The Hall of Vertebrate Origins wasn’t particularly fun. It was amazingly informative if you wanted to explore the evolution of vertebrates over the past five hundred million years. For third graders, it wasn’t that fun. However, it wasn’t all the learning and information Martha was banking on, the hall was a means to an ends and had a lot of bang for kids. She was going for the big wow.
A twenty-foot monster fish called a Dunkleosteus loomed above Mrs. Smith’s third grade class, it’s prehistoric mouth open wide in a leery greeting as they walked into the hall. Girls squealed in disgust while the boys squealed in delight.
“This is a Dunkleosteus. He’s pretty ferocious looking huh?” Martha asked.
She was taking more delight in some of the uncomfortable looks of horror than she probably should have. But she was in a mood. “This fish lived in the oceans all around the world, he weighed more than a killer whale and was longer than a bus.”
“You said the whale that we saw was as big as the bus we came in here today. This doesn’t look bigger than that whale.”
“That’s because this Dunkleostus is a small one. Only about 20 feet long. If we put five of you on top of each other, that’s how long 20 feet would be.” Martha didn’t allow the information to sink in. This was only a pit stop, “This fish’s head looks strange, right? Like we tried to recreate it?” She asked and the kids nodded their heads. “These are actually the bones of the Dunkleostus, he was a beast made of strong bones. Some people call him a submarine, he was built like a heavily armored submarine with a giant head and bulging eyes.”
“He has crazy teeth.” One little boy said.
“I’m glad you brought that up, those aren’t really teeth. Not like a shark’s teeth. It’s a bony jaw plate. Scientist know that the Dunkleostus’s jaw had a tremendous bite force. He could have used his strong jaw to bite into his prey, but he probably didn’t do that.” She lowered her voice and leaned toward the kids, “The Dunkleostus was so big, scientists think he probably just swallowed other fish whole.” She made a loud slurping sound.
Some of the kids laughed, others just stared at her. Three girls couldn’t tear their eyes off the beast that hung above them, poised with mouth open, ready to swallow them whole.
“Okay, let’s keep moving.” Martha clapped her hands.
“Why do you have a room of bones?” Someone asked.
“Is it lunch time yet?”
“I don’t hear no dinosaurs.”
“I want to see the dinosaurs.”
“My feet hurt.”
The voices began to echo though the Hall of Vertebrate Origins with their complaints.
“Third graders.” Mrs. Smith hissed the warning. In reply, the voices dimmed to a soft rumble.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one, Sebastian.” Eddie whispered softly to the pygmy marmoset in the Hall of Primates. Of course, Sebastian wouldn’t answer for two reasons. One, that wasn’t his name, and two he had been forever frozen in time with a slightly horrified, slightly entertained look on his face.
“What do you call a monkey that sells potato chips?” Eddie asked and then smiled, “of course you’ve heard that one. I’ve told you before.” He sighed and pulled at the lapel of his jacket with a badge that indicated his position as a security guard, “oh, this old thing? You think it looks good?”
Eddie had been attempting a career in comedy for years. Five years actually. Well, he’d been playing with the idea for a lot longer than that, but he actually started trying five years ago. He had gone from horrendous to bad to kind of decent if you were drunk in those five years. He’d worked on an act and spent three nights a week trying to hone his profession in one of the many comedy clubs around town. Of course, in order to pay the bills, he had a day job. All the comedians he knew had day jobs.
He tried to use his job in his act. He would comment that no, things did not come alive in the Museum of Natural History the way they had for Ben Stiller, but of course Ben Stiller had Hollywood money and Eddie only had $24.50 an hour. The joke rarely got a gurgled ‘huh’; so he dropped it.
In the quite times, during the week days, he liked to come into the Hall of Primates and practice some of his material out on Sebastian, his favorite of all the primates. His favorite of all the animals in the museum actually.
