TOWER OF BAUBLES • by Nicholas Ozment

“Okay, professor — the joists are all in place, so you don’t have to worry about the ceiling collapsing on your head.” The man in a hardhat stepped aside for the head archeologist.

Professor Montague, small and bone-thin, wiped dust from his spectacles. “How is the floor?”

“Pretty solid. The Tower held up pretty well. Unusual for Gluttonous Era construction, in my experience.”

“That’s why this is such a wonderful find.” Montague replaced his spectacles, straightened his hardhat, and, out of habit, tugged the lapels of his nano-fiber suit. “Let us enter the Tower, then.”

It was an odd way to describe descending a tunnel excavated through centuries of sand, but the site derived its name from what lay at the bottom. They had dug down to the top floor of an early twenty-first century building.

The excavators had punched a hole into a small, private room that had survived almost completely intact. Waiting. A time capsule. An archeologist’s dream.

Montague brushed aside cobwebs as he squeezed through the hole in the wall, his assistants Hillary and Conan close behind.

Hillary approached a tiled alcove in one corner of the room that had once been partitioned off with glass. Glass shards now littered the floor. She stepped through the frame, reached up and ran a gloved hand over one of several spigots that jutted from the walls at evenly-spaced intervals. “What are these?”

Montague glanced over his shoulder. “Shower heads.”

Eight of them? In one shower?”

“Spraying at high pressure from all sides, drenching the bather in walls of water. No worries about water, back then.”

“I’d feel like I was drowning.” Hillary stepped from the shower and marveled at the enormous porcelain tub. “Look at the size of this! You could fit five people in there. This much water would last me two months.”

Montague turned from examining a slim cabinet on the wall, coaxed by the opportunity to share his erudition. “They used to bathe every day. And it was a luxurious — for some a religious — experience.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Some of the records indicate they would meditate in the water, filling it with salts and fragrances, and pray to a god called Calgon.”

The other assistant, Conan, now vied for Montague’s attention. “Professor, it looks like something used to hang here above the counter. You can see how it’s left a discolored rectangle all along the length — something big — a shelf, maybe? Or a tapestry?”

“A mirror, actually. Our ancestors were obsessively preoccupied with their appearance.”

“I’ll say. It ran the length of the room.” Conan picked up one of several glass bottles. “Looks like they’re empty.”

Montague picked one up and gingerly turned it on his palm. “Perfume. They were so fastidious about their body odor that they would bathe, as I said, every day — sometimes twice, morning and night — and then they would apply fragrances to their scrubbed bodies.” He picked up another small object. “This plastic contraption here, it was called a deodorant. They applied this under their armpits, to block their perspiration.”

“Ooh, that’s creepy.” Hillary shuddered. “ I wonder what would they think of us?”

Montague smiled. “They would probably be nauseated by our natural odor and regurgitate their lunch — and they had a great quantity to regurgitate, back then.”

“Look here, in the drawer, professor.” Hillary had lifted a small silver box from a drawer in the counter. When she opened it, its contents sparkled in the light from her hardhat. “A jewelry box. But you said these people had been wealthy. They could afford enough water to fill that humongous tub and spray it out of eight showerheads. These necklaces and rings, they’re all diamonds. Junk jewelry.”

She pulled out a large diamond ring and held it up.

“Have you forgotten your history?” Montague tugged absentmindedly at his lapels. “During the Gluttonous Era, the proliferation of diamonds was strictly controlled by cartels, keeping that stone’s value artificially high. The male of this dwelling probably bought that ring for his mate as a symbol of his love, and paid three months or more of his salary for it.”

Conan snorted. “They wasted water and money.”

Hillary tilted her head to one side, enthralled by the way the light reflected off the diamond’s cut surfaces. “It is pretty.”

“Resist the temptation to pocket it. All of this belongs to the museum, now. They did have a saying back then, though, that you have proven true.”

“Yes?” Hillary’s violet eyes swiveled back toward Montague, intrigued.

“‘A diamond lasts forever.’”

Conan stood inside the tub, imagining it full, splashing up to his scrawny thighs. “Too bad they couldn’t say the same for fresh water.”


Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. His stories and poems continue to appear in numerous magazines, book anthologies, and online zines. He is a co-editor of Every Day Fiction’s sister publication, Every Day Poets.


