SICK LIT MAGAZINE

Museum Girl – by Stacey Longenberger

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Museum Girl

 

It’s like an old movie projector has switched on.

Soundless; blurry images of family and friends at birthday parties, Christmases, BBQ’s.  Nameless faces with funny hair and even funnier clothes waving at the camera.  Babies eating wrapping paper, mushing cakes.  Children jumping with joy over a gift.  Soccer games, dance recitals, school concerts, proms, graduations.  One image after another.  Just clips of everyday life.  Colorful but silent.

Then a faint whisper.  “She moved her head.”

Cold.  Why am I so cold?  What is that beeping?  That high pitched frantic beeping right by my ear.  What is that? 

“Her heart rate is racing.  How did this happen?”

“She’s been asleep for ages, how do I know?”

Two men are talking in harsh whispers.   Perhaps they’re trying not to disturb me but it’s too late.  What is that beeping?  It’s really annoying.  Am I in a hospital?

“Get Dr. Kelley!”

Yup, I’m in a hospital.  Why am I in a hospital and why do I feel frozen? I think my eyelids are frozen shut.  I can’t open my eyes!  “Her heart rate is still climbing.”  My heart?  I don’t feel my heart.  Wouldn’t I feel heart palpitations?  What has happened to me?  Why am I in the hospital?

“Dr. Kelley, It’s a miracle!  She’s woken up!”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, sir.  Her neuro and cardiovascular monitors are going crazy.”

“Turn down the Vytronics machine.  We need to thaw her out.”

What is he talking about?

“Give her 220mg of Thiopental.  She needs to be sedated or the pain will be excruciating.”

Excruciating?  Why?  What’s happening to me? 

“Oh, Olivia.  I’ve dreamed of this day.”

The projector is back on.  I see a man’s face.  His smile is luminous.  He’s standing in front of a large canvas with brilliant colors.  An old woman now with a toothless grin sits before a birthday cake.  The man again on a beach.  Then the facade of a church.  A dog. A statue.  The man by an easel. His clothes covered in paint.  The images keep coming only to linger for a second and blur into the next until they fade to black.

Voices.  I hear voices.  “What’s her heart rate?”  “Eighty, sir.”  “Blood pressure?”  “One-ten over seventy.”  “Blood oxygen level?”  “Ninety-eight percent, sir.”  “Beautiful.  She’s coming along beautifully.”  Who’s coming along beautifully?  Me?  There are other noises around me.  A dull buzz of activity and whispers.  And light.  There is so much light behind my eyes.  I can feel a warmth that I want to embrace but can’t.  Touch.  Someone touched me.  Who is that?  There it is again.  More touches.  What is happening?  “Olivia.  Wake up and greet the world beautiful girl.”  Olivia.  That’s me.  I’m Olivia.  I open my eyes.  “Who are you?”  My question is addressed with loud whoops and clapping.  Noise.  So much noise.

People are shouting “it’s a miracle,” “amazing,” “astonishing,” and, “congratulations!”

I slowly look around and take in my surroundings.  I seem to be lying on a bed and there are a group of people to my right laughing and crying with happiness.  They’re hugging each other and staring at me with awe.  I don’t recognize one face amongst them.  I turn to my left and cannot believe my eyes.  Approximately four feet from where I lie is what looks like a clear, thick window.  Beyond that are movie theater rope partitions corralling possibly hundreds of people and they are all looking at me with amazement.  Their hand gestures and faces tell me they are making noise but I can’t hear them.  On the far wall behind them are paintings.  Large, beautiful canvases displayed on clean charcoal walls.  I recognize a Cezanne.  I turn my head back to the right and ask “Where am I?”  A man gently approaches and says “Oh, Olivia, Olivia, Olivia, it is such a pleasure to hear your voice.  Such a beautiful sound.”  This is the man I asked a minute ago who he was.  He has a kind face and is looking at me with so much love that I must know who he is.

But I don’t.

Do I have amnesia?

“I am Dr. Kelley, Olivia.  I have been taking care of you for a while now and I am so pleased to meet you.”

“For a while?  How long have I been here?  Is this a hospital?”

“No, we’re in a museum and we’ll tell you all you need to know in due time.   Right now I need to know how you feel.”

“How I feel?  I’m feeling freaked out right now, Doc.  Why am I in a museum?  Who are all these people?  Why are they staring at me?”