On a whim, he once looked up what it would mean to have a monkey as a spirit animal. Turned out, the monkey was a creature of playfulness that reminded one to live life in good spirit and find happiness in the little things. There was more about the mischief of the monkey which sometimes lead to trouble. All and all, it seemed pretty spot on.
So Eddie came to Sebastian and worked on his act when he had time. Wednesday mornings were always good. It was always quiet, calm. Not much going on.
“I worry you get lonely, Sebastian.” Eddie mused and then shook his head, “You know, comedy is all about the delivery. The pauses and the words you emphasis. The way you emphasis them. That’s what makes some jokes funny, what makes some comedians great. Knowing how to pause and how to deliver.” He gave a laugh, “they said to understand Hemingway you had to understand how he used the word and and but. And everything he was really trying to say was in what wasn’t said.” He nodded at Sebastian, “it confuses me too.”
Eddie heard the hum and shuffle of a group headed his way. He straightened dramatically and put his hand to his ear, “hear that Sebastian? It’s a small herd.” He tilted his head toward the direction the noise was coming, “I’d say a pack of Tasmanian devils.” Eddie straightened and brushed the lapels of his jacket, “shape up young man. They’ve come to see you in all your glory.”
“Monkeys!” A young voice called.
Eddie watched as Martha, one of the better docents walked backward into the room leading a tribe.
“That’s right. Monkeys.” Martha waved to the room, “Welcome to the Hall of Primates,” she began. “Did you know, there are over 264 types of monkeys?” She let the fact sink in and then continued, “But did you know that apes are not a type of monkey? Does anyone know how you can tell the difference between an ape and monkey species?”
“They throw their poop.” One little voice yelled and the class melted into a gaggle of giggles.
Eddie had to hold back his own laughter. Out of the mouths of babes, he thought.
The teacher called out “Class!” which helped muffle the giggling slightly.
“Actually, it’s the tails.” Martha wasn’t deterred, but the smile on her face became a bit more forced than it was when she first walked in, “Monkeys usually have tails but apes don’t have tails at all. While monkeys are smart, apes are actually smarter than monkeys.”
She came to stop next to Eddie. “How’s Sebastian today?” She asked.
“Oh, he’s a bit hairy today.” Eddie said with a sigh.
Martha rolled her eyes in reply, “This is Eddie, he’s a security guard here. And Sebastian is his favorite monkey. I bet if we’re really nice to Eddie, he’ll tell us about Sebastian.”
It was as good an introduction as any. “See this little tiny monkey here?” He pointed and waved the kids closer so they could get a good view. “He’s called a pygmy marmoset and he’s the smallest monkey in the world.”
“My cat was that big when she was born.” One little girl said.
“I got to see a cat born.” Another girl said, “it was gross.”
The conversation took a turn away from monkeys and toward birthing of animals, and if Eddie knew anything about kids (which he didn’t) but he did have a few nieces and nephews, he knew the conversation would soon lead to human babies being born and what that whole mess was about.
Eddie turned back toward Sebastian and winked at him, then made a low monkey sound.
The stories about birthing kittens stopped at the noise. Eddie made a louder sound this time and turned his head quickly toward the class, “did you hear that?”
“That was you.” One little boy said.
“What do you call a monkey that sells potato chips?” Eddie’s question stopped all the conversation as the kids looked at him quizzically. Of course, he didn’t offer them time to answer and gave the punchline. “A chipmunk.”
The kids tittered with laughter. It wasn’t a great joke, but he liked that they laughed a bit.
“What kind of key opens a banana?” He asked and then once again, after a beat answered the question. “A Monkey!”
This time there were a few more laughs.
“So this is Sebastian, the smallest monkey in the world.” He pointed.
One of the boys in the back asked, “What’s the big one’s name?”
“Bolobo.” Eddie said in a deep, accented voice. The class giggled at that, “Do you know what Bolobo’s favorite past time is? He likes to groom his friends and family.” He wiggled his eyebrows, “do you know what that means?”
