Rings of Saturn: Part 1 – Aug. 1, 2015

Rings of Saturn

Evie remembered she used to love Saturdays. Now it didn’t matter what day of the week it was, because every day was a study day. Or a teaching day. She didn’t have any summer courses to teach, so she invested her time in research. Evie’s dissertation was a wreck. No title, no focus, no organization. Right now, it existed only in the mess of index cards spread across the chrome-and-formica table in the middle of her apartment. She used to have a roommate, but Evie couldn’t say when he moved out, because all the days and weeks melted together. She could only say that he left because she was too messy.

Not dirty, but messy–stacks of books in front of the television, her nest of index cards that forced them to eat on the couch, and unruly piles of paper claimed every corner, hid every baseboard, and probably presented a fire hazard. His name was Erik, and he’d had enough. Their friends called them Erik and Evie, E-squared, and the Two E’s. Evie hadn’t seen her friends since Erik moved out, but she could if she wanted.

Evie’s eyelids didn’t want to stay open. With each blink, she felt like her eyelashes might weave together, locking in a tapestry of tiny hairs to blind her. Coffee. She needed coffee–that would wake her up. Making a pot without scattering grounds across the peeling countertop was a smile-worthy victory, and, as the coffee began to percolate, she inhaled through her nose and her eyes stayed open. She looked up at the analog clock hanging crooked on the wall. Ten fifteen. Evie yawned and then looked again.

“Shit!” She ran into the bathroom around the corner and twisted the shower knob. She had precisely six minutes before the hot water turned cold, and only fifteen minutes before she had to be at the museum eleven blocks south of her apartment. Hopping on one leg until her shorts flew somewhere–probably behind the toilet–she squeezed toothpaste out and brushed her teeth, dropping the brush into the sink to climb into the shower. She had just enough time to wash her hair and skin before the water cooled. She turned it off and felt for her towel.

Evie poked her head out from behind the shower curtain. Her towel was missing. “Ugh, great.” At least, she thought, Erik wasn’t here and she could walk to her room in the nude. Scooping up her pajamas, she shivered from bathroom to bedroom, where she dressed as fast as she could, barely paying attention to what she pulled on. Back to the kitchen where she filled her travel mug, and Evie was out the door with four minutes to spare.

Her PhD program paid her tuition, and gave her a small stipend, but it wasn’t enough to live on so she worked at the local history museum. It was small and underfunded, which meant her paycheck was too, but if she decided not to teach after finishing her program or if she couldn’t find a placement, it’d be great on her resume. She didn’t get to go on any archeological digs, but her job was to clean and catalogue all the finds when the “real” archeologists brought them back to the museum. A new shipment had just come in the week before, and now she was running late.

“Sorry Pete!” she exclaimed after she got through security. Evie was still holding up her badge and her coffee while trying to shrug out of her jacket.

“No big deal, Evie. Just waltz in whenever. The artifacts can wait–they’ve waited centuries already.” Pete was in his fifties, balding, sarcastic and a little mean until he was four cups of coffee into the day. At 10:45 am, Evie figured he’d only had three.

“I’m sorry. Couldn’t get hot water.” Alright, not completely honest, she thought. But it’d gotten her off the hook before.

“When are you going to move out of that dump? I told you my wife and I have a spare room we could rent out to you.”

Evie smirked. “Living and working with you? That’s more than I can handle.”

“Ouch,” Pete smiled. He always liked when she was sarcastic back–that’s how Evie knew he didn’t actually hate her. That and the fact that he always overlooked her tardiness. “Get yourself settled and then I’ll show you what needs to be cleaned today. Then I have a meeting with the board.”

“That explains your attitude. I thought you haven’t had enough coffee, maybe–”

“I could use some more, but we’re out.” Pete eyed Evie’s travel mug.

“This is my one and only cup. You know I’m trying to cut back.”

He sighed like she’d told him she thought the world was flat. “Fine.” He drew the word out. “I’ll just have to drink whatever sludge they have in the boardroom.”

“How long will you be up there?”

“All day. It’s a budget meeting.”

“Ew.” Evie and Pete had one thing in common: They lived for archeology. Board meetings or anything remotely resembling anything corporate were the worst, the antithesis of their passions for the ancient world. “When people lived on a barter system, they didn’t need to have budget meetings.”

“It’s not going to happen, Evie. I’ve told you. We’re way past the point of no return on that.”

“Yeah, I know. But a girl can dream.” Evie left him and the artifacts to put her bag and jacket in her locker. When she went back out into the main room, Pete stood waiting for her with a small box in his hands. Evie peered into it to see a bracelet. “Is that–”

“Gold.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” Pete put the box down on a table and pulled on a glove, lifting the bracelet from the box and examining it. “Engraved with what look like zodiac symbols.”

“And you want me to clean that so we can see the symbols perfectly.”

“Bingo. Should take you the better part of the day. I’ll check back after the meeting?”

Evie nodded. Pete put the bracelet back into the box and snapped his glove off, dropping it into a bin by the door. He waved over his shoulder and grabbed a pile of folders and notebooks before disappearing into the corridor. Evie pulled her phone out of her pocket, selected Beethoven from her music library, and placed it on the table. She pulled on a pair of gloves and set to work.

On days like this, when she got into the zone, Evie didn’t eat or drink anything. Her coffee cooled next to her phone as she carefully cleaned off what had to be almost two-thousand years of dirt. The bracelet was from a site just outside of Rome. It’d probably belonged to someone of the patrician class. Plebs didn’t always have the money to wear gold. The symbols definitely looked like the signs of the zodiac, though she only knew a handful of them: Sagittarius with the bow, the two fish of Pisces, the scales of Libra, and the bull of Taurus.

Evie finished cleaning the bracelet around three-thirty, and set it back in its box. She peeled her gloves off, and took a swig of her now-cold coffee, gagging. Iced coffee was delicious, but once-hot, cold coffee was gross. The former was probably filled with sugar. She dumped the rest down the drain. Evie wandered back over the bracelet, just to look at it. She even clasped her hands behind her back to keep from touching it with her bare hands. The oils on her skin could damage it, and then she’d have to clean it again.

Beethoven played quieter and quieter, and she heard people screaming. She heard their feet pounding against the ground, and that sound morphed into a louder rumbling, like the whole earth was breaking apart around her. She reached forward and clasped the bracelet. Evie watched her hand lift it from the box like it was someone else’s hand picking it up, sliding it onto her wrist, and closing the clasp.

The world really did crumble then. The floor opened up, cracking apart to reveal bright white streams of light. Evie closed her eyes so it wouldn’t blind her. All she could hear was the whoosh of her blood in her ears. Her head pounding, she cried out when something burned her wrist. The bracelet. Evie clawed at it, but couldn’t unlatch it. She scratched until there was no bracelet left and she only felt her nails scraping over raw skin.

She opened her eyes. Evie was laying in a field, under a cloudless sky. Her wrist bore the symbols she’d seen on the bracelet, but the jewelry was nowhere to be found. Two thoughts filled her head: She had no idea where she was or how she got here, and Pete was going to kill her when he found out she lost the bracelet.

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