In Memory of Maggie

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Liz Mierzejewski

Looking at that empty box covered with photographs and flowers that morning, I still held out hope.

“Is she dead?” they would ask me. Some would pull me by my elbow, being discreet in the company of Maggie’s family, but it was always the same question. “Do you think she’s dead?”

With as much discretion, I would whisper. I had to whisper, my voice shot to hell from screaming her name in the endless caverns. “I don’t know.” I want to believe she’s alive, but even using that word right now seems ludicrous, considering the circumstances.

She had come to my archeology research group highly recommended from the post-graduate studies liaison at UConn, and I needed someone on the team with that much enthusiasm, regardless of her lack of field experience. She’d been on a few digs, uncovering the remnants of one of the Connecticut tribes, and had even managed to get an article or two published, in Archaeology Magazine and Current Anthropology. What really came out of all this was an undeniable passion, a desire to connect to the past that was rare, even in my experience. Most of the post-grads I’d worked with had long abandoned the full absorption that would skew analysis, but not Maggie. Give her a scrap and she would tease it and love it like a puppy with a sock. It wasn’t always contagious. Some of the other more staid diggers would shake their heads when she would shout, sharing her discoveries, a child picking flowers. Their laughter didn’t bother her in the least. The item was a transport. The audience, herself. Nothing else mattered.

“Dr. Stiles?” she asked. I lifted my head from the endless sifting going on in the little, cordoned field we had been working the last few months. We had recently found some rather peculiar tribal sculptures scattered among the pedestrian remnants of ancient human culture. We had been filtering out these bits buried in the white stone of Falls Village, Connecticut. It was blasted hot in the reflected light of the limestone beds. I pulled off my standard-issue fedora, trying to shield my eyes from the glare. I thought she might want to show me some more pottery shards, trying to make out the images painted on the outside. This had become her most recent obsession. But no. She had her hands in her back pockets, pulling the waistband tight against her emaciated stomach. The girl just didn’t eat.


“You need to see something.” She turned and began ascending the limestone and marble debris. She hadn’t waited for a response. I turned back to the screet, tossing the spade into the pile of dirt.

“I’ll be back, Kerry,” I said. I could hear her say something to Jim, and they both laughed. My old bones complained as I followed Maggie up the ascent to a little plateau. She now had her hands perched on her hips, and I imagined her tapping her toe with impatience. It was obvious she had made what she considered a considerable find. I muffled my own parental smirk.

“Well, Maggie?”

She shifted, and pointed low, and not with her usual confidence. “There,” she said, “Right there. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s big. Real big.” It was a hole. It looked small to begin with, not more than maybe two feet wide, but damn it if it wasn’t deep. It seemed to go far into the hill and fade to black.

“It’s a hole.” I wiped my face on the edge of my shirt, mixing the limestone powder into my sweat, making a layer of chalky paste. Maggie’s own face was an unexpected mix of guilt and discovery. It reminded me of the first time I found a dirty magazine. Something was going on. “What? Did you find something in it? What did you find?”

“Remember that little figure you found? The female with the… um…” she didn’t want to say enormous breasts, but that’s what it was.

“Yes, yes, of course. The fertility figure. Did you find another?” I bent down to the hole and did a cursory search of the first few feet.

“No, sir. It’s more of a confession.” I looked up, and she was biting her lower lip, brows twisted from some internal agony. I was starting to feel really old. I’m supposed to be her mentor, not her father. “It was mine. I made it.” She winced and turned her head aside.

“What? You seeded the field? That’s— that’s—” It’s criminal, is what it is. “Are you crazy? We could lose our funding! We’d be laughed off any dig… What in the world possessed you to do that? What if we had published?” I had begun to pace on the plateau, and Maggie was now up against the stark, bright wall of the cliff.

In a voice so small she said, “We still could.” My rant was cut off, and I stared at her, my disappointment sitting plainly, I was sure. She did not drop her gaze. Rather, she lifted up her chin. “In fact, I know we can.” She pulled something from a satchel that had been sitting on the plateau. It was small, swaddled in some scrap of cotton. Another little figure spilled into her palm. It was freshly carved, cheaply painted. Another female figure, this time wraith-thin, with representative light brown curls long, and down the back. Maggie had carved herself. Holding it briefly to my vision, she bent down to the hole and tossed the figure. It bounced and echoed out of sight.