A few of the kids nodded their heads, most of them looked disinterested. Eddie wasn’t deterred. He walked over toward Martha and she gave him a slight frown, “if Miss Martha and I were chimpanzees, and we were friends, we would spend time talking about our lives and gossiping,” he began to lower himself a bit, to pretend he was a monkey, “Hey Miss Martha, did you hear about the monkeys in the other tree over there? They’ve started eating apples instead of bananas for breakfast, can you believe it?” He pawed at her hand and arm with his monkey hands. “Then, kids, if we were really good monkey friends, we’d start picking the bugs out of each other’s hair and eating them while we gossiped.” He raised himself up and began to pick fake bugs out of Martha’s hair, study them with his fingers and eat them. “Miss Martha, that was a big bug, but I got it. Hey, do you know what a banana calls a Monkey?”
“What does a banana call a money?” Martha asked.
“Nothing, bananas can’t talk.” Eddie answered and then found another fake bug in Martha’s hair and ate that.
“Okay, now that I am properly groomed. It’s time to move on.” Martha said.
Eddie gave her a nod, “You kids be good. And the next time you come visit our museum, come say ‘hi’ to Sebastian. He likes the company.”
The kids waved at Sebastian and Eddie as they were wrangled out of the room and down the hall.
“See Sebastian, it’s all about timing.” Eddie said.
He watched as the class faded away, “They’re headed to the Dinosaurs.” He looked at his watch and sighed, “It time for me to do my rounds. I’ll be back later.”
He continued in the opposite direction the class had gone.
“Mrs. Smith?” Martha called happily to the teacher, her eyes wide in an unspoken communication that she needed to talk to the teacher for a minute.
The class stood in a hallway and the morning excitement and hunger that was settling in was beginning to make them agitated.
Mrs. Smith moved to the front of the group, “Yes?”
Martha pulled her to the side a bit, “Around the corner is the Dinosaur display. I don’t know what it is about kids, but the second I take any class into the room, they go a little…nuts.” She laughed, “I just wanted to give you a heads up. I’ve found if we just give the kids a time limit and the opportunity to kind of rush around and look at everything, it goes better.”
“How long?” Mrs. Smith asked.
“Fifteen minutes seems to be the magic number.”
Mrs. Smith nodded and took a deep breath, “Alright, class?” she waited until she had everyone’s undivided attention. “Miss Martha is going to lead us into another room and once we’re in there, you will have fifteen minutes to look around on your own. Please, remember your polite manners. No screaming and no running.”
Martha nodded at the announcement but also wanted to add no touching, yelling, licking, crawling, bouncing, or bunching. But that was just from past experiences.
Once the teacher gave Martha a nod of approval, she continued. “Alright, if you’ll follow me. I think it’s about time we finally see some dinosaurs don’t you?”
There was an uproar of excited answers.
Two quick turns and Martha led the students into the largest collection of dinosaur bones in the world. Not to mention recreated dinosaurs exhibits that left little to the imagination. And the piped in sound of what a dinosaur roar might sound like.
A recreated T-Rex skeleton stood at the center of the room, greeting the class with a wide mouthed roar. That one glimpse sent the expected shock waves into the students. Declarations of excitement bubbled. “Take your time and explore this great hall.” Martha instructed and then stood aside as the students peeled away and emptied into the vast hall.
Pristine white ceilings and walls give the dark bones a canvas to be seen against from any angle. It was a vast display, intricate and informative. But it was also filled with reconstructed dinosaur bones and pictures and hands on tools for learning.
Nothing Martha could say about dinosaurs would compete with third graders and their need to rush around and touch it all. That was fine by her. She was actually getting excited herself. She would like to think it was the contagion of the class, but that wasn’t it. This tour was almost finished.
After this, she would lead the class to the lunch room. After their lunch, they would make their way to the Discovery Room. Both activities would have them on their own for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Well, not on their own. There were volunteers who worked with classes in the Discovery Room for a special project that would coincide with what they were learning about. As Mrs. Smith’s class was learning about living organisms and how they interact with their environment, there would be projects along those lines.
