Selma Gubbins always wanted to be an archaeologist, ever since a school trip aged seven when she was allowed to dig in the soil with an old spoon and not have to talk to anyone as she lost herself in her own little world. She gave herself over to achieving that ambition with the single eyed desperation usually witnessed in the starving. And while solitude fueled that ambition, curiosity and a belief in otherness drove her to wonder at what she was uncovering in those former lives revealed in minute fragments of stone and bone that her brush and trowel brought back into the light.
The Two Talkers were limestone columns that had intrigued the archaeological community for decades. Were they part of a larger whole, an ancient gateway or memorial to a clannish chief? Or were they, as local lore had it, two old men so engrossed in their conversation that they did not see the devil creep up and turn them to stone?
Selma felt something the first time she witnessed them, standing sentinel in the driving rain. She was sure their mystery would reveal itself to her, sometime, with diligence and imagination. Over many years, she returned and led investigations, penning papers with theories both ancient and modern. And yet the truth, of which she was certain, remained elusive to her.
June had slipped into a cool July and Selma, now tired and sore of knee, found herself on her annual pilgrimage to what she felt was in some small way part of her family. But this time she came without tools and camera, just as she was. It would be her last time, according to those who understood these things best. As she circled Gregory, her nickname for the smaller of the two men she felt sure he knew her fate and she felt calm.
She eased herself to the ground, facing George so as to shelter from a biting wind and enjoyed the warmth of the stone on her neck. She reached back to stoke her most faithful and forgiving of companions and let her fingertips run over the rough surface. She stopped and ran her fingers again. Anxious, excited even she turned and, kneeling, put both hands on the surface. What until now had been merely the undulations of Nature’s sculpting became letters, in an alphabet both lost and now remembered. Ideas, more than words, formed in her hands and suffused her body as she first squatted and then stood, understanding the purpose and plans for these two figures. All she needed was to read the messages on George and all would make sense.
As she turned towards the second stone, something fundamental ceased and she sank slowly to her knees. She understood life was ending; she realised she wouldn’t ever read the second stone. But she knew then she didn’t need to; she had never needed to. It had been in her all along, waiting for her to find her own trowel and dig out her own purpose. Dying, she smiled.
This story comes form Sue Vincent’s #writephoto series of picture prompts, which you can find here.