The silence was constant, the darkness absolute but at least it was comfortable. Of course, that was not completely true. Sometimes there would be noise and light but only on rare occasions. This was one of those occasions. At first it was only a muffled clipping noise could be heard, plastic heels on a hard linoleum floor. As the minutes ticked by the noise got louder until it stopped, so close. They had heard the noise before, anticipation hung in the still air or perhaps it was just the dust motes waiting for something to disturb the stillness so that they at least could continue to be what they were, to do what they were meant to do – float lazily around finding surfaces to decorate.
Now a loud clicking as the tumblers in the old lock turned, a breath then a snap, crackle and pop. The ancient and rarely used fluorescent lights shuddered on, illuminating row after row of metal shelves filled to the ceiling with anonymous brown boxes. Each box was numbered and some of the older ones even had labels, browning around the edges, peeling, faded but labels all the same. Testimony, that someone had once cared.
From its cushioned interior the broken pot waited, perhaps this time it would be chosen. Broken it may be but it still had a story to tell.
At first a lump of cold, dull clay, providing inspiration for a human mind. Worked and moulded by human hands, its exterior carefully smoothed and decorated. Then from the hot fire like a phoenix it came. The incised decorations had meaning, told their own story of the people who made it. Its beauty admired, given as a gift from an aunt to a niece and filled with grain. Beautiful and practical, that was its story. It was valued passing from mother to daughter until a day of violence, rough voices and screaming. In the aftermath the pot lay broken on the hard-earthen floor, broken into many pieces, its precious contents spilt out. The crackle and spit of the burning building heralding the end of an era but not the end of the story.
Buried, for what seemed like an eternity. The only company the ever-present earthworms and the occasional mole. Scratching and burrowing, moving away parts of the whole so that even now safe in the brown box, it was not complete. Then came the day when the light returned, once more human hands held it, reverently, exclaiming over its beauty. Carefully washing away the dirt that had accumulated over the centuries, it was drawn, measured and photographed. Then carefully, oh so carefully, a new home was made for all its broken parts.
At first many hands held it, admired it, there were more drawings and more photographs but gradually the visits into the light became fewer and fewer as the next best thing came along. It had been a long time since it had felt the warmth of human hands gently caressing the incised decoration that had its own story. Perhaps today would be the day. If it had a voice it would have cried out “pick me, pick me” not unlike so many of the other artefacts sitting comfortably in their specially cut foam in their anonymous brown boxes. Each had story to tell of a time when they were useful and valued, even broken and buried over centuries their stories had not diminished.
“Pick me, pick me” said the silence.
Standing still at the doorway to the storeroom the woman took a deep breath. Smiling she wondered where best to start. Her boss had simply said “choose the ones with the best stories”. But how do you choose a good story? What is a good story? With a small satisfied sigh, she looked at her tablet with its inventory, deciding to simply start with the artefacts that appealed to her personally. Hoping on some instinctive level she would choose the ones with the ‘best stories.
Although there was a certain amount of pressure to pick the right artefacts this was a job she had been looking forward to for quite some time. Finally, a legitimate opportunity for a good rummage in one of the museums oldest storerooms and a chance to prove she was good at her job. A job she loved. If she were a person of a certain disposition she would have done a little jig, as it was she simply contented herself with humming her favourite tune.
Running her fingers lightly along the brown boxes she did a slow circuit of the room, soaking up the slightly musty atmosphere. There was no real order to the space except in a numerical fashion. Each box numbered according to when it arrived in the room, so that Mesolithic flints sat happily beside early medieval pottery sherds. She did briefly wonder if there was analogy for the modern world there. Either way, here she felt at home, to her each and every one of these artefacts had a good story to tell. Put them together and their story would be…mind blowing? No, wrong word, it would be…enlightening. Smiling and humming she went in search of a trolley.
After an hour she had half a dozen boxes on the trolley, so far so good she thought as she sat on the desk at the end of the room. There were a few errant boxes that for reasons known only to themselves had moved to other locations in the room other than their designated spot. Perseverance had paid off in those cases. It had been a risk coming here, her choices were risky too. This was not the only storeroom there were others with brighter, better and more well-known artefacts stored in them, safer choices, but better stories?
