“A Trip to the Museum”

Alan was alone in the Gund Gallery, save for the solid docent who looked like his regular job was coaching Pop Warner football. He was on a break from the Dairymen Association Annual Meeting that took place in Pierce Hall across the commons. His girlfriend Marla had not arrived. There was no chance he had missed her. She was a big girl.

One could only take so much dairy talk. Alan prided himself on an interest in culture. His wife had taken him through all the major museums in New York, Boston and Philly. He’d enjoyed the nudes of the big women. Women whose bodies you could get lost in. Women who could make you forget about dairy yields. Women like Marla.

The palate here was all light wood, grey accents and glass. Even the most contemporary of galleries, the hardcore New York ones with a plate of what looked like vomit on the floor or with a single fiber hanging from the ceiling titled “thread,” incorporated some color.

Though the exhibit was meant to be expansive, Alan’s throat began to constrict as he looked at the replica of an airport security station carved entirely of wood, the scanner, the conveyor belt, the box of gloves, even a pair of wooden shoes in a bin. The routine was made eerie by the absence of people. There was nothing warm in that wood.

It was as if the terrorists had achieved their goal – had vanished everyone. For a moment he almost longed for the noise, the heat, the travel day sweat of a security line, the checkers alternately surly and kind.

Alan hadn’t always been a cheater, but after he watched those guys in suits jump off the World Trade Center and saw poster after poster of the missing on television, he figured it was time to get his while the getting was good.
He turned to see a telescope, camera, microscope, all rendered in wood. He tried to imagine wooden stars on a canvas background, wooden still pics like the Polaroids of old, wooden microbes. He thought of an old photo of him and Cindy. They were newlyweds. She was sitting on his lap, her red mini-skirt riding up her skinny thighs.

A wooden chain saw sat on a pedestal in the back corner, its teeth homed to sharp edges. There was something cannibalistic about it that disquieted him. He sniffed the chain saw hoping to pick up the scent, nothing.

The back wall was covered with a display that looked like mission control with panels, levers, monitors, phones. There were no numbers in sight, no color. He imagined the astronauts calling in, “Houston, we have a problem,” but never getting through. No one saw their image. There was no one to answer the phone.

Alan shivered and wrapped his arm around his torso. He felt lost. There was nothing of the living here, he thought, recalling the bellow of the cows begging to be milked, the ever present smell of shit in the barn.
He exited the gallery nodding at the docent. He walked slowly down the flight of stairs looking through the glass walls at the sun, the grass, the trees blowing in the wind beyond.

He pushed open the door and welcomed the sun that hit his face, the scent of fresh cut grass that was so familiar, yet new. When he got to Pierce Hall he would call Cindy. Her voice would sound different from a distance. After they talked, he would wait for her to hang up and listen to the silence.

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About Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris's fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Notre Dame Review, South Carolina Review, and Santa Fe Literary Review, among other journals. She is the 2015 winner of the Bevel Summers Prize for her story “May Apples.” Her story "Like I Miss Being a Ballerina” was selected as an honorable mention in the Glimmer Train Press Family Matters short story competition. “Lincoln, Maw and Shorty” received an honorable mention in the Saturday Evening Post fiction contest. Morris is a recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council in support of her fiction. She teaches at The Loft Literary Center and is on the faculty of the 2018 Antioch Writers Summer Workshop. Morris has an MFA from Queens University-Charlotte.