Short Story / Writers / Writing

Beneath the Ruin by Erin F. Robinson

        We waited at Lima airport terminal to board our flight to Nasca, huddled together on the plastic seats, backpacks crammed with work clothes, insect repellant, toothbrushes, and sunscreen. I didn’t know anyone in the group but Ian. One of the guys turned to me and asked me, “So, Daniel, what was it like growing up Pentecostal? Charming snakes, talking tongues and shit?” The group chuckled and then waited for me to answer. I said that we’d never charmed snakes, but there were some that spoke in tongues, especially when someone was being baptized in the Holy Spirit. For my baptism, I was placed in a cocoon of hands laid over me, the men speaking in tongues, guiding me to the Holy Spirit. At the time it felt magical. Retelling this now, I was embarrassed.
        I told them that there was a great sense of community, knowing that you were never alone in your faith, but at times it could be strangely lonely and isolating, especially when you had doubts about that same faith. Another guy in our group said, “Sounds creepy,” and this brought on more laughter. Jill didn’t laugh. She was watching me, and when our eyes met, she looked away. Michael sat next to me, and he asked me quietly, “Are you having doubts now about your faith?” I turned my view over to my dad, who was sitting with some other students across from us. “Maybe,” I said, thumbing through the Bible resting on my lap.
        A shrill voice blasted through the intercom that our flight was now boarding. Dad stood up, grabbed his backpack, and walked around the terminal, reminding his students not to leave anything behind. He patted several of the guys on their backs and gave the girls a quick squeeze on their shoulders, herding them to the line. This was it, my first real archaeological dig with Dad. I was about to see what kept him away from us every summer growing up. A surge of excitement coursed through my body as Ian and I found our seats on the plane. Ian was my age, but he had skipped college to become a chef. He would be our cook for the trip. He was my sister’s husband’s younger brother, if that isn’t confusing enough. My sister wanted us to become friends, since she felt we both seemed to be floundering in the social skills department. I didn’t have any expectations. I was just glad to finally spend a summer with Dad.
        The group of sixteen drove from the dilapidated airstrip in Nasca to Acarí in a bus that was highly questionable. Corroded metal, exhaust sputtering, odd grinding noises vibrating the floor, foam stuffing falling out the torn vinyl seat cushions, even the nonbelievers prayed for their lives. The drive to our campsite would take a couple hours. Michael sat in the first row of seats with Dad. It became apparent to me rather quickly that Michael was Dad’s favorite student. I resisted the urge to be jealous, but how could I not be? Michael was smart, had a full head of wavy blonde hair, was built like a track star, and was friends with everyone.
        Dad turned in his seat to face us and give us the lowdown on our site. We would be digging a Spanish church, now rubble, which was built on top of an ancient Incan ritual mound in the late 1500s. The church had collapsed in an earthquake, leaving nothing but mounds of debris. The University of Arequipa, not having sufficient funds to perform the operation themselves, authorized Dad’s college to perform the dig of the site. The university awarded Dad an honorary doctorate in exchange for digging the site and leaving all the artifacts collected and photos taken to stay in Peru
        I watched the dry, desert scenery pass me from the window of our bus, reminding me of my childhood home in the Mojave. I smiled and thought of the thousands of miles I had traveled to escape the desert, only to arrive at the basin of another desert. Also trying to escape from talking about religion for a summer, here I was, being bombarded with questions about my faith. You had to love the irony of it all. This would be my last summer before graduating the next year from Wheaton, the Harvard of evangelical schools in the country. It’s where every good Christian kid wants to go, but I found myself in my third year wondering if I had made a mistake. I had to blame it on my mom. What was a Baptist turned Pentecostal thinking marrying an atheist archaeologist? Didn’t she realize when her children turned 20, they would be in the throes of an identity crisis from being cradled in such a dichotomy?