“That will all be explained but I need to know how you feel physically.  Any aches or pains, soreness or numbness, pins and needles, dizziness?”

I take a second to self-evaluate.  I shake my head, no.  “Can you wiggle your toes?”  Good question. I give it a try and yes, I can wiggle my toes.  “How about your fingers now?”  I move my fingers but when I try to lift my arms to bring my hands up, I realize my wrists are restrained.  Dr. Kelly must have noticed because he calls for someone to remove my restraints.  “I’m so sorry, Olivia, but we didn’t know just what state you would wake up in.  We had to protect you from yourself.  Just in case.”

The restraints are removed and I slowly raise my arms up and down wiggling my fingers the whole time.  “Excellent,” says Dr. Kelley.  “We’ve had physical therapists working with you every day and it seems to have done the trick.”  I just stare at him.  I have no words right now.  I turn my head toward the crowd to my left and they all start waving, and smiling, and jumping for my attention.  I’m like an animal in a zoo.  Towards the front of the crowd, a child is holding up what looks like a poster sized iPad with “Welcome Back” written in a child’s handwriting on the screen.  There are flowers and hearts and rainbows all around the words.  The colors are so pure.  That device must have cost a fortune.

Welcome Back?  Where did I go?

I suddenly feel very tired. I also want to cry but I don’t cry in front of people.  Especially strangers and I am surrounded by strangers.  Not one face is familiar.  As I stare out at the crowd they start to fade away.  The glass window is slowly tinting until it is a black wall and I can no longer see the people.

“I think that’s enough for now.  Let’s close the exhibit for the rest of the day.”  Those words aren’t directed at me.  Dr. Kelley is giving directions to the group to my right.  I now notice they are all wearing lab coats.  My eyes are so heavy now that I can’t keep them open.  I wonder where I’ll wake up next time.

I am in my house.  It’s a mess as usual.  I’m walking through the rooms stepping over clothing, books, boxes from Amazon. Someday I’ll clean this up.  I’m carrying two coffees.  Both black.  One is in my favorite mug that I made in college.  I go out the back door.  The air is crisp but the sun is bright.  It’s the perfect fall morning.  Across the overgrown lawn I walk to our studio.  A converted two car garage, it’s our sanctuary.  I kick the door lightly with my foot and wait a beat until the door opens slowly to the outside.  First I see a tan hand with blotches of paint then a muscular forearm and then that smiling face.  Paul.

Paul.  I force open my eyes.  “Paul!”

“She’s awake!”

“Where’s Paul?”  I’m trying to sit up, but they have me restrained again.

“Please.  Take these things off.  Please.  I want to see my husband.  He’s probably worried about me.  Please.”

A young woman is just looking at me.  Her expression changes from wonderment to sympathy to a mask lacking any emotion.  “Dr. Kelley will be in momentarily.”  I suppose that was meant to appease me.  “I don’t care about Dr. Kelley.  I want my husband.  Paul.  Go get him.  Tell him I’m awake.  To hell with Dr. Kelley.”  She just ignores me and keeps staring.  “Boo!” I yell as I quickly raise my head and it startles her but doesn’t deter her gaze.  “What are you staring at?  You’re being terribly rude.”  Yelling now, I command, “Go get my husband!”

Dr. Kelley walks into the room.  “Good morning, Olivia!  How are you feeling today?”

I ignore his question.  “I was just telling Nurse Ratched here to get my husband.”

He looks at me quizzically. “She is not a nurse.”  He turns to the woman, “Why does she think your name is Ratched?”

“I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s a reference from her time.”  They speak like I’m an inanimate object and then both turn to stare at me.  I stare right back.  We have quite the contest until Dr. Kelley losses by saying, “This is Dr. Lona, my protégé.”  I look to her and with a sarcastic bent proclaim, “It’s so lovely to meet you.”

Dr. Kelley continues, “Dr. Lona has been helping me oversee your care for the past few years now and has done an exceptional job.”  Dr. Lona seems to blush as she nods her head in gratitude at his statement.

I, however, am startled by his statement.  He must have misspoken.

“Excuse me, years you say? She’s been caring for me for years?”

