Paula Shablo: The Museum


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The Museum

Paula Shablo

Sometimes, amid all the rubble and refuse, we find a little treasure.

On this day, my daughter Penny and I had separated from the group and gone over to the next street. There, we found the old city museum, mostly intact. We mounted the crumbling stairs to the front entrance. The doors were standing open, hinges broken.

There was a huge foyer with a floor of cracked and broken tiles. Displays were, fortunately, not kept near the entrance, and I felt a surge of hope as we moved farther inside that we would find things well preserved.

Mosty, that hope proved futile. The place was a disaster area. I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment.

Perhaps there would be something useful…

“What’s that, Daddy?”

I looked back at Penny. She was standing in front of an arched niche. An ancient piece of pottery was neatly displayed there, miraculously unharmed in the midst of the destruction around us. There was a chunk missing from the handle, but I figured it had started out that way. You know, before The End.

“Where I grew up, we called that an olla,” I told her.

She peered up at me quizzically. “An oh yeah?” She looked dubious.

I felt the smirk on my face and quickly raised a hand and pretended to wipe away sweat from my upper lip. “An oy yuh,” I said, carefully enunciating. “It’s Spanish. It means a clay pot of some sort or other.”

“You speak Spanish?” Penny asked. “Like Jorge’s mom?”

“Not as well as Jorge’s mom, no.”

“Maybe I can learn it, too.”

“Why not?” I agreed.

“Am I Spanish, Daddy?”

“Part,” I answered shortly. It seemed like a ridiculous question, in light of everything.

In the camps, there is real diversity with acceptance that never happened in the world before The End. The only thing that matters now is whether or not you make a good contribution to the well-being of the group as a whole.

Penny gave me a frown that informed me that her thinking was—as usual—ahead of mine. “Well, who cares?” she said. “Who knows if there are even countries anymore.”

See what I mean?

“What countries are you talking about?” I asked, curious. The children have teachers, but I hadn’t taken much interest in whether they were learning world geography or civics.

“Oh, Mexico, Japan, places like that.” Penny dismissed the subject, adding, “If they’re around, nobody cares about anything but clean water and food and a safe place to sleep. So, whatever.”

I couldn’t argue with that, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Did I ever go to the museum before?” Penny asked, running a hand over the side of the olla.

“Not with me,” I admitted. During her early childhood, I spent most of my time deployed to one location or another. “Maybe with Mamma.”

“I don’t remember.” She reached out to remove the artifact, then pulled her hands back. “Is it good for anything?” she asked.

“Yes.”

I recalled for her my years living on the Rez. We would draw water from the mountain streams and fill ollas in the kitchens with it. Sediment would sink to the bottom, and we could dip our cups full of cool, clean water to drink. “The clay it is made of keeps the water cold and gives it a sweet taste,” I told her.

“It’s not very big,” Penny observed, giving it a critical once-over. “We’d have to fill it a dozen times a day if we kept it in the big kitchen.”

“If you want it,” I said, “you could keep it in your room for yourself and your sisters.”

“That seems selfish.”

Penny is so much older than nine. My chest swelled with pride.

“Perhaps we could take it back with us and fill it with dried flowers for the table in the main room,” I suggested. “Sometimes a little decoration is a nice touch, and everyone could enjoy it.”

Penny gave me an impulsive hug. “That’s a great idea, Daddy!”

I relished the hug—Penny is usually standoffish with me.

I carefully lifted the olla from its display niche and set it in the small wagon Penny had brought along. “What else do you think we can find in a museum?” I asked.

Penny shrugged. “Dinosaur bones? We can’t use those for anything.”

I laughed. She was right about that.

“Do you think there was somewhere to eat in here?” Penny moved farther into the big, filthy space and slowly moved in a circle, surveying. “Maybe there’s food.”

I nodded. Practical Penny.

And then she saw it—

“Daddy! A bookstore!”

She was off and running before I could tell her to be careful.

Oh well. We can look for food later.

Penny loves books.

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Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.com/

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