        During my junior year, I decided to change my major to Classical Languages. Greek, Latin and Hebrew, back to basics. After all, the first version of the Bible had been written in Greek. Learning the language in which the words were originally written, I hoped, would unlock some hidden truth within me. I was even church-hopping at Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches around Wheaton, and thought about converting. Enough of this evangelical stuff. Back to the one true church. Isn’t that what Catholics say about themselves?
        The thought of having my hands in 500-year-old Catholic rubble in a few short hours was exhilarating. That night in our tent, as I lay in my sleeping bag, I shone my flashlight on my Bible, opening it to where a letter in an envelope held my place. I had opened that envelope and read its dozens of times. Now, the paper was soft like fabric and becoming tattered. It was a letter that I wrote to my father but never gave to him. Having revised the words many times over the years, I had settled on this final version. The letter said something to the effect of “Why did you leave us, Dad? How could you do that to Mom? Why didn’t you take me with you? My whole life, I feel like I’ve been chasing after you, and you have been running farther away. Please turn around so that I can see your face and get to know you. I just want to be let into your life. I need a father. Can you be one for me?” It all sounds so melodramatic now, but I did feel this way for a very long time.
        The questions I didn’t include in the letter were, Hey, Dad, why did you cheat on Mom with one of your students? What kind of an example have you set for your son? Is that what a man should act like? I couldn’t bring myself to ask him those and pushed him even farther away. For a few years I carried this pathetic letter around with me, holding my breath for the perfect moment to hand to Dad, which never came. I even had the letter memorized in case I ever lost it. The letter was safe in my Bible that night, still optimistic that there might be a moment on this trip to hand it to him.
        We woke at dawn each morning to the sounds of Ian banging pans and moving supplies around. Dad sat in his collapsible chair, drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette. For six days in the scorching desert heat, we performed our tasks, settling into a comfortable routine, each day peeling back another layer of the rubble to expose more pieces of the Spanish church. Our goal was to reach the floor of the church in order to see the footprint. Any remnants of fabric, paper, beads, pottery, glass, or bones, we had to catalog and bag. The guys did the grunt work of shoveling the rubble, while the girls hunched over on the ground of each quadrant, brushing away dust, looking for artifacts. We worked more diligently each day than the last, feeling close to the floor of the church, its pulsing power and mystery holding an allure over our thoughts of what we might find.
        One day Dad asked how I was doing on the dig. I told him I thought it was interesting that he, the family atheist, found himself at the center of rubble from a religious sanctuary built on top of another religious burial ground, and didn’t he see how amusing that was. He said, “Look, son. It’s not that I think religion is a farce. I respect people who practice religion. I don’t know what to tell you. My job has done this to me, I think. How can I believe in a god if I’ve spent my life uncovering the remains of the dead in their tombs, surrounded by parting gifts to the afterlife, but they are nevertheless dead, and we’re digging through their bones like scavengers, looking for answers which we’ll never find? ” I nodded, unsure how to respond. I wanted to tell him those were just the bodies and what really mattered were the souls. “Faith ain’t easy, kid. I think you’ll see that when you get older.” He rubbed his scraggly grey beard and lit a cigarette as he walked away and called Michael to him.
        On the seventh day of the dig, the group had begun to lose steam. Tired and sunburned, the monotony of our tasks wore on us. The group took a lunch break early. I stayed back to dig, still feeling like I had another half-hour of work in me. Jill hung back, still brushing busily, perched on her slim bronzed legs, golden hair sticking to her sweaty neck. God, she was beautiful. I’d heard from some of the guys that she had a crush on Dad. She was his best student, aside from Michael. I knew my dad had a weakness for students, but Jill was my age. I silently claimed her for myself, even if I didn’t know the first thing about dating a girl. And, hey, maybe she’d prefer the younger version.
