Friday, January 24, 2020

“Climbing” by Nancy Taber

Evelyn glared at the postcard of the Greek goddess Nike– she who had inspired the Nike swoosh. It mocked her from her cork board where she had originally posted it as motivation. She looked at the clock on her computer, watching as one minute turned to the next. She willed it to stop, to give her more time before she was canned from her job as efficiently as her recently deceased mother had canned apples every fall.

“Evelyn,” shouted her boss, Kleitos, from down the hall of the archeological museum. “The Nike people will be here in less than an hour. Where’s that statuette? I needed it here yesterday. The donation they’re going to give us will keep us funded for years.” She could hear his gleeful laugh and pictured his hands outstretched as if welcoming Ploutus, the god of wealth, to chase away the museum’s foreclosure. 

Evelyn ignored him and continued her frantic search of the database. Her fingers, their nails bitten to the quick, darted over the keyboard. “Where did you go?” she asked her empty office. Her voice rose with each question that ran through her head like Theseus turning endless corners in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. “Did you disappear to fight a war? To visit the Parthenon? To obliterate my already obliterated life? 

Thoughtless goddess, abandoning me after it took me decades to find you.” She’d chased stories of the statuette’s existence across Greece, finally discovering it tucked into a hillside on an island in the Aegean Sea that was so small it was unnamed. She should have earned the cover on Anthropologists Monthly for that, but it went to some man who’d dug up yet another Viking spear in Iceland. Damn Game of Thrones was on everyone’s minds.

Her iPhone 4 buzzed. Everyone said she should trade it in for a newer model, but it seemed cruel to abandon it, the way her husband had traded her in, or up, for a shiny iPhone 11 that probably hung on his every word, made him breakfast in bed, even sucked his…

“Evelyn,” her assistant, Simon, strode into the office and interrupted her thoughts. “Any luck?”

“No,” she spat. She envisioned the Muskoka Plunge water slide at Canada’s Wonderland. Just last year she’d been ensconced at the top, having conquered multiple flights of stairs to get there. An adoring husband, her career on the rise, a child in their future, an ever-present loving mother. 

Over the next 12 months, she’d careened down, losing first her mother, then the possibility of a baby, then her partner, and now, unless she re-discovered that cursed statuette, her job as an anthropologist. She was drenched in fatigue just thinking about how to find the energy to climb back up that hard-earned staircase. 
Her phone buzzed again. She looked at the display of her intern’s name, Cindy, and stabbed the speakerphone icon. “I swear to God this better be good news.”

“Don’t you mean swear to the Goddess?”

“I swear if I’m fired then you’ll be out of a job with me.”

“I’m unpaid, remember?”


“Sorry. So it must have been misfiled?”

“We know that, genius. It’s not as if it walked out on its own. Not with that ID tag attached. We could follow it to Hades and back. But no signal in this building. What idiot came up with that system?”

Silence from the phone. Evelyn took a breath, trying to follow her therapist’s instructions. Breathe in, two, three. Breathe out, two, three. When she thought she could speak without her voice cracking, she took the phone off speaker and picked it up, tucking her curly red hair behind her ear so she could hear.

“Thanks for your patience with me,” she said. That was another of her therapist’s recommendations. Acknowledge others. “I’m coming back down for another search. The computer’s no help.” She ended the call and stalked out of the office, with Simon hurrying behind her. “Get to the lobby and stall them,” she ordered. “Give them a tour of the goddess collection. Tell them that their commercial will be that more powerful if they understand the importance of Nike and how she fits into mythology. Show them the Artemis statue. Ask them to guess how many breasts she has and tell the winner they’ll get a prize.”

“What prize?”

“Let them feel her up.”


“Of course not. Jesus. How many degrees do you need before you have common sense?” She shoved him towards the elevator. “You’re resourceful – think of something.” Floor #1 flashed above the doors. Evelyn dashed towards the emergency exit and ran down three flights. She tore into the climate controlled storage room and bashed into Cindy. Even though her intern’s hands were empty she couldn’t help herself from asking. “Anything?”


“Do I have to do everything myself?” Evelyn raced through the room, scanning shelves with hurried eyes as if she hadn’t made the same search 10 times before.  

“I told you,” murmured Cindy.

Evelyn turned on her heel and stepped towards Cindy until their noses were almost touching.

“Who. Do. You. Think. You. Are?” she spat.

“Um. I’m, an intern?”

“That was a rhetorical question. Is everyone around here incompetent?” Evelyn watched as Cindy’s face crumpled and she choked on her tears. Dammit, she’d gone too far again. If only she could get control of this fury that had seized her like one of Medusa’s snakes.

“I’m sorry,” Cindy blubbered. “It’s just that… it’s an honour to work with you. You’re a great role model. I don’t want to let you down.”

Evelyn felt something chipping through the stone that surrounded her heart. Her anger flattened. “Alright. Plan B,” she said. “We use a different statuette for the meeting, and then bring the real one in when it’s appraised for insurance and they borrow it for their commercial. You keep Kleitos away. He’s the only one who’ll notice the difference.”

Cindy nodded and Evelyn zipped back up the steps to find a replacement statuette. When she reached her office, she flopped over and put her hands on her knees. As she drew several deep breaths, she felt herself calm. At least someone cared about her. Looked up to her. She straightened as the danger of hyperventilating passed.

Her gaze flicked over the top shelf of the bookcase in the corner. Her winged Nike with a laurel wreath. Goddess of Victory. She’d been here the whole time.

Maybe she could climb those stairs again, after all.

Nancy Taber is an academic at Brock University and a retired military member. Her research explores the intersection of gender, militarism, and learning in daily life. She has published multiple journal articles, books, and book chapters but is most proud of her published short stories, one in Fifteen Stories High and one on CommuterLit. She is currently working on two fiction-based research projects: a collection of short stories about women, war, and war museums and a book of historical fiction about Acadian women in 1759, 1864, and the present.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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