of truth,” Kally finished. “Some chase harder and further than others. Some are happy as long as it’s in their periphery. Find a question, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so hopeless.”
Derrick stared at them, trying to get his exhausted brain to comprehend the blend of idealism and practical advice they’d dumped on him. He closed his eyes, hung his head, and let the burn from the tense muscles of his neck help clear his thoughts. When he opened his eyes again, the cover of one of the Archaeology magazines on Maggie’s coffee table greeted him. The photo of a diver exploring a sunken chunk of Roman-era tile floor. The deep blue of the surrounding ocean made the white and dark tile stand out even more.
“Just pick a question, huh,” he whispered. He glanced up as Kally nodded.
“It’s harder than it sounds, isn’t it?” She smiled at him. It was small but genuine, with none of her usual mirth and sarcasm. “It doesn’t have to be right now, though. Take your time.”
Derrick nodded and slumped back onto the couch with a groan. He felt a little lighter.
“Now!” Kally clapped her hands loudly and leveled him with a wolfish smile. “tell me about your girlfriend! I literally didn’t know you had one.” She mock-pouted at him, and Derrick made peace, knowing he wouldn’t be going to bed soon.