Two days later, we found it. Kerry and Jim had been digging in the next quadrant, and it had screed to the surface, old and worn, paint but a memory, rubbed to a worshipped patina. I hadn’t told either of them what had transpired up there on the limestone ledge, and now I didn’t quite know how to tell them that the rejoicing was misplaced. They hadn’t discovered a new Goddess. Rather, Maggie had discovered a passage into the past.

And it was giving us a little bit of notoriety. The liaison from UConn had come by, and examined the figures. He called in some of his contacts, and it wasn’t long before we were getting some local press, all over a handful of bogus figures. We hadn’t told a soul. We couldn’t. Maggie continued to carve figures, careful not to make them too modern. We continued to find them within days, rich with the years that consumed them from the hole to the fields.

How can you explain something like that? To be sure, as the weeks went by, it became more difficult to imagine exactly how such a conversation would take place.

“Oh, yes, and by the way, Mr. President, we’ve been using a time-travel portal to artificially salt our dig site. Isn’t that truly amazing?” The shroud of secrecy was becoming hot and suffocating, more like a wool muffler.

Being published and celebrated was intoxicating, dragging my little team from obscurity to relative celebrity. How could it last? It couldn’t of course, and it didn’t. The fame faded, and the work resumed, and Maggie even began focusing more on her pottery shards once again. We had managed to secure another dig grant through the bogus figures. It would keep us in clover (and maybe even clover points) for a few more months, at least.

But the end of the dig was coming. We were closing up, packing up the last of the equipment. The Connecticut winter was finding its way into our site, making digging uncomfortable, if not downright impossible. Kerry, Jim, and most of the others had managed to get signed on to other, warmer digs that had not yet been spent and glorified. Only Maggie and I were planning on hanging around.

I was helping Jim load the last of the screening equipment onto his flatbed. The leather of our gloves sounded hollow as we shook our good lucks and separated. As Jim and the equipment took that last turn out of sight, I sensed Maggie behind me. Her tiny frame was wrapped in a tatty fur-lined winter coat embedded with the limestone dust. She rubbed her hands together, inexplicably bare of necessary gloves. Her breath froze in front of her as she tried to form the words she was trying to share.

“This can’t be it, Dr. Stiles. It’s been…” She shook her head, unable to put into words what the past five months had been. “I can’t… I can’t let it end.”

I took off my gloves and offered them to her. She begged off with a wave, plunging her hands into her coat pockets. “I’m just here for a few more weeks, Maggie. The holidays are coming, and I’m thinking of visiting some family. You should do the same. There’s nothing left here.”

“Not yet,” she said. She turned and made her way up the now-familiar path to the plateau and our goldmine hole.

“Maggie, we can’t do it. We can’t just throw more stuff in there. It’s not right. It’s unethical, and frankly, it’s just not meaningful.” She ignored me. I was nearly puffing as I made it to the plateau. It had been at least a month since the last time I had ascended this hill.

There in the bitter breeze Maggie stripped off her jacket. “Meaningful? Well, that’s about to change. This site needs meaning; I need meaning. I think we can help each other with that.”

“What are you doing?” My voice was shaky. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I tried to grab her wrists, but she surprised me with her strength.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Stiles. You’ll see me in a few days.” With that she hopped into the hole, barely big enough to encompass her tiny body. The sound of her sliding reminded me of an avalanche of pebbles, echoing into the dark. She was gone before I got a chance to protest.

I did see her in a few days, she was right about that. Alone at the last quadrant, having given up my last chance for a Christmas vacation, I found her. The body was an old woman, all bones and hair decorated with ancient spring flowers. Buried with molded beads and carved figures, it was obvious this was a revered and loved elder, perhaps a teacher.

I had no way to explain this to her family. Where would I begin? “She just disappeared once the dig was closed,” I told them. I just hope they never want to see the article about the strange remains of a tiny woman, odd and out of place, but so natural, buried and loved, a true goddess.


E-mail: mizem55[at]

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