Both doctors look sheepish, as if something was said that shouldn’t have been.  Dr. Kelley tries to pass it off as unimportant, “Oh we’ll talk about that all later.  For now we need to get you up and moving.  We have a big day ahead of us.”  Dr. Kelley turns away, gestures, and a group of people walk in.  Three women and two men all in lab coats surround my bed.  One of the women sets to work removing my restraints.  One of the men then walks to the wall by the door they entered from and starts tapping on a screen.  It registers now that I am in the same place I woke up in before and the wall to the left of me is still black.  A noise from above grabs my attention and I peer up to see a robotic arm of some sort drop from the ceiling.  It looks like a small camera in the shape of one of my vacuum attachments.  It sweeps over me in one rapid movement and then retreats again to the ceiling.  A second later a detached voice announces, “All vitals are stable.”

“Excellent!”  That’s Dr. Kelley again.  “Now, let’s get her up.”

I have been mute since the pronouncement of a “big day,” but as I watch all these people reach for me seemingly to get me up, I start screaming.  Screaming from the very core of my being.  Deep, angry screams.  I have reached my breaking point and I want answers.

“Don’t touch me!  I want to know right now who all of you are, where are we, why am I here and Where. Is. My. Husband?!”

I go to sit up, because I just realized that I can, and the room spins.  Hands to my head I lie back down and take deep breaths.  The room is silent except for my heavy breathing.  They are all just staring at me.  Again I am an animal in a zoo.  Then I notice Dr. Kelley and Dr. Lona whispering to each other.  That makes me nervous.  I slowly start to sit up again and the spinning isn’t so bad.  I hear gasps at my movement.  I need to remain calm and appear rational or they’ll drug me again.  Now that I am sitting up I can feel a port of some sort in my back.

“Please.  Please.  I need answers.  Put yourselves in my place.  Wouldn’t you want answers?”

This seems to bewilder them as if their ever being in my place would defy logic.

I can actually see the cogs turning by their expressions.  As they mull over my plea to their humanity, I look around the room.  It’s an utterly stark white space and I immediately loathe every square inch.  Except for the now black window, the space is so white that it appears seamless.  You can hardly tell where the floor and ceiling end and the walls begin.  It’s like being inside a white bubble.

“Are we in a bubble?”

That seems to break their meditation.

Dr. Lona is the one to respond, “We are in a bubble of sort within a museum.  We are here as part of a performance art exhibit.

Dr. Kelley continues with, “Now that is all that we are at liberty to tell you right now.  Cooperate with us and very soon you will have all the information you need.  Now what we need is for you to be a good girl and allow us to help you.”

He says this with a smile on his face and I want to smack it right off him.  My first instinct is to rip into him for his condescending words but I know as much as I hate this man, I need him.  I’ll have to find Paul on my own and I have to get out of here to do it.

Then something occurs to me, “Can I have my cell phone please?”  All the Coats look at each other with amused smiles.  Dr. Lona responds with “Your cell phone won’t help you here.”  “No I have Verizon.  I usually get great reception.  May I have it please?”  Again the amused but confused stares.  Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm.  I chant this to myself while I stay focused on my breathing.  Dr. Kelley claps his hands, “okay that’s enough of that.  Let’s get you up.”  He leads the way over toward me and the rest of the Coats follow.

I’m incredibly frightened but continue my chant as they reach for me.  I cringe from their touch but they are not deterred.  Within seconds my feet touch the immaculate floor.  I’m being held up by two Coats with one under each arm.  I look down and see their feet next to my bare ones.  I notice that someone has given me a fabulous pedicure and that their shoes are rather odd.  Must be European or something.  “Can you take a step?” the Coat under my right arm asks.  I look at his face for the first time.  He has very interesting facial hair in that he has lines shaved into his beard.  Three stripes on each cheek and no mustache.  The beard is closely shaved and ends at his jaw line.  “Vanilla Ice used to do that to his eyebrows.”  Striped beard just looks at me confused.  I clear my throat, look to my feet and take a step.  And then another and another.  I go to lift my arms from the Coat’s clutches and, after a gesture of approval from Dr. Kelley, they allow it but remain by my side.  I take a few steps and feel good if just a little bit stiff.  Nothing a good yoga class couldn’t help.  Paul will help me.  We always do yoga together.  Thoughts of Paul make me want to cry but I will not cry in front of these people.  Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm.  My mantra for today.

