40th Anniversary Feature: THE MUSEUM OF MISSING THINGS
By COLLEEN HOLLISTER
BWR Fiction Editor, Fall 2008-Spring 2009
The museum hangs with birds. The back rooms swim with airplanes. In the night, you will want to see an explosion. In the night, you will be walking in the gardens—the gardens will be dark with jasmine, with roses that pop, becoming soft white at your touch—and you will want to be brightened. This is a building, tall-ceilinged. In one room there are birds of all colors: bright swathes of red that flash past you as you enter, yellow, the tail tips of green. Standing in the center, you will be surrounded by the warmth and smell of birds, and as you leave, the deep sadness of knowing you will never be here again. In another room, a lake. The depth swimming in your ears. The lake water, the lily pads. This you will also never forget: the smell of lake water, the splash of entering boats, the sound of frogs as you fall asleep. In another, the airplanes are large above your head, swaying on their strings. They are held up, miraculously, by only the kind of string you find in your grandmother’s kitchen drawer to truss the turkey, by only the kind of string you tie around your finger around your child’s tooth to pull it out. Here is a spoon here is a spoon. Here is a collection of teeth. The teeth of whales are largest, and stand taller—much taller—than you. You may hide in the holes between rooms; you may become frightened by the museum’s scope, the size, the space. How tiny your lungs feel. Here is a green glass bottle. Here is a room. It, like many other rooms, is filled with the absence of light. It seems an office; it seems a piling of paper. Here we are counting all the missing. Here the sheet of paper is long, taped with clear and breaking tape, darkening on the older edges where we first began. It was slow to begin—the stretch of missing, and our beginning to contain them on the paper, both. We tried to make them visible, to show us how invisible we had become. Who was the first? A girl on a plum-colored night. A boy in a car the color of grapes. The man who walked into the theater. We say it was slow to begin, but there were so many firsts. Perhaps slow is not right. Perhaps just begin. When we began, the colors whirled around us and we bent our heads down. When we went on, days and nights of writing, days and nights of holding our breath as we blew on the ink, our lists took on our tiredness and became shaky and became misspelled, but we could not stop. We could not stop. There were too many.
Colleen Hollister’s stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Conjunctions, Versal, Quarterly West, and as a chapbook, Collage with Girl and Rooftop, available from Burnside Review Press. She is a former fiction editor of Black Warrior Review and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
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