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    • APIARY 11: The Essential Issue

Welcome To The Museum Of Jurassic Technology

by Rachel R. Taube

My mom’s name is Nadia, and she works at The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

It’s cool and dark inside, and it only lights up when someone opens the door, and then a scoop of bright dry air rushes past them and illuminates the dust motes inside.

The visitors stop at the front desk, where my mom’s friend Miriam works. She smiles and brushes half her hair over her shoulder. The visitors give her three soft green dollars, and then she puts a green smiley face stamp on each of their hands. I have a stamp on my hand too.

“Go ahead in,” Miriam says. “Welcome to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.”

“But not like the dinosaurs!” I chirp.

The visitors walk past the threshold, and it’s a little darker because the ceilings aren’t any higher. This room is claustrophobic with exhibits—all the rooms are, each full of pretty and scary objects. In the center of the room is a big glass case with a typewriter inside. The visitors always step to the right first, and I cover my mouth to hide my big grin.

They jump! at a deep growl-growl-bark! Hah! Like always, they spin, at least one man with a hand on his chest, to see the glass-enclosed stuffed fox. The fox is lit from underneath and standing on straw, and his fur looks too dry and his black lips are curled around his teeth. He growls-barks again! My dog Goliath was scared of him as a puppy too, so I understand.

I lead the visitors around the room in a circle and show them the other wall, a glass plate with two telephones. When you pick up, you can hear a mechanical woman talking. I let them enter the room to the left, which is an allowed room, and full of framed letters. I can’t read the handwriting, so I admire the designs (a red line, a gold star) and the frayed brown edges of the parchment, curling in the space behind the glass. That’s when the visitors return to the front desk.

“Um,” one of them says, and Miriam looks up from her book and brushes half her hair over her shoulder. “So, what do you mean, Jurassic. What is this a museum of?” Miriam smiles and cocks her head and thinks for a second, like she’s never heard this question before.

“I would think of Jurassic as an adjective.” The visitors look at each other. “I’d say the museum is the theme of the museum.” She shoos them, “Just keep exploring.”

The visitors and I walk past a scientist’s desk, a mysterious machine. Next we stop at the needles, which the visitors are allowed to admire. Each needle has a magnifying glass in front of it, and when the visitors step close, or I stand on my toes, we can see. Inside the eye of each needle is a tiny tiny sculpture, a man or a cartoon dog or a clown.  This distracts them from my room.

I show them the map room, the puppet room, the room with snow globes and crystal balls—they can go in all of these rooms, because they are allowed rooms. You have to go past a corner to get to the room full of superstitions. One woman walks a little ahead and starts to look around. Right at the front she’ll see a severed hand with a fistful of dog hair. I know she’s looking back and realizing she can’t see the other visitors, and then she scurries back, quick as a crow, and bursts in pretending that her heart isn’t twisting.

We go into the 3D room—this room is also allowed—and pick up the 3D glasses, cardboard frames with square eyes, one red and one blue, and handles like opera glasses. There are places for six pairs, but there are only five because I already have one tucked into my belt. That way, when everyone admires the 3D pictures, I can join in.

The visitors are allowed in all these places, but they are not allowed in my room. My room is the room full of clocks. It’s far back, one of the last things you would get to. You didn’t even know the museum went that far back because it’s so narrow at the front door, and the carpeted corners are dark. Inside, you can hear a hundred clocks clucking. There are swinging mahogany grandfather clocks and little whirring contraptions and an old alarm clock with a real bell that gets hit when a string unwinds. There are broken cuckoo clocks with their insides showing, wooden birds and maidens with clogs and red trains. It can be sad to watch and listen to the steady movement during the day, because the clocks remember about the night.

Sometimes visitors try to visit the clock room, but that is not allowed. A man wanders away from his friends, deeper into the museum. He’s getting too close to the clock room. He can’t touch the clocks, I won’t let him stop the clocks, he’s not allowed. He steps closer, and I’m afraid the velvet rope won’t stop him. I run ahead, the way I know how through the room’s second door.

Thump. I knock a table against the wall, and a clock lets out one toll, and the man’s footsteps pause.  I can almost hear his heart, quick as a hummingbird.  He scuttles back to his friends and touches his eyebrows and says, why don’t they head upstairs?

The visitors have missed two allowed rooms, but I don’t tell them, so we follow a short hallway lined with mechanical, moving art behind picture frames. One shows the ocean with birds and a tree swaying; the piece on the end is broken, and you can see the wall and a light bulb behind it.

We go up carpeted steps, and that’s where my mom works. There’s a pretty light in this room, and high-up windows draped in color. Vanilla wafer cookies are displayed on a table. My mom wears a floor-length black dress, and her fully-freckled face is annoyed when she asks the visitors, “Do you want tea?” Goliath is lying out of the way on a pillowed bench, and I go over to him straight away. Goliath is our big dusky greyhound, and his fur is getting white hairs and his face is curved like a C. The visitors want to pet him and they call him over, but he always stays with me. He sits very still with his black eyes open and lets me pet his long curved nose.