Perusing the inventory, the woman waited for something to jump out at her. What she needed for this part of the exhibition was an object that grabbed people’s attention, an item to stop and wonder at, what else is hidden away in the bowels of their museum? Page after page she flicks through, finally at the bottom of the very last page a hastily added note. The last few boxes to come into the room, containing artefacts from a small, local society training dig. The enthusiastic amateurs had come across an ancient settlement but a lack of funding had kept the dig to a single trench, two metres wide and five metres long. Even so, several of the finds had been remarkable, telling a story of settlement in use for many generations and its eventual but violent demise.
Feeling her heart beat quicken the woman began to count boxes searching, hoping that no one had moved them. The sound of her heels clicking a beat along the rows, up, down, pause, up, down, pause. Damn! They weren’t there. Hands on her hips, frowning, her eyes focussing on the boxes that were not the boxes she was looking for. Taking a step back she scans around, sometimes they were simply a little bit in the wrong place, but no not this time. If she were of a particular disposition she would have stamped her foot in frustration not once but twice, instead though she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Logic dictated that she should check who had last looked at the boxes, there might be some indication as to where were now. Walking back to the desk where she had left the tablet with its inventory she spied a row of four brown boxes sitting innocently on the desk she had only moments before been sitting on. Her pace quickened, please let it be them she prayed to no one god in particular. If she were of a particular disposition she would have ran and slid to a halt at the table, but she was not and she still got there in good time. A quick glance at the numbers on the outside of the box confirmed it, yes it was them.
As she lifted the lids on each of the boxes, once more she said a silent prayer of thanks. The contents of all four boxes would be her centrepiece, they told a real story, a story to resonate through the ages. The woman placed the boxes on the trolley, satisfied. Her heels once more clicking sedately on the linoleum floor, a creak of the door, snap as the fluorescents flicker off, bang, the door shuts once more on darkness. The dust motes swirled about in the air eddies left by the woman’s presence. A comfortable constant silence reigns – until next time.
Slam, went the car door. Two bodies wrapped up against the weather, one tall, one small make a mad dash for cover under the museum’s portico. Stopping to catch their breath the small one links hands with the tall one. There were a lot of people milling under the portico and mum had said very clearly, ‘do not lose your dad, after all, he can’t even find his way out of a paper bag’. The boy wasn’t really sure what his dad would have been doing in a paper bag. He shrugs to himself, grown-ups!
Rain and school holidays, not a good time to come to the museum but today was his only day off work and he had promised his son that he would bring him. He had no idea why he actually agreed, he would have much rather chewed off his own leg than come to the museum. But there was something about the look the boy’s mother had given him and then there was the boy…equal portions of guilt and love tumbled through his consciousness and he found himself agreeing. She had pulled him aside, “he loves the museum, and it’s soothing…when he is there he almost like any other kid, stay as long as you can”.
As they walked through the doors, father and son turned and looked at each other.
“Well, you know it best, where to first?”
The boy smiled, twirling around eyes closed, mentally communicating with the museum, where to first? He stopped, opened his eyes and pointed. Following the pointed finger, he spies the new exhibition hall and yes as luck would have it there was a new exhibition. A display of previously unseen objects from the museum’s storerooms, well fair enough at least it wouldn’t be the same old things although he did fear that was yet to come. There was a tugging at the end of his arm; the boy was itching to go. His mother was right he did almost seem like any other kid here.
Kids, no one tells you no matter what you think will happen, no matter how prepared you are, it is nothing like what actually happens. He had been so excited knowing he was to have a son, he had imagined footy games, cricket on the beach, surfing, building tree houses and boisterous games of tag. What he had got was an entirely different kettle of fish. It wasn’t that he didn’t love him his heart had almost burst when he first held him in his arms. It was just that things had not quite turned out as expected and in the beginning the readjustment had taken awhile, it had taken too long for his wife, the boy’s mother.
