“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.”
“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.