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148 | ecotone fiction Rebecca Makkai The Way You Hold Your Knife | 149 Ann resented how Beethoven’s Ninth thumped from the speakers in the bog museum, making it impossible to feel anything but triumphant, uplifted, Germanic. And Harry had preferred jazz, to begin with. Two little boys ran across the floor, and the red lights in the heels of their sneakers flashed in time to the music. On the wall it stated in Danish, then English, then German, then French, that clumps of sphagnum moss from the bogs had been used as bandages during World War I. She stared out the bay of east-facing windows at what looked from up here like an Iowa prairie, solid enough to walk on, the brown of dried blood. Ulf, the museum director, whose hand she’d shaken on the way in, who had offered her a sympathetic and conspiratorial nod, announced loudly from the information desk in Danish, then English, that the museum would close in ten minutes. A few people began to leave—the boys with the sneakers followed their parents toward the exit—but there were still twenty people now, maybe thirty, clustering together near the windows, feigning interest in the wall plaques and photos of carnivorous plants. “I’m certain this is completely illegal.” A man with a British accent and a thick white beard had leaned in over Ann’s shoulder. “Of course it is,” she said, and continued staring at a chart that placed bog water’s acidity between the juice of an orange and the juice of a lemon. “Do you believe Harry would appreciate spending eternity in a pool of fruit juice?” the man asked. “I assume he knew what he was getting into.” Ann moved on to another panel, one about Celtic sacrifices. She squinted at the photos of the tar-black mummies, their deflated bodies, their faces preserved down to the wrinkles in the lips. The girl in the glass case in the corner—Stora Girl, she was called—Ann had avoided since she’d come in, but her slow circuits of the room had several times brought her close enough to see the shape of the girl’s head, the arm, flat and leathery and bent at the elbow, the rough cloth of her dress. She’d tried hard, in her early field work, to get over her squeamishness about bones and even hair, but she knew herself well enough to realize that if she saw the dead girl’s hardened face, she’d be up with nightmares. Although she hadn’t gotten close enough to read Stora Girl’s plaques, she had read the pamphlet Ulf had handed her at the door, about the two-thousand-year-old teenage girl’s discovery by Danish farmers, in 1952, the leather strap that circled her throat, the barley and other seeds found in her intestines. She must have seen pictures of the girl many times back in Harry’s office, although the intervening fifteen years made it all so hazy now. And this was apparently a second-rate bog mummy, incomplete and damaged and poorly preserved. 150 | ecotone Ann was sure Harry’s favorite had been Tollund Man, the eerily perfect sacrifice victim whom some of these mourners had traveled to the larger Silkeborg Museum to see yesterday. (They had chartered a van. Ann, still on California time, had stayed in the hotel, looking at the pictures in a Danish tabloid—someone else’s celebrities, someone else’s scandals and sagas and public tragedies—and trying to sleep.) It was Tollund Man’s picture on the cover of Harry’s most important book, which was a merciful choice, really— he looked quite peaceful for a mummy. She remembered a day quite early on, maybe sophomore year, when Harry had beckoned her into his office to show her an article about the “bog brains” down in Florida, where for some reason the skeletons had disintegrated, leaving only what used to be the mind. It wasn’t quite in his wheelhouse—his foci after all were theory and northwest Europe, not bog juice—but he obsessed about those brains all semester. “That’s something,” he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 148-162
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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