        In a heat-induced trance, I continued thrusting my shovel down into the dirt and clumps of clay brick. We were almost to the floor of the church, the base of one religion covering the ceiling of another. Throughout Peru, the Spaniards built their churches on top of Incan ritual mounds, intending to stifle the religious beliefs of the vanquished. I lifted the shovel and sent it slamming down to the ground. A current of power ripped through my body as the tip of the shovel impacted, freezing my hands to the handle of the shovel. Vibrations hummed through my body as I fell to the ground, dizzy and nauseated. Jill ran over to me and laid her hands on me, asking me if I was okay. She saw the shovel and inspected where it had pierced the ground. The sun beat down on my face as I heard her shouting to the others that I had reached the floor of the church with my shovel.
        That evening I went to sleep before all the others. I didn’t feel well. Could barely make it through my dinner. I heard the excited talk of the group about reaching the floor of the church. The rest of the day had been spent mapping out the footprint of the church, clearing away the last bits of rubble, and beginning to catalog findings of artifacts. A couple of the girls had found playing cards buried in the dirt. The cards were double the size of our normal playing cards, with ornate calligraphy and frayed edges. They had also found rosary beads intact, which they bagged and labeled to send to the University of Arequipa once the dig was over. The chatter quieted as the group said their good-nights. Tomorrow we would be cleaning up, cataloging, and be on our way to Iquitos, a village in the Amazon.
        My sleep was fitful, waking every few minutes with nausea and a headache. I didn’t feel right. After unzipping the tent quietly, I dragged my sleeping bag outside to breathe in some cool air and try to sleep in the open. Just as drowsiness drew my eyes shut, a buzzing swarm surrounded me in the night. As the moon’s glow shone, thousands of grey specks flew over and enveloped me, their touch on my skin vibrating my whole being. They cocooned me and whispered in silky voices the tongues of languages which I did not recognize, soothing and coaxing me to close my eyes and listen. The current surged through my body, the same current which I felt when I pierced the shovel through the floor of the church. In doing so, I released an energy which was now magnetized to me, the voices of yearning.
        In the morning, I opened my eyes to find Dad peering over me, his work boots almost touching my head. He cackled and nudged my shoulder with his boot. Rubbing my eyes, I saw that I had fallen asleep outside of my tent, unsure whether the voices from the night before had been a dream. “You can’t sleep the day away. We’ve got to get a move on. Have some breakfast, son,” Dad told me as he walked away with a cup of coffee in one hand, the other resting on his pot belly. I outlined his body with my eyes, broad shoulders, thick hands, balding grey-haired head. I was a carbon copy of my dad, only 30 years younger.
        I ran my hand over my balding head and scruffy beard, hoping no one saw me with my hat off. Going bald at age 20 made me less than popular with the ladies at college. I thought if I grew out what was left of my hair out and brushed it over my bald spots, nobody would notice. I also thought a beard would make me look more mature. My dad had always said you can never trust a man with a clean-shaven face. That was one good thing about going to an evangelical college. All the kids were saving themselves for marriage anyway. For me, saving myself wasn’t difficult, since girls wouldn’t really come near me. I always found myself jealous of the good-looking guys, though, because their struggle was fraught with real temptation.
        We packed up our gear and our tools, said our farewells to the dig site, and drove away in our bus. Dad had some friends outside of Acarí and away from the desert who owned an olive orchard built by Spaniards hundreds of years ago. They were an older lesbian couple from San Francisco who had retired and bought the orchard to pass the rest of their years in tranquility. He set up a surprise dinner for us there, Ian cooked homemade pizza for us in the outdoor brick ovens of the house. We also were invited to stay the night in the house on the orchard and sleep in beds for the night. The sixteen of us split up and walked the property, stepping on stone paths to the fields, and then zigzagging through the rows of olive trees in the orchard, which was enclosed by low mismatched wood fences. We had an hour before dinner was ready.
        Jill found me wandering through the orchard and wove her fingers into mine. Looking up at me, she asked timidly if I would let her cut my hair. My face burned with shame. I tried to let go of her hand, but she tightened her grip. It was a mystery what this delicate pixie saw in the Cro-Magnon that was me. She led me to the room in the house where she was bunking with the other girls and began her work. While trimming my tangled chunks of hair, she told me I was a mangy, matted dog, gashed up from crawling under fences and getting caught in tumbleweed and stickers, and that I just needed a little cleaning up.
