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Xenolith, Page 6

A. Sparrow


  Hospitals had always disturbed Liz, so she generally stayed away from the clinic. When she wasn’t gardening or reading or filling her journals and scrapbooks, she took to exploring the string of little villages that dotted the Rio Frio like charms on a necklace. She came back with bizarre orchids and jungle fruits that always managed to look more delicious than they tasted. She read prodigiously and filled her journals and scrapbooks.

  The lack of land access proved less isolating than expected. They routinely went to San Ignacio on weekends, to get away from the mission and reconnect with the rest of the world. Liz found the tidy, green hillsides of San Ignacio and its sister city, Santa Elena pleasing. She particularly enjoyed the book shops near the junior college, and the cafés and restaurants on Burns Avenue, San Ignacio’s main street. They spent those Saturday nights at the Scarlet Macaw, which had guest rooms upstairs and the best brioche and croissants in Western Belize.

  Liz soon learned that the jungle had more to offer than monkeys and sour fruit. Father Leo fancied himself an amateur archaeologist. After weeks of bragging, he finally took them into the bush to see one of the Mayan ruins near Rio Frio. He brought them to a bump in the ground covered with moss and vines. Frank feigned interest, but Liz seemed genuinely excited by the lump. Father Leo promised greater wonders as soon as the parish Land Cruiser, its axle broken, could be repaired. Caracol, the largest ruins in Belize, lay just up the Chiqibul Road.

  “There’s so much more out there, undiscovered,” Father Leo told them at one of his Sunday teas. “One place I know … a quarry, supposedly … so strange. I’m not even sure if it’s Mayan.”

  “Oh. Really? What else would it be?” said Liz, her brow crinkling.

  “Not sure,” Father Leo said, inhaling through his teeth. “I can’t get any of my archaeologist acquaintances interested in it, because … there are no ruins involved. No artifacts. But it’s the oddest place. Bare stone. Not overgrown the way everything else is. As if someone’s maintaining it or that plants simply won’t grow there.”

  “Could it be where the Mayans got the stone to build Caracol?” said Liz.

  “Too far for that,” said Father Leo. “I’ll take you there sometime. Fascinating place. You really should see it.”

  “We look forward to it,” said Liz.

  Father Leo spoke nothing of it for several Sundays. In the interim, a telex arrived for Liz bearing bad news about her father. He had suffered a remission of his colon cancer and had undergone surgery to resection his bowel. He was already home recuperating, but Liz wanted to see him before he had to start chemotherapy. She made plans to fly to Houston.

  At tea that week Father Leo became flustered when he heard she was leaving. “Oh my. Then we need to go soon.”

  “Go where?” said Frank.

  “To the quarry,” said Father Leo. “I promised I’d take you both.”

  “Oh, don’t sweat it, Father,” said Liz. “I won’t be gone long. You can take us when I get back.”

  “But the rains will be starting,” said Father Leo, his voice edged with urgency. “The Macal will be in full flood by the time you get back. We can’t go up river in those conditions. When exactly are you leaving?”


  “This coming Saturday? Oh dear. We need to go this week. How about … tomorrow? It’s only a day trip.”

  Liz looked to Frank and shrugged. She didn’t seem that eager to go.

  “On a Monday? Don’t think I can,” said Frank. “You know how busy the clinic gets after a weekend.”

  “Tuesday, then,” said Father Leo. “I’ll hire a launch.”