Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Museums and Women and Other Stories

Something about the cooling down of early Autumn has me not only remembering, sensually, newly sharpened pencils and eraser rinds and the eucalyptus leaves that used to shush me on my way to school--it also recalls the invariably foggy days I would be taken to Golden Gate Park as a boy. Specifically, if the September weather happens to be on the cusp of rain, it brings to mind wandering aimlessly through labyrinthine halls in the Academy of Sciences. The moody light and the cool, quiet corridors with their carpeted floors. The place has since been redeveloped, marble-floors put in, and most of the displays modernized. I've tried finding a picture of the way I remember the Simson African Hall looking back in the Eighties--dark, like a long abandoned airport lobby. At the far end, there was a Saharan scene that gradually, almost imperceptibly, would change from daylight to night, the sounds of the wildlife changing with it. But no pictures exist. It seems they've all be erased...But the stuffed animals remain, frozen in time.

...It’s funny, because I myself did it for a time. For a time, you know, I assisted in a museum, as a kind of internship for things to come. Waiting for the kingdom. In my official looking uniform. Black, with pleats in the skirt, and with Mary Janes....This was before Oxford...And the museum: it was very--What’s the word, now? Such a lovely, lovely, spacious word. What is it? Like a maze. (Pause, then with a soft-I) Labyrinthine. (Hard-I this time) Labyrinthine. A labyrinthine museum, with labyrinthine galleries. Floors, upper and lower. And always, I’d be stationed in the basement. All the way down. Out of sight, out know. Surrounded by all these forgotten relics, belongings and old bones nobody ever, ever came to visit...

She waits. She looks around for more visitors.
Once in awhile we might get the missing link of an alligator chain down there: children who’d gone missing, strays wandering around, all holding hands, or linked arm in arm, and I would have to pretend. To look after them, I mean. Like I was their tour guide and these were my, you know, my charges...

She stands
Long pause. Again she awaits interruption, a voice from above.

And I remember they used to forget, some nights, about me. Some nights, the people at the museum would just...leave me behind. Forgetting....The lights would go black and then I’d hear the locks...With my torch, I would wander around alone, waiting for something, I know not what, to just happen....And I soon found this big luxurious bed down there on the basement floor with me. An old four-poster, I’m talking about, built for kings and queens. And it was this that finally proved my undoing....I used to fall asleep there whenever I got left behind, you know, pulling the big thick heavy curtains all around me. Shutting out the world that had shut me out. Promising myself I’d somehow be renewed in the night, restorated. Dreaming, maybe, that I might awake, yes awake in some other place and time when I opened those velvet curtains again. But one morning I managed to oversleep and that was that. They found me. I ran away. I got sacked...(Pause.) I wasn’t even being paid, so what did it matter? I was just passing the time before I was due at Oxford. I didn’t really care, not really. This was only just the beginning, this stint of mine at the museum. Haven’t thought about it in years...  
(This is from an 'experimental' play I just finished... with apologies to Mrs Basil E. Frankenweiler) 

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