        Jill cut my hair in stages, until it was short enough to shave, making her way through a handful of razors until my head was smooth. After trimming my beard and shaving my neck, she showed me my new self in her compact mirror. I laughed as I checked myself out, “Hey, I’m not bad-looking!” She told me I have a beautiful nose, like a Roman god, and that I shouldn’t hide it behind all that hair and busyness.
        Ian and our hosts served us dinner. I noticed that Dad and Michael sat together and seemed entrenched in conversation. Touching my shirt pocket which contained the folded letter to my dad, I resolved to allow my jealousies and worries to melt, if only for a few hours. The evening slipped through our hands and turned to a lovely memory as we sat around a wooden table overlooking the olive trees, laughing, passing a new carafe of wine around to each other from time to time, and folding thin pieces of pizza into our mouths. We savored the faint aromas of garlic and olive oil, the way everything tastes better after a hard day of work, and the feel of our washed clothes against our clean skin. I rubbed my shaven head throughout the night, liberated by its smoothness. Jill caught me with my hands on my head from across the table, and I whispered to her, “Thank you.”
* * *
        “Buenas tardes, damas y caballeros! I am Octavio. I am here to pick you up!” a short, stubby, barrel-chested man with black hair charged towards us, grabbing our bags from our hands and hurling them into the back of his van. The bus ride from Acarí to Lima lasted all day. We didn’t fly back because we wanted to save money. Octavio was an old friend of Dad’s, who knew the Amazon inside and out. Dad hired him as our guide and our shaman for the remainder of our trip. And, yes, he was a real, live shaman, spells, potions and all. We stretched and moaned from hunger and aching bladders, not ready to climb into another vehicle for another long drive.
        Octavio drove us from Lima to Iquitos, a village at the foothills of the Andes and on the westernmost part of the Amazon. Dad and Michael sat together again, so I sat up front with Octavio. He told me about his family and his son Guillermo, who was around my age. For some reason, Guillermo didn’t want to be a shaman like his father, Octavio told me, laughing. He had some crazy idea to get into college to become a doctor. “How am I going to pay for that!” Octavio shouted above the roar of the engine. “I don’t know,” I said, thinking about my mom and dad, both teachers, when I told them I wanted to go to Wheaton. Financial aid. I wondered if they did that in Peru.
        We entered Iquitos as the sun was setting. Everyone’s tired faces lit up with pleasure as they climbed out of the bus and lifted their heads to the sky. A canopy of thick trees with sprawling leaves hung over us, allowing glints of light to break through in rays here and there. The air was thick and warm, with the echo of birds chirping and cacawing, insects and lizards sharing the lush domain, peeking through leaves and bark. Carrying our bags, we followed Octavio to our huts, our feet sinking softly into the damp black earth with each step. Octavio told us to get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow would be a busy day on the river. I lay my head on my thin pillow and fell asleep to the low vibration of a thousand voices kissing my skin.
        I awoke to a shrill scream coming from somewhere close to my hut. As I threw my covers off, I leapt out of my cot and clumsily slipped my shoes on to run outside. The other students ran towards Jill’s hut and stopped at the open door. Jill lay on her cot, immobilized by dozens of fuzzy, black palm-sized spiders crawling over her prone body. We all stood hesitantly, our buzzing whispers of “What do we do?” and “Are they venomous?” and “Someone call Octavio!”
        I shoved my way into the room and saw a broom in the closet. Maybe if I just gently brushed the spiders off Jill, they would leave on their own. I tiptoed to her cot and began brushing. As I neared the spiders, a shimmery light emanated from each of their furry bodies and I felt that familiar vibration within, as if they had picked up on some energy from me. They slowly crawled in unison off Jill’s cot and formed a line to the door, leaving without a single brush of my broom. I rushed over to Jill’s side and hugged her while she cried, as Michael said, “What the hell just happened?”
