Chapter 30: Avalon, S.C.

Sunlight coming through the uncurtained French door, although muted by the live oaks outside, was still bright enough to wake me up.  Bullshit.  I hadn’t seen the sun in six days now.  But I could go outside for my coffee because . . .

On the way home from Chai’s, basking in that smug satisfied joie de vivre of the well-fucked male, I’d bought a chiminea.  Plus a couple of sacks of pinyon pine chunks, which the lady at the store had convinced me were necessary for the full sensory experience of my purchase.  “Not only do they burn at the right temperature, but the fragrance permeates the air around, so as you warm your hands you are exposed to subconscious aroma therapy and filled with a sense of well-being.”  A guy would have said, “Here, get some of these, they fit through that little hole.”  And she didn’t know I was already filled with such a sense of well being that I almost tsked her suggestion.  Or maybe she did, using that classic feminine intuition to discern that my distracted smile was an outward expression of male well-fuckdom and was just doing what she needed to make a sale.

Yes, I know, women can get you in so much trouble.  Saleswomen and waitresses and cougars alike.  But for the moment, it felt totally worth it.

I had also stopped at a real live sports bar, not just the first hole in the wall I came to like the Sunday before, and watched the Falcons beat up on the poor Cardinals.  At 7 and 3 we were a little behind last year’s blistering pace, but I was as superficially confident as only a long-suffering Falcons fan can be.

I made one other stop on the way home and bought rocks for my wheel-to-be out on the island.   I’d located a few other designs on the internet, but decided to reproduce the exact pattern in George’s backyard on Avalon.  So my rock shopping list was:

  • 5 about the size of a bowling ball for the center and four directions
  • 16 small cantaloupe-sized (same material) to mark the arms
  •  4 softball-sized (different material to stand out) to mark the midpoints of the circle
  • 24 baseball-sized (same as the midpoints) to further define the circle.

I had plenty of time to select my stones carefully.  So, reveling in the synchronous vibrations of good sex and a Falcons win, I picked up each stone, weighing its connection to the universe, and taking only those that wanted to be part of the adventure.

Yes, I know.  Those words are actually mine.  But I’d never speak them aloud to Chai, not even under extreme duress (Chai was known to occasionally put her lover under extreme duress.  Well, maybe not all that extreme).  I was afraid New Age language was a great dark hole that, once you began to slide into, you’d never climb out of.  But my tolerance was increasing.  As I’d told Adeline, I didn’t have a better rational explanation.  So I was working on suspending disbelief and going with the assumption that the answer wasn’t rational (I rationalized my irrationality with the excuse that I was merely practicing suspending disbelief).

So back to Monday morning and coffee by the chiminea.  I walked outside bundled in a blanket, struck a match to the fire that I’d laid the night before, and then went back inside to turn on the coffee maker and get dressed.  By the time I got back the flames were cheerfully radiating away, both heat and aroma therapy.  I had to say a silent apology to the lady at the store: while sitting in the bite of early morning chill, coffee and pinyon pine were perhaps the best combination of scents on the planet that didn’t directly emanate from a woman.

What I spent my time doing was brainstorming how to fill the next few months.  There were 76 days until Imbolc, 163 to Beltane.  I hoped to spend the better part of a day or two each week out on the island.  But that still left a lot of hours to fill.  It was too cold to start a garden, and that stubborn imp inside refused to waste them sitting in front of a television.

Well, I could try my hand at painting.  There was a ready-made studio, plenty of materials, and a stock of how-to books.  My subconscious didn’t shout out, “Rick!  What a great idea!”  But maybe I’d grow into it.

Learn to meditate.  I didn’t think that would make an appreciative dent in the hours to fill.  But having experienced the peace of walking the wheel, I could see the benefits.  There were a couple of those books on the shelf as well.  Maybe I should tentatively devote a half hour a day, see where it got me.

How about writing a book?  What journalist doesn’t have that on his bucket list?  But at this point in my life, what would I write about?  A humorous expose about the pitfalls of sex with a New Age cougar?

You could write a novel, something devious in my subconscious suggested.  I’d read enough King Arthur novels lately that I could probably write one without doing a lick of research.  But I didn’t see myself as a writer of fiction, at least not yet.  A newspaperman to the bone, it was “just the facts, ma’am” for me.

My coffee was gone before I came to a decision.