While the tea is brewing, my mom points the visitors towards an arched doorway with velvet curtains. A blade of sun shines in, and then the visitors are sucked through the curtains. I stay where I am, and I don’t go outside, where the warm light is, even though I used to go. Through there is the rooftop garden. It’s all yellow stone with uneven walls and hanging plants. Sparrows and songbirds fly around and land in the vines or peep into their cages for food, but the net above keeps the birds in. Or, that’s what used to be there, and I’m sure it’s the same now.

Eventually, all the visitors leave. I pet Goliath while my mom and Miriam have tea. I like it better this way, when the museum is quiet except for their words and their teacups. I pet Miriam’s hair like I pet Goliath’s; I stroke the hem of my mom’s dress.

“Is the tea warm enough?” my mom asks. Miriam nods. “You’re warm enough?” my mom asks. Miriam smiles and nods. “That boy looked like him. I’m starting to think that they all look like him. No, that’s not true.” I run my hand along the hem of her dress. “I’m starting to think I’m forgetting what he looks like.” My fingers pinch her hem, pick at the loose threads. I look up at her face, freckles fading into her darkening skin, lines deep between her eyebrows. Her thin lips are pursed but her pink lipstick is the same. Miriam keeps nodding while the light retreats between the curtains.

Already, they have to leave, too. My mom washes the tea kettle and leaves it by the sink. She closes the shuttered doors to the roof. Then they go. Even Goliath, whose snout looks like it’s drooping even farther. His tail goes down and he walks painfully down the steps because he’s getting so old and white. I hear my mom and Miriam walk down the hall, flicking off lights as they go. The door swings open, then closed, and the lock clicks. It’s nighttime.

First, I touch each thing in the upstairs room—the teacups, the still-warm kettle, each pitted-fabric pillow on each chair. When the cold air starts to come in through the shuttered door, I go down the stairs. I sit and bump down, one stair at a time. I touch each picture along the hallway, run my hand along the glass case of needles. In the 3D room, I pull out my glasses, and reach through each picture until I touch the rough paper behind it. I say goodnight, even to the hand. Touching everything takes a long time. I even say goodnight to the fox, and he growls-barks!

Next, I would normally go to my clock room, which I save for last. But tonight, I am remembering what my mom said about forgetting. I don’t want to forget anything. I climb back up the steps, touching each with both my hands and feet, like a dog.

I enter my mom’s room and put my hand and cheek to the shuttered door: cold air sneaks through. I can hear the birds’ hearts sleeping. I squeeze through a crack in the door, brush past the curtain. It is cold outside, and the wind touches the insides of my ears. And there’s a fountain, yes, I remember that. The birds are sleeping, nested between vines or puffed beside one another in their cages. I forgot how they puff up when they’re sleeping. But how did I forget? And, when have I ever been away from them? This is a good place, with the outside air seeping into my ears and through my nostrils and making my whole mind fuzzy, and I can feel only the wind. Where have I been besides here anyway? It’s nice, I might just float up with the wind, straight through that net, I’m sure I could just sift through the squares and dissolve, lovely, past the birds. I remember their puffed-up feathers; they must feel like air, soft. I reach into a cage to touch one with a finger, and yes the softness is like air. I can feel, on the tip of my finger, the body’s warmth. I touch its skin—but now the bird’s eyes jump open, flat and black, and its heart beats wild with fear—its heart is going to explode—it falls heavily to the bottom of the cage. The bird that was sleeping next to it has woken up too, it’s wild, it flutters around the cage squawking, I pull back my hand so it can escape, and it flies shedding feathers.

I remember that the roof is cold, the roof is so cold that the air stops coming into my ears and nose and it’s dark. My poor bird. I scoop him up and hold him to my chest, no heartbeat. I bring him inside, down the stairs and deep into the museum, and, ducking under the velvet rope, to my clock room.

I’m crying, because now I can remember the fallen grandfather clock with the broken glass, in the back of the room. There are glass shards on the floor, and inside the clock, beneath the pendulum, is my bird’s brother. I place them beside each other, choking, wishing I had just floated through the air. I curl up under the wooden table and wrap my arms around my knees. I’m afraid to touch the clocks that move. I don’t want them to stop, because I need to hear them at night, because they can remember the day. They surround me like family, and wag their pendulums like tails. We are all inside together, with their little noises. Whirrr-whirr-tick-whirrr-whirr-tock. The swinging grandfather clock purrs deeply eleven times. I breathe. It will purr twelve times next, then one again. I breathe. When it purrs nine times, my mother and Miriam will come back and turn on the lights again, one by one. When it purrs ten times, new visitors will come to explore the museum with me.

They’ll let in the light that makes the dust motes dance, and Miriam will flip half her hair and say, “Welcome to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.”

And I’ll say, “But not like the dinosaurs.”

Read all work by Rachel R. Taube


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