Then, the last thing Martha would need to do was escort the class to the front doors and give them a friendly boot out of the museum. Then she could continue on with her day. Of course, the rest of her day would revolve around the purchase of a pregnancy test, a bag of chocolate, a cheesecake from the bakery near her apartment and then a possible phone call to her boyfriend or a celebratory drowning in a bottle of wine.
She hoped for the latter of course.
“So we will go to lunch after this?” Mrs. Smith asked Martha.
“Yes, I’ll lead you to the lunch room. It’s right next to the Discovery Room. There will be a volunteer waiting to help you when you’re ready. It seems about thirty minutes for lunch and then forty-five minutes for the Discovery Room is the perfect amount of time.”
“I look forward to this field trip every year, you all have the timing down perfectly and everyone is always so good with the kids.” Mrs. Smith said.
“We’ve learned a few lessons about timing with the different age groups.” Martha smiled.
The teacher returned the smile and pulled out her phone to look at the time. “five more minutes. I think I’ll start gathering them up. Where shall I have them go?”
Martha pointed to the opposite end of the hall, “I’ll go wait there.” She said.
As she headed to the back of the hall, she thought about her long lunch break. Maybe she shouldn’t wait until after work. Logistically, maybe she could do everything on her lunch. Ten minutes to get to the back exit that would spit her out onto the street. Ten minutes to the closest store that would carry a pregnancy test. Ten minutes back here, five to get to the break room bathroom. Three minutes to see if she were pregnant. A total of thirty-eight minutes. And that would leave thirty-seven minutes to collect herself based on the information the pregnancy test revealed and meet up with Mrs. Smith’s third grade class.
“I’m hungry.” The first student arrived and announced.
“I’m going to take you to the lunch room once the whole class is back together.” Martha informed the boy.
“I have a PBJ for lunch.” He informed her.
“That sounds good.”
“What do we have to do now?” Two more shuffled to a stop.
“We’re gonna go to eat lunch.” The PBJ Cheeto boy informed.
“Good, my feet hurt.”
“I have cheese sticks and go-gurts for lunch.”
Like a toppling of a house of cards, the students gathered and began talking among themselves about their tired feet, their hungry stomachs, how bored they were or how excited. They complained and griped and Martha wondered if she shouldn’t put the pregnancy test off until after work.
“Okay, this is everyone.” Mrs. Smith called.
“Alright, just a short walk to the lunch room.” Martha said.
And because she didn’t need to give any information about the museum or the exhibits she turned around and began to lead the class at a slightly quicker rate than they’d been walking all morning.
“Do you like telling people about the museum?” A voice called.
Martha looked over her shoulder, “yes, I do.”
“I bet you know a lot of stuff.”
Everything she’d memorized, she thought sarcastically. Then she thought about the classes she taken and books she’d read. She turned around and began to walk backward once again, “I went to college and got a degree in history. I studied very hard. I still study very hard, so that when people ask me questions about the museum or history, I can give them the right answers.”
“What’s your favorite thing here?” One of the girls near her asked.
Martha smiled, her first real smile for the day, she thought. “I’ll show you before you leave. After lunch and your Discovery Room time, I’ll come pick you all up and finish the tour. My favorite thing is on the way to the front door where the bus will pick you up.”
“Are you going to each lunch with us?” Someone else asked.
“No, I’m going to run to the store while you all eat your lunch.” she said, surprised at her candor.
“What do you need at the store?”
An answer, she wanted to say and then just cleared her throat, “just a few things.” Thankfully they had arrived. “Okay, this is the lunch room. I’ll be back to see you all in an hour and fifteen minutes.” She held the door open and waited until everyone was inside, then she answered Mrs. Smith’s remaining questions.
Nadia heard the quick footsteps so she moved to the side, or what she thought was the side. But she’d been looking up, her neck craned back, her gaze upward for so long she was disoriented when she finally pulled her attention back to the area around her.
