The Museum

Words by Oliver Cocks

Art by James Spencer

CONTENT WARNING: Themes of Absence


It’s midnight in the museum, and Harry is rubbing his eyes. The night before was long, and he needed to gulp down several cups of coffee. He’s sitting in the Aquatic Exhibit. The walls are adorned with fish trophies and photos of oceans, ships, shipwrecks, seas, and underwater splendours. The rumble of waves is plays through speakers scattered around the exhibit’s rooms.

He’s been working here for four years, the Imperium Gallery and the Subterranean Exhibit are his favourite sections to visit. The former details the history of the Roman Empire, complete with paintings, coins, statues, historical documents, and all manner of other treasures, and the latter, large photos and samples of various kinds of soil and rock lying beneath the ground. However, there are several others he enjoys seeing.

For example, the Creed Display, a long hallway along which are scattered plaques honouring and describing all the world’s religions. Or the Hall of Flora, where, after opening a plain brown wooden door, one finds oneself in an enormous greenhouse containing hundreds of types of flowers, both native and imported. He loves looking at the lilies,violets and wattle, and all manner of other specimens.

He started working in the museum after his wife Sara passed away. Before that, although he’d majored in History for his undergraduate degree, he’d just worked a regular office job. Once he’d said goodbye for the last time in the hospital (and then again at the funeral, and then at the wake, and… well), he knew he needed something, anything. To help him keep busy, but that would also be demanding and enriching now that he was empty. 

The very next day, he’d read about a fantastical new museum being built in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. A new museum with state-of-the-art technology, this museum would try to fill all the blank spaces of human knowledge in its own idiosyncratic way. A museum that, curiously enough, would be open all hours of the day.

So it was that he’d been hired as one of the museum’s staff. Although he did not have much knowledge of the many of the fields related to its exhibits, galleries, halls and rooms, they offered him training, and in truth he’d thrown himself into it and all his duties, guiding visitors along its marble floors and helping safeguard its treasures.

Harry yawns again. 

His thoughts turn to Sara. She sits in the garden, reading, then turns to him and smiles. The sunlight shatters on her hazelnut eyes. He would give anything to see that smile again, to look out upon that sun-lathered garden once more. It’s been five years. 

Another memory: a beach in summer, salt breeze, turquoise waves, radiant sun. Sara clasped his hand. They’d only recently met. Nearby, the splash and whoopsthe joyous cheers of others at the beach.

“Having a good day?” she said in her soft, slightly deep voice.

“You bet.”

They returned to gazing at the ocean. Waves rumbled, and children screeched and tumbled as their families looked on. Finally, Sara said, still gazing into the ocean: “Did you ever come much to the beach as a child?”

“No, hardly ever, to be honest. My parents lived in the country, and I only moved to Melbourne as an adult. We would go to the beach every so often as a holiday, but that was it.”

“I see.” She turned to face him.

Harry smiled, drew closer. Her fingers felt warm against his own. “So I’m even luckier to be here with you.”

When he comes to a young woman, red-haired, is standing over him. She’s wearing designer jeans and a plain red t-shirt. He starts, and she backs away.

“So sorry!” she says. “But I’m afraid I’ve become lost.”

“You scared me,” Harry says, then stumbles to his feet. “Lost, are you?”

“That’s right. I was just in the Gallery of Mythologies, and I wanted to get to the Room of Elegies but seem to have found myself here.”

 “I see. So you want to go to the Room of Elegies? You’ll need to turn down the hallway over there to the right and take the nearest left into the Gallery of Labyrinths, which is itself a labyrinth, so once you’ve escaped, you’ll need to continue straight through the Hall of Pastries and then turn left through the Mountainous Exhibit and then continue straight to the nearest door on your right, and you’re there.”

 “Ah… I see,” she says. “Could you possibly write it down for me?”

“No worries.” He rips a scrap of paper from a notebook he has with him and writes down the instructions.

“Having a good night?”

“Yes, very much, thanks,” she smiles back. “I was just with my boyfriend in the new seashore installation, but he seems to have wandered off.” 

“Great, great. Well, here you go,” he says, handing her the paper. “Good luck making it out of the Gallery of Labyrinths.”

“Thanks,” she says, still smiling. Harry gazes at her more intently. He hadn’t noticed before, but she is certainly pretty, pretty in a way that reminds him of Sara. She has the same slight, dimpled smile.

“Have a good night,” he says

“You too.”

And with that, she’s gone. Harry watches her walk off, then returns to sitting. He needs another coffee, but it can wait. He still has work to do in the museum.

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