Their tour would start any moment now, and though Randi wanted to get in line in the church courtyard, Gwen stood her ground, insisting that they wait for the homo sapien to arrive.
“I’m sure there’s another later,” Gwen lied vaguely, scanning the street even as the guide started collecting tickets, even as he announced that this was, indeed, his last group of the day. When Randi, who had arranged their schedule so carefully, checking and rechecking the reservations, confirmations, reminded her that this was their last chance to go inside, Gwen was flippant. “Aren’t we a little old for skeletons anyway?” she asked, ignoring the fact that she herself was the one to show Randi the skulls in the tour book in the first place, to propose they go see them on the one free afternoon of their 9th grade trip to Dublin. But this was back when Gwen still cared about doing things with Randi, back before discovering the homo sapien and his lurid, sucking mouth on the back of a bus to the Cliffs of Moher they shared with their brother school.
When all the stubs were collected, the guide turned to Randi and Gwen, asked if they were joining, and though Randi wanted more than anything to queue up, to see those human remains (some of which, she remembered with a pang, dated back to the Middle Ages!), out of loyalty to Gwen, she demurred, No, thank you.
The crypt creaked open, and Randi watched the tourists file down, two by two, the whole world, it seemed, determined to couple up around her. Even in the still of night, pairs of quiet footfalls while Randi pretended to sleep. The flash of hall light as Gwen unlocked the door, and one shadow on the wall became two, as the homo sapien crept into their room, into Gwen’s bed. Though each morning she made herself promise to ask Gwen what she and the homo sapien did in the quiet, in the dark, Randi kept curiously losing her nerve, as if she were afraid of what she might learn. When the last visitor disappeared into the recesses of the crypt, Randi found herself a little relieved. She both did and did not want to get a glimpse of those bodies stripped of life down below. She dared herself to stand on tiptoe, to crane her neck. She couldn’t see any bones from up here, but she imagined she could smell them, the must of accumulated years, the tang of skin bitten away, the tiny microbes that had nibbled it still present in the air now wafting towards her. It galvanized her, she imagined, the essence of old souls. She would do it, she decided. She would ask Gwen for the truth. But when she turned to do so, the homo sapien was bounding through the gates in long strides, and Gwen was stepping forward to greet him, to pull him close, too close, in the shadows of the courtyard. As their lips opened, as the flesh of their faces rubbed and touched, the guide shut the crypt behind him, and Randi sealed her own mouth, trapping in there the last little dregs of the dead.
Alyson Mosquera Dutemple’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Passages North, DIAGRAM, Wigleaf, and Pithead Chapel, among others, and recently received an Honorable Mention for Cincinnati Review‘s 2021 Robert and Adele Schiff Award. She works as an editorial consultant and creative writing instructor in New Jersey and holds an MFA in fiction from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Find her on Twitter @swellspoken and at www.alysondutemple.com.