It wasn’t a surprise she’d chosen the wrong direction to move and then in a strange wobbling step, careened into an employee of the museum.
The woman’s oomph was covered by Nadia’s immediate, “I’m sorry. Oh I’m so sorry.”
“It’s alright, I came around that corner pretty quickly.” The woman said.
“Are you okay?” Nadia asked.
“We’re about to find out.” The woman said and then moved around Nadia and continued on her way.
Nadia watched with a frown as the woman exited the Center for Earth and Space exhibit. She shrugged and then gazed upward again. The whole window enclosed area was so light and airy. While Nadia didn’t have an overwhelming interest in space and earth sciences, she did love this area of the Museum. The dichotomy of light opposed to the many darkened exhibits in other areas of the museum was beautiful. A breath of fresh air, she thought and then frowned. That was lame. It was the truth, but it was a lame sentiment.
Nadia needed this today. The feeling of lightness that came to her in this space. She paid the entrance fee she didn’t really have to just come and stand here. She would probably use her last five bucks on a cheesy artsy postcard too. Just something tangible to touch, a promise that things get better. And she knew they would. But her life was seeped in darkness at the moment. She couldn’t imagine a time when her life would get past this crap.
The student loan people had filed the paperwork to begin garnishing her wages. And if they did that, then there wouldn’t be ample money to pay rent and bills much less buy food. And to make matters worse, her circumstances weren’t dire enough to declare bankruptcy. She was in a sweet spot of not being poor enough and not owing enough money to declare bankruptcy. But she was being an adult about it all. She signed up for free budgeting classes through the library and she was looking for a roommate and a second job.
As long as she was able to keep her photography equipment. That was the one thing she decided she needed to stand for. The one hope that things were going to get better and a year from now, hell, maybe even a few months from now, she’d be in a better place. Maybe. Hopefully. Maybe she would really figure out how to budget. But how do you budget nothing?
She craned her neck once again and soaked up the light. She wasn’t going to think about that now. Not when there was such light to be contemplated.
“Oh, you work at the museum?” The checkout woman asked Martha.
Martha nodded politely. She should have taken her jacket off. But it was cool outside and she wasn’t thinking. So she tried to portray a calm, professional facade as her insides screamed for the cashier to HURRY UP up and charge her for her damn pregnancy test and eight chocolate bars.
“My son is on a field trip there today, he’s in third grade.” The cashier said.
Of course he was. Martha wasn’t about to own up to the fact that her darling third grader was at lunch right this moment and she was his tour guide. “That’s wonderful.” She went with a banal comment.
“He loves it there, especially the dinosaurs.”
“That age, they all love the dinosaurs.” Martha clenched her teeth behind the smile.
“Oh you don’t know the half of it. Do you have kids?” She asked just as she rang up the pregnancy test. She blushed at Martha.
“We’re about to find out.” Martha said.
“Oh, well.” The woman rang up the last candy bar and gave her the total. After a quick swipe of her debit card, Martha grabbed the bag from the checker. “Thanks.”
“Good luck.” The woman called after her.
“And I don’t want to forget the centerpieces, that’s what is really going to set this whole event apart.”
Beth scribbled the note and gripped her clipboard tighter, forcing herself not to write: your gala is at the damn Museum of Natural History, that’s what’s going to set it apart.
The woman Beth was helping, Helena Buchanan-Montgomery-Bosch aka one of the busiest women in the philanthropy circuit, was heading the French Heritage Society gala this year. The board has decided it would be fun to host the event in the Hall of North American Animals. A sort of tribute to the French fur traders that helped pave the way to the west.
Again, Beth had refrained from writing French Heritage Society celebrating fur trade in front of dead bears is an idiotic idea. Instead, she focused on what she always did when she helped with the various galas put on by the Museum. The money that was helping the museum. Various societies would give the museum money to help with the continued conservation and education initiatives and in turn, the museum would help keep French Heritage alive and well.
