Dust to Dust - By Beverly Connor


Marcella Payden straightened the silverware beside the two cobalt blue dinner plates, then lit the fat cinnamon-scented candle in the middle of her small oak dining table. A breeze from the open window carried the tinkling sound of ceramic wind chimes and made the candle flame dance. Nice, she thought as she surveyed the table, smiling at herself and the giddy feeling in her stomach. How long had it been since she’d had a date?

Marcella smoothed her cotton Navajo-style skirt and ran a hand over her hair, tucking stray tendrils back into the beaded barrette that loosely bound her graying locks. She felt like a teenager. It felt good.

She looked at her calloused hands—deeply tanned, a few wrinkles. Much like her tanned and lined face. It was a good face. She liked the way she looked—the roughness was the mark of what she was.

The woman next door back in Arizona had smooth, unlined skin and soft, manicured hands that Marcella’s husband had found more to his liking. It hurt, of course, when he left her, but the strongest emotion was surprise. She was astonished that her husband would find someone who sold lipstick for a living more interesting than an archaeologist.

“No accounting for taste,” she muttered to herself. That was what she got for marrying a philosopher. It would serve him right if he had to drive around in that lilac convertible for the rest of his life.

The wind picked up and the napkins fluttered on the table. Marcella walked to the window to close it. Outside was already dark, even though it was still early by her reckoning. Along with the rustling of leaves and the ringing of wind chimes, the wind carried a chill. She stood for a moment, taking in the cool fresh air. North Georgia was so much cooler than Arizona. It was very pleasant.

But the chill . . . or something else . . . brought a sudden shift in mood. Marcella’s hair stood up on the back of her neck and her heart beat faster. She clutched at her silver squash-blossom necklace.

What brought that on? she wondered, squinting and looking out into the darkness through the open window. She saw nothing but the silhouettes of trees moving in the wind, and heard no sound but the rustling leaves, wind chimes, and distant road noise.

It was a Lewis moment.

Lewis was a cognitive archaeologist in Arizona, a colleague and intellectual sparring partner. He had a keen interest in how Paleo-Indians managed to survive among lightning-fast saber-toothed tigers and other giant predators of stealth and speed. His research into the functioning of the human brain led to the interesting discovery that the subconscious can perceive a movement or a threat and the body can respond several seconds before the conscious mind even becomes aware. A nice little brain function that helped early humans survive at a time when animals were bigger, faster, and had way sharper teeth.

Marcella agreed with this idea because she had experienced the phenomenon firsthand. It happened while she was walking through an overgrown field surveying for signs of prehistoric inhabitants—looking for arrowheads, actually. She found herself suddenly breathing rapidly, her heart pounding . . . and inexplicably she was standing more than three feet to the side of where she had been a moment before. She had no idea what had happened or why she had jumped to the side. But her eyes were fixed on the spot where her next step would have been. There, hidden in the grass, lay a rattlesnake. Subconscious awareness and involuntary response had kicked in. A prehistoric survival function had saved her from harm.

Marcella called such moments of subconscious wariness “Lewis moments.” She looked through the open window again but saw no sabertooths in the shadows. She wondered whether such automated responses could really have been that effective. With snakes maybe, but tigers?

Silly woman, she thought. It’s probably all those towering trees waving in the wind. Marcella missed the desert colors: earth tones, red rock. There was just too much giant, vivid green here.

She closed the window and walked across to the living room to turn on the light. Her eye stopped on the desk where the light sat and she realized that it was the desk—or rather what she had found in it—that was nagging at the back of her mind. That must be it.

Marcella had cleaned out the ramshackle potter’s shed behind her house. Among miscellaneous pieces of broken furniture and weathered plywood, under a piece