Kennedy's Brain


The catastrophe happened in the autumn. She had no idea what was coming, no warning. No shadow was cast; it struck without a sound.

It was like being waylaid in a dark alley. But the fact was that it forced her away from her ruins, into a reality that she had never really concerned herself with. She was hurled with immense force into a world where the excavation of Greek Bronze Age graves was irrelevant.

She had been living deep down in her dusty trenches, or hunched over shattered vases that she was trying to piece together. She had loved her ruins, and failed to notice that the world around her was starting to collapse. She was an archaeologist forced to leave the past and stand next to a grave she had never imagined possible.

There were no portents. The tragedy had been robbed of its voice. It was unable to shout out a warning to her.

The evening before Louise Cantor travelled to Sweden to take part in a conference on current archaeological excavations of Bronze Age graves, she stood on a ceramic fragment in the bathroom and suffered a deep wound in her left foot. It bled copiously over the floor, making her feel sick. The shard dated from the fifth century BC.

She was in Argolis on Peloponnisos, 137 kilometres outside Athens, it was September and the year's excavations were coming to a close. She could already feel a chill in the wind that presaged the coming winter. The dry heat with its scent of rosemary and thyme was beginning to fade.

She stemmed the flow of blood and applied a plaster. A memory came storming into her mind.

A rusty nail that had gone right through her foot – not the one she had cut now, but the other one, her right foot. She must have been five or six years old. The brown nail had penetrated her heel, forced its way through skin and flesh and impaled her as if on a pole. She had howled with pain, and thought that she was undergoing the same kind of torture experienced by the man crucified on the cross at the front of the church where she sometimes played her lonely horror games.

We are pierced over and over again by these barbs, she thought as she wiped the blood off the cracked floor tiles. A woman spends all her life in the proximity of these sharp edges out to penetrate what she is trying to protect.

She limped to the part of the house that doubled as her workplace and bedroom. In one corner was a creaky rocking chair and a CD player. She had been given the CD player by old Leandros, the caretaker. Leandros had been around as a poverty-stricken but curious child when the Swedish excavations at Argolis began in the 1930s. Nowadays he spent his nights fast asleep while on caretaking duty at the Mastos hill. But everybody on the project supported him. Leandros was an essential cog in the wheel. Without him, all future grants to enable the continuation of the excavations would be under threat. Exercising the prerogative of old age, Leandros had become a toothless and often noticeably filthy guardian angel.

Louise Cantor sat down on the rocking chair and examined her wounded foot. She smiled at the thought of Leandros. Most Swedish archaeologists she knew were aggressively impious, and refused to accept various authorities as anything other than obstacles in the way of the continued dig. A few gods who had lost all significance a very long time ago could hardly affect the distant Swedish authorities when it