        The group dissipated and I heard someone say, “Spider Jesus freak.” No one knew what happened. It was as strange to me as everyone else. What I wanted from this trip was to stop feeling like a side-show act, to be able to sort out the turmoil I had going on inside. I could not escape myself. In the middle of the rain forest in Peru, I was who I was everywhere, a pathetic, lonely mess. And to top it off, it was my 21st birthday. I stayed sitting with Jill on her bed until she stopped crying.
        “Apúrense, gringos. No tengo todo el día. I don’t have all day, Yanquis!” Octavio sang as he walked around collecting us from our huts. Dad sauntered out of his hut with his usual garb, a soiled short-sleeved collared shirt, hiking shorts and his work boots. He gulped his coffee and let a cigarette hang from his mouth as he told us that today we’d be fishing on the river for my birthday. Just a short walk along the forest, and we’d be there.
        When we got to the river bank, little metal fishing boats were waiting for us, laid out on the dark earth in a row. We lumbered into the boats after wading into the warm water, the last person of each boat pushing it off the earth and hopping in quickly. The water was dark, shaded by the broad-leafed canopy of trees overhead, and as we glided through it, a thin sheet of insects flew suspended just above the waterline. Octavio told us to apply repellant or we would get eaten alive by insects. There were five boats, with Octavio and Dad in the leading boat, and the thirteen students, myself and Ian split the other four boats.
        Octavio slowed his boat to a stop, and as we floated in the water, he said, “Okay, gringos. We are fishing for piranhas today. Here are your spears. For those of you who don’t know, piranhas bite, so don’t fall in the water. Entienden, muchachos?” He laughed uncontrollably as he pointed his spear at Michael and his cronies. The girls squirmed nervously in their boat as Octavio passed the spears around to each boat.
        “He’s kidding, right?” Jill whispered to her friends. Dad sat there, calm as could be, cigarette hanging from his mouth, cleaning his nails with a Swiss army knife. “No, I am not kidding. I thought you were tough archeologist, eh? Roger, you told me the Yanqui girls were tough!” Octavio said to Dad, grin spreading across his face. “They’ll be fine. Let’s get going,” Dad said as he picked up his oar and began rowing. From the boat behind me, I could hear Jill’s friend mutter, “How could he be a shaman? I thought shamans were supposed to be nice.”
        We shot our spears into the dark water and pulled them back to the surface bare. Octavio caught a piranha with every aim he took, pulling the spear out of the water with a shiny, teeth-bearing fish punctured and flopping about. He slid each fish off his spear and slipped them into a hunting pouch he carried around his waist. Octavio smiled broadly at us, his flat nose spreading across his face as the corners of his mouth turned up. Dinner would be Octavio’s catches.
        Ian and I rowed closer to Octavio’s boat, and I asked him if I could tell him about something that had happened to me. I told him about the cocoon and the voices, and then this morning the spiders, and I asked if he knew what it might mean. Dad listened without lifting his head, as if he’d heard this a thousand times. “Te chocaste con un espíritu, it sounds like,” Octavio told me matter-of-factly.
        “I did what?” I asked.
        “You crash into spirit, and it release energy. It’s cosmology. It happens,” he explained, as he shrugged his shoulders casually. “When did it start?”
        “I was digging at the dig site, and when I reached the church floor, I felt a vibration.”
        “Yah, that’s it. Te chocaste,” he said.
        “Well, how do I make it stop?”
        “Oh, you cannot rush the spirits. Consider yourself very lucky man, to crash into spirit,” This spirit thing upset me. Out of all the others in our group, why did this have to happen to me? It was so Pentecostal. I could tell Dad thought it was ridiculous. Octavio began to row away as Dad rolled his eyes and picked up his spear. I looked over at Ian, remembering that he sat next to me in the boat. He pushed his glasses up, grinned, and began rowing.