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  • Fancy meeting you here 😉 My favourite bit was:
    “They would probably be nauseated by our natural odor and regurgitate their lunch — and they had a great quantity to regurgitate, back then.”
    Made me smile Nick, but too true!

    “Capitalism wastes money and resources.”

  • Enjoyed the story. It carried a great message.

  • The “Gluttonous Era”. I like that name lot. In fact, I could binge on it till I’m sick!

  • I thought the line was “A diamond **IS** forever,” not “lasts.” I’m sure that’s the way it is given on all my Gluttonous-era TV commercials.

    Other than that, a really great story.

  • J.C. Towler

    Maybe its just me but why is it 90% of stories of modern archaeologists digging into the past show a respect and admiration of ancient societies, yet stories of future archaeologists digging into the past (our present) are generally laced with contempt. It’s just a theme that feels oft-used.

    The story is a condemnation of our waste and excess, which I don’t disagree with, but the characters are just mouthpieces for a viewpoint, rather than characters expressing their viewpoint.

    –John

  • Didn’t care for this too much. It tried to present an all too overdone picture of the future. ‘We were bad’, and ‘we were wasteful’ and now the future is going to be dark and dismal. That’s probably more real than we’d like to believe, but there’s nothing clever or new about this perspective.

  • Bob

    Would archeological assistants – Grad Students, presumably – not be aware of the basic infrastructure of an era they were excavating? I second JC Towler’s observation – these aren’t really characters, they’re set-pieces going through the motions. No story here, really.

  • Jen

    Very interesting story. Hopefu;;y none of that will happen in real life, but it very well could.

  • Interesting take on value. One generation’s treasure is another’s trash, and all that.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    When water is used, where does it go? Was all the water wasted by water gluttonousness? Water automatically recycles. What was the water calamity? Or is this an intro to future over-population problems and not enough room under the streets to run all the pipes? (But that’s not gluttony, that’s lack of birth control.)

    Oonah – I agree with you that capitalism tends to waste money and resources, but individual capitalistic risk-taking also creates positive scientific exploration including recycling, invention, and new creative possibilities. Being human is a balancing act.
    Wasted resources are a real threat.
    Wasted money is wasted human effort.

  • This was a fun read.. and I enjoyed guessing how it could end. Thanks.

  • Amy Corbin

    This was fun. I chuckled at the Calgon line.

  • Sharon

    Entertaining, but I agree a bit too preachy. The title was clever.

  • Nicholas

    Thanks for all the comments!

    Roberta: In this scenario, it is not necessarily water that is in short supply but _fresh_ water. The idea was inspired by recent suggestions by some scientists and geopolitical analysts that there may soon be “water wars” in parts of the world, as easily-accessible fresh water diminishes around the globe in juxtaposition to population growth.

    Heh–I note that the Google Ad above the story is for diamond rings. Yea, a diamond IS forever. And so is advertising. (Many people aren’t aware that some of the original Paleolithic cave paintings were ads for livestock auctions.)

  • Jeff

    Great story. Description of the bathroom is almost spot on to the one my mother-in-law is constructing in her new house now.

  • Nicholas

    Man, I wish I had one of those multi-head showers and a Jacuzzi tub. If we ever make an addition to the house, it will be a swank master bathroom. Just waiting to get a $100,000 advance on a novel…

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Nicholas – What’s accessible is what people make accessible. I thought it through again and I thought again of another cause for water shortages – chilling, deep freezes of the water pipes, shortage of energy for heating.

    When you build your new bathroom, don’t forget the steam hose placed between the sink and toilet for quick and deep cleaning of the new slick bathroom.

  • That was just me quoting Marx, Roberta…

  • Fred

    I enjoyed this story. It’s always fun to look at our society from an (at least ostensibly) outside perspective. It’s cleverly written! I think the other commenters have given you some good critiques. I’d add that it seemed odd to me that Professor Montague referred to the apartment’s inhabitants as a “male” and “his mate,” as if talking about animals rather than people: the word choice made me wonder if you were building up to an ending in which we would realize Montague and company were no longer human — that our species had become something else.
    Again, a nice piece that made me smile repeatedly!

  • Joe

    Personally, I thought the story presented a hopeful vision of the future. That there would be anyone left digging up our junk is somehow comforting.

  • Nicholas

    Thanks Fred and Joe–and thanks for stopping by!