Helena’s phone rang and she held up her perfectly painted nail at Beth, “Oh, I’ll be a few moments.” She walked away to have a conversation on her phone.
Beth sat down heavily on a nearby bench and began doodling along the side of her notes. She heard the click of someone walking and looked up. “Martha!”
Martha was a good friend, and even though she looked like she was in a hurry, Beth needed a selfish break from the past hour she’d spent ‘yes ma’am-ing’.
“Hey, I’m in a hurry.” Martha said.
“I know. I just needed to talk to another human for a minute.” Beth whispered.
An eruption of “I don’t think so.” Caught their attention, they glanced at Helena across the room
“What’s this one do?” Martha whispered.
“Oh, Helena Buchanan-Montgomery-Bosch?” Beth fluttered her eyelashes, “She’s heading the French Heritage Society gala this year.”
“What does the French heritage society do?” Martha frowned.
“Preserve French heritage in the US.”
“Oh, good.” Martha laid the sarcasm on thickly.
“What do you have today?” Beth asked.
Beth looked at her watch, “almost done?”
“Almost. I gotta get going, talk later?”
Beth nodded, Helena was marching back her way as it was. “Later.”
Martha was going to go back to the break room and use the bathroom there, but as she passed the public restroom in the empty hall she decided there might actually be more privacy there.
She entered and was alone. For the moment. At least it meant she could get organized with her bag of tricks in the handicapped bathroom.
She removed the test from the packaging, read the instructions, which didn’t quite make it through the thick fog of worry surrounding her. She had to read them again and figured the take away was: pee here, wait this long. That was good enough for now.
She did as instructed, then placed the magic stick on top of some toilet paper on the ledge made by the toilet paper holder.
She washed her hands, then went back into the stall, set a timer with her phone for three minutes, shrugged out of her blazer, hung it on the hook of the bathroom door. She stood against the opposite wall facing the test, staring it down, as if she could will it to have the result she wanted. She unwrapped one of the candy bars and ate it without tasting it.
“Mrs. Smith why do we gotta do this organ stuff?” Todd asked.
“It’s organism,” Mrs. Smith corrected, “because that’s what we’re learning about in science.”
“I don’t like science.” He said and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
Mrs. Smith pulled out a wet wipe from the arsenal in her backpack and handed it over, “I know science can be difficult sometimes,” She often gave that sort of answer because what she really wanted to say wasn’t classroom appropriate.
What people didn’t understand was that teachers got tired of the bullshit too. And field trip days just brought out the strangest strains of the crap. The tired whining from kids who watched too much TV and played video games and didn’t have the physical endurance to walk about a mile. The absentmindedness of kids who didn’t eat breakfast or had sugar for breakfast and were already worn out by the time the bus pulled up to the museum. The snowplow and helicopter parents that volunteered overly much, so much so that Mrs. Smith had to hold their hands too, otherwise it would end up being a lengthy visit with parents and school boards and the principal. Parent teacher association – more like teacher babysitting association.
“Mrs. Smith.” She turned at her name and saw the docent heading her way. Oh thank God, that meant this was almost over.
“Martha.” She acknowledged. “You look different.” She hadn’t meant to make the assessment out loud, but the woman did look different.
“Just a weight that’s been lifted off my shoulders.” Martha smiled.
“Ah, well. What do we need to do?”
“We’ll get everyone organized and line up along the back wall here. Then we will head toward the exit. We have about thirty minutes and your bus will meet you out front.” Martha offered.
“Alright,” Mrs. Smith turned her attention to the room, “Third graders, it’s time to finish up.”
Martha thought perhaps she was floating on air. It was just stomach flu or a bad cold. Either way, she’d never been happier to be sick in her life. She had stood in the bathroom and thought perhaps she did want kids, and perhaps she did want them with her boyfriend. But that was a long road. They still didn’t know all about each other. They got along quite well, same interests, always ended up talking late into the evening. But there was more to a relationship than that. There was more to find out and three months barely scratched the surface.