* * *
        The girls surrounded Ian at the fire pit, giggling as he barbequed the piranhas. Before setting each piranha on the fire to cook, he held it up to his lips and kissed it, saying, “Good night, little fishy,” and the girls howled with feigned disgust. Who knew he was so smooth with the ladies? But he was. The girls liked Ian, with his quiet ways and his gourmet cooking. He leaned over to me and asked if I was up for the dancing tonight. I was no good at dancing. Never had been. Growing up Pentecostal, we weren’t allowed to dance, so I never learned. And then at Wheaton dancing wasn’t allowed, either. On Friday nights my guy friends and I would sometimes cram ourselves into someone’s room in the boys’ dorm, play music and secretly dance. What a sight we must have been, a bunch of dudes dancing around together in their socks to Dave Matthews Band. Even with the secret dancing, I still didn’t know how to dance. At least there would be alcohol.
        Octavio and his son Guillermo showed up with two buses to take us into the neighboring village for a dance. The girls chattered in the bus about salsa and how they loved dancing to Latin music. When we climbed out of the buses, we saw something distinctly different. Hands beat on tight uncured leather drums to give an entrancing song of percussion. Peruvian men and women danced barefoot around a fire wearing feather skirts fastened by crude leather belts and beaded leather halters, faces painted, a bouncing mess of color. Octavio dragged us into tents and told us to change into our costumes, which were laid on rough wooden chairs. We arrived to the fire in all our glory, butt cheeks hanging out, egos exposed to the starlit sky.
        As the tray was passed around with glasses of Pisco sour, we tossed our heads back and emptied them. I watched Octavio and Guillermo dance arm in arm around the fire with such comfort, and I felt a pang of jealousy. To feel such closeness with your dad that you could strut around in nothing but feathers around a fire and think it was the most normal thing in the world. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I wanted that. My dad and I had nothing in common. We had no inside jokes, no shared interests. Sometimes I felt like my dad was even ashamed to have me as a son. Dad sat with some of Octavio’s friends, smoking and sharing drinks from a bottle of Pisco. Maybe I could give him my letter on this night, I thought.
        “Tienes que sacudir las caderas,” Guillermo shouted to me as I tried to move with the drum beats around the fire.
        I felt confused and dizzy. “Huh? What did he say?”
        “He said to shake your hips, Daniel.” Octavio said, laughing.
        “Oh, okay,” I said, as I tried to copy Guillermo’s hips. Jill sidled up next to me, and feeling the Pisco kick in, I drummed the courage to grab her hand to dance. As I turned her, our knees crashed into each other, and she hunched over in pain. Just as she bent over, I did, too, to check on her knees, and our heads made impact at full force. What a disaster I was. She winced in pain and walked away to sit down. I heard laughing and turned around to see Michael and the other guys grabbing their stomachs, having a good innocent chuckle about my ineptitude. I also thought I’d heard one of them say that I wasn’t Jill’s type; that she was into older men. Octavio walked up, dragged me to the bar, and ordered us some shots.
        After a while, Octavio and I were having our own party, and under the thatched roof of a bar in the middle of the rain forest in Iquitos, we forged a drunken friendship. We poured our hearts out about the loves we couldn’t have, our hopes, our regrets, and our doubts about religion. I couldn’t believe I was talking about God with a shaman. I wanted answers from God to questions like, why do we have such strong desires, like the desire for a father, sexual desire, the desire to know the truth about you, if these desires are never to be fulfilled? I suppose this was the central problem I had with my church. The expectation that I should always suppress the very desires that God has given me. That’s it, I said. I’m gonna tell my dad about the letter I wrote him.
        “Daniel, I don’t think that is such a good idea,” he said as he helped me off my barstool, and I stumbled over to where Dad sat.
        Dad looked up at me. “Hey, birthday boy. Are you having fun?” he asked.