After breakfast I started looking for an expert in Celtic archeology by calling up a history professor I’d known back in college.  An hour later I’d come up with the name of Dr. Harold Higgins, professor at Middle Tennessee State, as the most reasonably accessible expert in the field (“Any kin to Professor ‘enry ‘iggins?” my irreverent subconscious wanted to know).  The college surprised me—I was expecting somewhere snooty in the northeast (perhaps subconsciously because New England is closer to Old England?)—but after giving myself a little shit for being a snob, I dialed him up.

It took a while to get him on the phone—he was in class when I called, his secretary said—but eventually I did.  Not having a lot of small talk to get through, I jumped right in.

“Dr. Higgins, I have two objects in my possession that appear to my uneducated eye to be Iron Age Celtic artifacts.  I don’t see how that can be, considering that I found them at a house I’m renting in backwater South Carolina, and the former occupant was a local businessman.  But they certainly look like it.  In any case, I’d like to send you some photos and see what you think.”

Intrigued, he told me to send them on.  Five minutes later he called me back.

“Based solely on photographic evidence, I preliminarily agree with your assessment.  Of course, a good craftsman can duplicate artifacts such that only an expert can tell the difference.  Sometimes, not even then.  But to what end, if they were left in a lease house?  Of course, the same question could be asked about real artifacts as well.”

“What are they, can you tell me?”

“Certainly.  The pin is called a penannular brooch, and was used to fasten cloaks.  Some rare early iron versions date back to the 4th and 5th centuries.  They really became more popular in the 8th to 10th centuries, but those were almost always made out of silver or gold and were status symbols.  This one appears to be bronze, which is unusual indeed.  But the design is definitely Celtic.”

“Seems like that big long pin would cause more than its share of injuries.”

“Curiously, the pin was worn up rather than down, as one might expect here in the safe days of OSHA.”

“I guess it was a long time before the invention of the safety pin.”

Dr. Higgins gave a chuckle at my attempt at wit.  “The other object is a divining rune.  Carved bones have been used for foretelling the future as far back as prehistoric times. We have at least three of what we believe to be complete Celtic sets from the 7th through 10th Centuries, and carved bone runes are a part of all of them.”

“I don’t suppose that helps date this particular example?”

“You don’t suppose correctly.  Materials other than carved bone—cast or beaten metal, for example—became more popular as we move into the Middle Age.  But there are no rules, just the preferences of the diviners, who I imagine to be some very creative people.”  He chuckled again, this one more sincere.  “I suppose we can safely say that it dates from between, say, 10,000 BCE and today.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“If it’s really important to you, for a couple of hundred bucks you can have it carbon dated.  Of course, that will consume the rune.  But then you’ll know for sure how valuable an artifact you destroyed.”  Once I’d started the game, Dr. Higgins was turning into a real witty guy.

“Nah, I’m not that curious.  I think I’ll just hang on to it.”

“That would be my recommendation.”

“OK, here’s another question.  Suppose the brooch and the rune came from the same period, and suppose further that they are original, not replicas.  What would the range of dates be then?”

Dr. Higgins thought for a bit before answering.  “I’d say the most likely time period would be the 6th through 8th Centuries, with the earliest likely date maybe 400 AD and the latest perhaps 900 AD.”

I relayed that information to Adeline when I gave her my weekly report, along with confirmation that her father wasn’t living with Lacey.  She was much more interested in Lacey than archeology, which I suppose was because she was missing the perspective and temporizing effects of a Y chromosome.

“She told you she and Daddy were lovers for four years, and he never even mentioned her to me?  Boy, that hurts.  Why do you suppose he did that?”

I started to say, “From my observations, you weren’t all that close or even available to him.”  But what, really, would have been the point?  “I don’t really have enough information to even speculate about that,” I answered instead.

“What was she like?”

“A few years younger than your father, attractive although her features were a bit sharp for my tastes.  Lacey is clearly a very private person, even shy, but she made a real effort to be open and warm.  I liked her a lot, although she would be more your father’s type than mine.”

“What is your type, Mr. Whittaker?”  In the silence that followed, I wondered if she might be making a pass.  Adeline must have heard me wondering because, before I could formulate an answer, she added, “Never mind, that’s not really an appropriate question.  Not to mention none of my business.”

After I hung up, though, I thought further on her question.  What is my type?  The outrageous, witty, unavailable waitress type?  The older, spiritual, highly-sexed New Age type?

Hopefully, the answer wasn’t, “The same type that haunts your dreams, the mysterious golden-haired type.”



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