So when that little window on that little test didn’t show a positive but rather a negative outcome, she was through the roof. Even gave a ‘yee haw’ of encouragement that echoed around the bathroom. A bullet of joyful exclamation happy to bounce around.
“What did you eat for lunch?” One of the girls in front who was following her asked.
“A Snickers bar.” Martha said.
The little girls face fell, “oh, I had to eat a ham and cheese sandwich.”
“One day you’ll be old enough to eat a Snickers bar for lunch if you want to.” Martha encouraged, she wasn’t about to spout the properties of healthy versus unhealthy at the moment.
They came out of the long hallway that lead from the Discovery Room to the front of the museum.
“Hey, this is the beginning. I thought you were going to show us your favorite place.” A boy frowned.
“But this is my favorite place.” Martha said.
She walked into the very middle of the rotunda that made up the entrance of the museum. There was a giant dinosaur statue in the middle and several large murals on each of the rounded walls.
“Because of the dinosaur?” A little girl asked as she craned her neck to look at the vertebrate structure.
“No, it’s because of the air.” She smiled and enjoyed the way the kids looked at her as if she were insane. “This is one of the few remaining original parts of the museum. Every other building has been remodeled, there have been additions, and so much has changed since this museum first opened. Everything except this room.” She glanced around and caught the curator out of the corner of her eye. He stood in a shadow, so he wouldn’t disturb her, his hands clasped behind his back, as was his way. She smiled toward him and he gave her a nod in greeting. “Can you imagine?” she continued. “Presidents have stood in this room. Famous explorers who searched the world over for wondrous animals have stood here. Famous actors, famous football and basketball players have stood in this room.” She threw that one out for the effect pop culture had on youth. The president wasn’t a big draw, but famous basketball players…kids wanted names. She didn’t give them enough time to ask her to name names though. “We are breathing that same air. Take a big deep breath with me right now.” Half of the class followed her example, the other half teetered with laughter, “In this room, you and I, we are all the same in this moment and in this time and place. We walk with the dinosaurs, we are creative artists painting giant murals, we are curators, tour guides, presidents…” she knew she was getting too existential for third graders, so she stopped her reverie. “I like this room because nothing has changed in it since the day they opened this museum.”
“Okay,” Mrs. Smith took that as her cue to gather her little troops and head out to the waiting bus. “Can we all say thank you to Miss Martha?”
A strange wave of muttered “thank you’s” sounded off of the rotunda’s ceiling.
“You are quite welcome.” Martha said.
“Third graders, follow Brittany’s mom, she’ll lead us to the front steps where we’re going to take a class picture in front of the museum.” Mrs. Smith ordered, then she nodded to Martha, “thank you.”
“We’ll see you next year.” Martha said.
“Yes,” Mrs. Smith’s attention was already off of Martha. She snapped her fingers at two boys who had begun to climb onto the base of the dinosaur display. They sullenly put their feet back on the floor and shuffled to join the rest of their exiting class. “Thank you.” Mrs. Smith said once more.
Martha stood and watched until the door closed on the last parent volunteer.
“We walk with the dinosaurs here, huh?” The curator asked Martha.
She smiled and looked out of the corner of her eye at him. She had heard him approach, but she didn’t move. She wasn’t lying when she said she liked this room the most.
“In here, we breathe the same molecules as Teddy Roosevelt.” She said and tilted her head toward him, to see how he would take that bit of philosophical rhetoric.
“A lovely thought.” He let the quite moment wash over him, studied the white coffered ceiling. “Are we still on for dinner tonight?”
A warmth washed over Martha, “Could we stay in tonight?” They hadn’t meant to start dating, she hadn’t meant to like him, it just happened. But she didn’t feel too bad, HR was well aware of their situation.
“I was lonely without you last night.” He said.
Martha brushed the back of his hand with hers in reply as they stood close and breathed in the molecules of those who had come so many years before them.