I opened my mouth to tell him I had something to say, but instead of words coming out, I emptied the contents of my stomach, and it landed in a sloppy pile at Dad’s feet. I don’t remember exactly what Dad said to me, but the look of sincere concern on his face and the memory of Octavio and Dad dragging my sorry feather-covered ass to the bus while I mumbled apologies is an image which will never leave me.
        Nausea and a splitting headache woke me to find Octavio sitting by my cot, smiling at me. “How you feeling, Daniel? Water?” He handed me a bottle of water as I struggled to sit up. It was still dark. The night’s debacle flashed back into my memory, and I asked Octavio how he could have let me make such a fool of myself.
        “I just want what you and Guillermo have. I just want to be sure of something, for once in my life. If I’m not sure who my father is in relation to me, how can I go on?” I asked Octavio, not expecting him to answer. I had the same question about both fathers, really, Dad and God. What would a shaman say to that, anyhow? They didn’t believe in God in the same way, did they?
        “Look, Daniel. I know your father for many years. He is a different kind of man. He is a good man. But sometimes we have to learn things alone. The spirits found you for a reason,” Octavio said, scratching his head. “You can always stay with me, Daniel. If you want to stay in Peru or someday come back, you can. You are always welcome in my family.”
        “Thanks, Octavio,” I said, as I buried my head in his shoulder hugging him. My bladder ached. I had to take a leak. We walked out the door together as he patted my back and said good night. Everyone was in bed, lights out in the huts, and the forest was still and silent. As I walked past Dad’s hut to the outhouse, I saw his light was on. Through the half-drawn shade of his window, Jill’s silhouette glided across the room to Dad’s arms.
* * *
        We all stood in line to hug Octavio goodbye at the airport. He was not how I had pictured a shaman, but I accepted it for what it was. As he hugged each student, he asked for a phone number so he could keep in touch. All the students pulled out pieces of paper from their backpacks and scribbled their numbers to give to Octavio. My dad whispered to me, “Don’t give him your number.” I wondered why, as I scribbled my number on a crumpled napkin I had in my pocket. I would find out weeks later that Octavio got phone numbers from all his tour groups and then called them incessantly from calling cards asking to be wired money for his sick family members. I did find myself stopping in at Western Unions from time to time over the years.
        Dad sat with me on the flight home. We didn’t talk about my birthday or Jill. Instead we stared out the window in awe of the Peruvian landscape and marveled at the riches the Incans once held. The beaches, the desert, the Andes, the rain forests. We talked about how both the Incans and the Spaniards were war-like peoples wanting to spread their seeds, conquer lands and civilizations. Why did we see one party as good and one as evil, though? Could it be because we can put names to the Spaniard conquerors, and we do not know the names of the Incan conquerors?
        Putting a name to something makes it real. It attaches value and meaning, and we can label it good or evil as such. I told him that God’s name, after all, is not really a name. Yahweh means “I am that I am.” He nodded in appreciation. We reflected on humans’ uncanny ability to recognize truth, to cover it, and continually uncover it. I never gave my dad that letter or told him what was in it. It was just another covered truth that did not need to be disturbed.


2 thoughts on “Beneath the Ruin by Erin F. Robinson

  1. “I am a Master’s student at California State University East Bay, studying Literature and Creative Writing, and am slated to graduate in June of 2013. I also am the Fiction Editor for Arroyo Literary Review. My work has appeared in, The Autumn Sound Review, and my magazine reviews have appeared in While not studying, writing, or editing, I work as a court reporter in Oakland, California.” Erin F. Robinson

  2. I found this brilliant. I started reading it because I have been to Peru (Lima, Cuzco, Iquitos, Nazca) and used to work in Wheaton, IL. I kept reading because of the vulnerability of the narrator’s thought life. I love the personal life parallel with the Incan/Catholic ruins (which greatly moved me in Peru)—how to reconcile warring experiences. Deep, humble questions stirred up…so much wisdom in admitting the conflicts and inadequacies.

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