It was quiet and it was dark. Nearly all the light came from the display cases that formed the labyrinthine path through the gallery. Dark. Quiet. Deserted. To be expected for 3pm on a rainy Monday in January. Not exactly peak museum visiting time.
Museums are peculiar places, full of objects with more life behind them than any of the visitors. It’s all on brand for a species that thinks more about what happened 500 years ago than what might happen tomorrow. As I looked around, I saw the ancient equivalent of Target. Place settings, candlesticks, hats, pots, and tools; all the necessities of life from the era. But unlike Target, this collection had all belonged to someone else. The fork I was looking at had been held in how many hands? How many candles had burned in the brass candlestick? What had become of all of the people who had used that clay dish?
I could feel the presence of the docent behind me; doing their job. There to protect or assist, as the situation demanded. As I wandered through the exhibit, trying to focus on the story behind each item it seemed the docent was shadowing me. Turning a corner, I took the opportunity to glance over my shoulder and caught the outline of a person.
It was a bit unnerving, truth be told, as turn by turn the silent docent trailed me. Sometimes I felt their presence, sometimes I caught a shadow out of the corner of my eye. Once, I looked in the glass of a display and could see the reflection of eyes…just watching.
Did I need to be trailed? Did I look like someone that was up to no good? What the hell was so special about this exhibit? I had been in this museum more than a few times and I thought I deserved a little consideration. I supported them, had the gold membership, turned out for all the special exhibits. Did I deserve to be treated like this? I don’t like to be THAT person, but clearly this docent was taking things way too seriously. Maybe they were new and enthusiastic. They just needed a kindly word from their supervisor, telling them they could back off a bit. Let the guests enjoy themselves. A quiet presence, seen but unseen, that is their role.
As I left the confines of the gallery I came to an open space in a large atrium where I saw a woman standing near an information desk. She exuded an air of some authority, thought it might have been just the expensive scarf. Nevertheless, I would have a word with her about this overbearing docent.
She listened with some concern. “Are you sure it wasn’t another guest?”
It occurred to me that I really couldn’t say for sure it was a docent. I never really had a good look.
The young man behind the information desk spoke to the her “we haven’t had another guest go through there all afternoon. Before this gentleman the last person left the gallery before lunch. It’s been damned slow. I’ve seen everyone that went in there.”
“So then it had to be a docent?” I looked at the supervisor, waiting to see what the next move would be.
“Sir” she said carefully, “We don’t staff that area with docents on Mondays. There just isn’t that much traffic. The person at this desk just monitors comings and goings. We have cameras of course and if there is trouble security will send someone to have a look.”
“Well then how do you explain it?” I was beginning to see where this was headed and didn’t much like it.
“Sometimes, the reflections in the glass, and the twists and turns can disorient people. Are you positive you saw someone?”
Anticipating my next question the young man behind the desk chimed in “I just spoke to security. Nothing showed up on their motion sensors. Well, you did sir of course. But no one else.”
Was I going nuts? “Okay, thanks” I muttered and headed back towards the parking garage. There was another hour or so before closing but I was done for the day. I wanted to get out before the word spread about the crazy person in the galleries.
I was relieved when I climbed into my car. This was my space, and as I shut the door it was like shutting the door on what had just happened. That is until I saw a glint of light coming from the passenger seat.
What I saw knocked the breath out of me. It was a small, jewel encrusted box, the kind of box in which you would keep precious things. I immediately recognized it from the gallery I had just come from! I also remember the placard describing it and those things that looked like jewels were indeed jewels. I was sitting in a museum parking lot, with a priceless artifact that I had just seen on display. Thoughts of police and prison flashed through my brain. What the hell was I going to do?
There was a note alongside the box, and why not. If somehow someone was going to put a rare artifact in my locked car, of course they would leave a note. My head was spinning.
I unfolded the note and read it: “I believe this is yours. We are sorry it was taken from you.”
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