The boy tugged again on his dad’s hand, come on, imagine the treasures in here he tried to say. He looked up at his dad, his lopsided grin bigger than ever. He loved the museum, he loved the way it smelled, the way it sounded, the way the objects would speak to him, tell him their stories. He could spend hours with his nose pressed up against the glass cases just staring and imagining. His mum always told him that no matter what he would always have his imagination, the endless stories he wrote were testimony to that. She had packed his journal and brand-new pack of pencils in his backpack, “just in case the mood takes you”, she had said with a wink.
As they wandered around the new exhibition they saw stuffed animals in scary poses, shiny beetles and beautiful butterflies pinned very carefully to a board, everything was named (common and Latin), everything creatively displayed. Each display had an information board with their stories. Many of the stories were about where the animal had come from, who had found it and the hardships that were undertaken in the name of science. The boy wasn’t that impressed, again he decided it must be a grown-up thing, killing something in the name of science, it was not a part of the museum he liked much. But although just a kid he understood that you didn’t need to like everything about something or someone in order to love it – no one was perfect.
He tugged on his dad’s hand again, something was calling him forward. It was the archaeology section, now this was more like it. His soul sang for this was his nirvana. Here artefacts spoke of human lives, told their stories, here he could lose himself totally. He moved quickly from case to case his dad trailing dutifully behind him.
“Slow down kiddo, we have all the time in the world.”
The boy came to a complete halt in front of a case displaying a beautiful blackened pot, its swirly incised decoration speaking to him. There were other artefacts, bronze clothes pins, other pieces of pottery, part of an iron skillet and an iron knife blade, both rusted but still identifiable, jet beads lovingly set into a shape of necklace. The board said that they all came from the same excavation, not far from where the boy lived with his mother. It was exciting to know that under his feet as he walked around his town there could be more stories waiting to be discovered. He looked at his dad, who was just smiling at him in a funny kind of way.
“Go on, your mum said she had packed your journal, it’s okay. I like to watch you write your stories, I’ll just be over here keeping an eye on you.”
The boys grin said it all.
She had drawn the short straw, the volunteer who was rostered on to look after this section answering the public’s questions had called in sick, a migraine or something. So here she was, she didn’t really mind, she liked to see people interact with the artefacts. The boy and his father had intrigued her.
They were in a world of their own, the boy strangely silent. The father seemed a little uncomfortable, he looked like he’d much rather be out tackling the elements than in here. The boy had sat down on the floor with his back leaning against the plinth, on his lap was a book and in his hand a pencil, he leaned back eyes closed, obviously deep in thought. Suddenly as if someone had fired a starting gun his eyes flicked open and the pencil flew across the page. Her eyes glanced at the father, he was smiling, he had seen this before. Father and son settled in, one watching the other, just being.
An hour later, the pencil was put away. She was intrigued, her feet moving of their own volition she walked over to the boy.
“Hello, I’m the curator who put this section together. Do you like it?”
The boy nodded smiling his lopsided smile. His dad hurried over “he doesn’t speak but he does understand everything, just doesn’t talk” he shrugged apologetically.
“But you like to write, don’t you?” she asked, not fazed by his father’s explanation.
The boy nodded again, a moment of silence stretched out and then he handed her the journal. Taking the journal, she moved to the bench the father had previously occupied, sat down and started to read. Both father and son sat quietly and waited.
When she had finished, she turned to look at the boy, “you have a rare talent, you can see the story behind each artefact, I honestly can say I felt like I was transported back in time. Thank you. You are a very clever young man.” It was a truth, not words to bolster a child’s confidence.
“I would love you to come back another day, so I can show you some of the other artefacts in storerooms and you can write more stories. Perhaps we can convince the museum to publish some of them. People need to hear your stories”.
Because the boy was of a particular disposition he did do a jig, his joy obvious to all. His father felt a lump in his throat and not trusting himself to speak just smiled and nodded his thanks. She handed over her card and got his details too – she knew a good story when she saw one.
It’s all about the story, we all have them tucked away inside, sometimes we tell ourselves, sometimes we tell others. They are in everything and everyone we touch. Some are short lived and some will resonate through time but in the end, it is our story and how it ends is up to us.