The Bouquet

I wonder how it feels, that moment before—to see what no living man may see and live—I wonder how it feels before it—

John VII is wheeled in, dead. Before the workmen leave I begin studying the man, trying to place this John. The condition was remarkably good, but no article of clothing or personal item bears any immediate identification. Some were far easier to place: John III had in his hand what proved to be a gladius. There wasn’t much left of John III which resembled a man anymore. They had brought in boxes filled with bits of that John, and like a jigsaw puzzle, I went to work on the fragments, reforming the crushed statue. The face on John VII was so pristine I had no doubt he was a recent conquest. It looked sad, pitying. It was like the face of a dog gazing upon its master leaving for work.

I was stationed in a sort of translucent white plastic tent set up in this underground excavation, our attempts to keep the computers moderately dry. As the two workmen filed through the thin flaps of plastic which served as a door, I called to them:

“How deep?”

Over his shoulder, one of the workmen called, “Level five.”

I’d not yet seen one so well kept.

I heard the man mumbled to his mate as the plastic curtain fell between our two parties, “Medusa must have liked this one, keep’n him on that pedestal . . . ”

And the words faded away into the echoes of the cave.

I studied the John. He held out a closed hand. Stepping forward, I pulled my glasses down my nose, trying to get a better angle on this appendage. It was hard to image, by his look, this John belonging to the sword and sandal era; his suit appeared modern, if formal. Underneath the hand I noticed stalks, like a bunch of straw, thin and broken. What sort of weapon—and then a perverse image settled in my mind, and though I tried to avoid it, I became more and more convinced: He had been holding out a bouquet. The flowers had broken off—it couldn’t be. “Medusa must have liked this one . . . ” the words repeated in my mind, “keeping him on that pedestal.”

A lover? I wondered.

Gorgon’s Veil

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