Bottles, Bones, and Broken Roots
(Testing recovery from Draft)
deep feelings only thrive on a firm foundation – recent, part faction, part fiction
Jessica’s map from the local archive office, enabled us to locate landscaped ground that had effectively concealed where for many years the town’s 18th century rubbish had once been unceremoniously dumped.
She informed me that anything old and interesting had been dug up and spirited away during recent times as more and more shrewd people became aware of the historical, and commercial, value of old things, but that under the huge root mass of storm-felled trees, which earlier had stood for over a hundred-and-fifty years as solid obstacles to plundering, many artefacts had suddenly become exposed to daylight and were accessible for plucking out again.
The fresh smell of loosened earth cleansed of all toxic and biodegradable material by the action of rain, worms, and friendly bacteria made trowelling easy and pleasurable. Early Spring was perfect for digging as thick concealing greenery had not burst out from buds yet, and annoying insects, especially tics, and other hazards, like adders, had not metamorphosed or woken from their Winter sleep.
Embedded in tree-stub walls of earth, and among the rust and broken crockery in craters beneath, were glass objects of all sizes and description, old mouth-blown, thick, crude glass containers, so strong, no stone or root could break them.
There were apothecary bottles in blue azure and burnt umber, in sizes from miniature to middling, some still with crumbling corks and liquids and powders inside; clear bottles with embossed names of manufacturers, or of household cooking and cleaning chemicals, or patented cures boasting to work for all the ailments of the day; delicately shaped perfume, hair, and shaving oil bottles, their small glass screwed tops eroded of any metal other than gold or silver, and with such small holes, only a broken-off bicycle spoke would fit in to unblock and empty the contents.
There were brown and green ale and wine bottles, most with domed bases, some just with inswept heels with embossed production type or size numbers , and with collars for corks, for few had screw or press tops then, and all appearing much smaller than bottles used for the same purposes today.
Broken glass, bottoms and tops with jagged shards sticking dangerously out, and tossed carefully aside with our trowels, were perhaps those so large and weak that they were unable to resist rival pressures between growing root and steadfast rock!
The finest artefact we found was a straight-sided whisky goblet with intricate patterns cut into its hard crystal, and in perfect condition, once the possession perhaps, of a famous nobleman! Fantasy runs riot with such old finds.
We bore the clinking collection home in our backpacks like pack-mules, and washed them in hot soapy water using wire wool and a long hooked spoke to draw out earth and plant growth, which strangely, having been underground for long over a century, had quickly become green after just a couple of days in daylight.
Old toothbrushes worked fine for cleaning most insides, but many necks were too narrow to allow brushes in. Jessica knew of an old well-proven trick though, and rushed out to collect winter-ice gravel left at the roadside, which were then fed into the narrow necks of the bottles, and, after adding soapy water, shaken at all angles up and down until the chemical, moss and dirt was scraped away leaving the glass inside sparkling clean. After rinsing, we lined them up on the sink drainer to dry.
Feeling peckish, we dined on warmed-up leftovers and ice-cold lager, and then to clean the sweat and dust off ourselves, ran a hot bath, and taking a bottle of wine and two glasses with us, sunk ourselves in the sudsy water as bluetoothed ambient music heralded in the hurrying dusk.
Next day, refreshed and keen to start, we returned to the dig to sift through disturbed earth again, raking even deeper for older glass, which at these levels appeared to be promising, that is, until Jessica uncovered the protruding bones of a human hand!
The Coroner’s Office said the discovery of bodies under the root masses of old trees is quite common in old city dumping grounds due to the extra potassium, magnesium, and sodium deposits the corpses had contributed, making the earth more fertile and suitable for large seed growth. This particular youthful victim was one of hundreds who had been buried there in their masses after a cholera outbreak in the early 18th century, and whose burial record must have been lost and overlooked in later planning. He knew that one such burial plot existed but, until then, had not known exactly where.
With this gruesome find, we quickly lost interest in archaeological digging. Jessica enrolled on a water colour painting course, creating soft, colourful portraits, and I, French history and culture for advanced learners. We hardly ever meet now.
I realised later, unlike in those deep, philosophical French films, a love relationship founded on a rubbish dump would somehow remain too shallow and profane, would expose too many raw basic truths about the impermanence of earthly life, to have any chance of long-term success. It had been, in fact, too weak to withstand the awesome pressures of that bottles, bones, and broken roots period in our lives. Our shared futuristic feelings had become more like the pleading bleakness of that bony hand, without hope of resuscitation. Even the lines of old bottles on the shelf seem to be less exciting now; as stripped bare, empty, and sterile as the strong emotions we once felt for each other. I may dump them soon in recycling.
A smaller storm-felled tree already plundered
© Gothicman 2017