After a few more independent steps I stop and look at them.  “Remarkable.  You are an absolute miracle and I must say I’m feeling awfully proud.  Like a father watching his child take her first steps.”  Again I want to smack Dr. Kelley across his smug face but I don’t.  I just follow my mantra and stay silent.  For the first time I take a good look at him.  At all of them.  They are all very well groomed.  The colors of their hair appear natural but incredibly vibrant.  Like HD hair.  No grey, no frizz.  Their skin is flawless and luminous but appear free of makeup.  Even the women.  No makeup just natural flawless beauty.  Their clothing under their lab coats is peculiar.  Very tailored and perhaps seamless though I’m not close enough to confirm that.  I look down at my own clothing aware of it for the first time.  I’m in a snowy white form fitting bodysuit.  I can’t identify a seam or stitch anywhere.  I run my hands down my torso and the hand of the fabric is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.  It must be some amazing silk, cashmere, cotton blend or something.  I wonder if L.L. Bean carries this.

The Coats have all been patient.  Just watching me take everything in.  “Now Olivia, you’ve already met me of course and Dr. Lona but let me introduce you to rest of your team.”  He gestures to the two Coats who helped me walk.  He says Striped Beard’s name is Dr. Dax and the woman is Dr. Beckett.  “They’ve been in charge of your physical therapy and are the main reason you are able to walk today.”  He looks at me expectantly.  I guess this is where I’m supposed to say thank you.  “Thanks.”

They both smile and nod while Dr.  Beckett also chimes in with, “You are very welcome.  It’s been fascinating.  We’ve learned so much.”

“Well, good for you,” is my response.  Perhaps not the most gracious but I really don’t care.

“Next over here we have Cheryl who is your massage therapist and Daniel and Tracey who are in charge of your grooming and personal hygiene.”

I smile and start to say thank you when they all gasp.  “Her first smile!  Oh, how beautiful!” exclaims Daniel.  He does a little clap bouncing thing and both him and Cheryl are beaming with delight.  “Yes, yes, she truly is beautiful but we need to get moving now.  The exhibit will open shortly.”

“Of course, Dr. Kelley.” Daniel moves to a wall where a screen appears at his approach.  He taps a few times and walks away.  The screen fades away.  You would never know one was there.  This place is pretty high tech.  Now the door opens and two men in white seamless jumpsuits (similar to mine but with a baggier industrial-like fit) walk in carrying a large white chair.  They set it down and pick up the bed I had been lying on and walk out. A second later they return with a white table.  They move both the chair and table close to the black window in the center of the room.  They leave and return for a third time with an easel, a canvas, and a box full of paint and art supplies.  At these items it is my turn to gasp.  I recognize that easel.  It’s mine.  My parents bought it for me when I got into art school.

“Why do you have my easel?”

“Oh good, you remember,” says Dr. Lona.  “We weren’t sure how your memories of such things would be.”

“Of course I remember.  Now, why do you have it?”

“We have a lot of your property here at the museum.  It’s all part of the exhibition.  Speaking of which, it’s going to open any minute.  Daniel, do you have her clothing?”

“Yes, right here, Dr. Lona.”  In his hands are a folded stack of clothes.  He places them on the table.  “Do you remember these?” he asks me as he holds up my favorite yellow sweatshirt and then my favorite beat up Levi’s.

“Yes, of course.”

“Would you like to put them on?”

Yes, yes I do. Tears return to my eyes as I see my clothes.  Maybe this means I’m on my way out of here.  It seems like they have to get to work at whatever exhibit they’re talking about anyway.  I walk over to Daniel and eagerly retrieve my clothes.  “Where can I change?”

“Oh sugar, we’ve all seen it all.  Don’t be shy.”

“No, I would like privacy please.  Where can I change?”  Daniel frowns with compassion, but Dr. Kelley speaks, “We cannot give you privacy.  You will change here and please do so quickly.  We are running out of time.”

“I don’t care about your time constraints, Dr.  Kelley, I want privacy.”  My cool is slowly becoming unraveled.  Dr. Kelley and Dr. Lona share a look that makes me nervous.  The “she’s not cooperating again” look.  “Okay, okay.”  I turn my back so then at least I don’t have to see them but quickly realize I don’t know how to take this bodysuit off.  There aren’t any buttons, zippers, velcro, nothing.   Then Daniel throws a tip over my shoulder, “You just pull at the neck and it will open down the front.”  I do as instructed and amazingly, the fabric splits down the middle.  Kind of a shame though. The fabric is so beautiful.  As if reading my mind, Daniel tells me, “The fibers have memory and will mend themselves after you step out.”

I step out and hold up the bodysuit by the shoulders and right before my eyes the fibers mesh back together.  “Quickly, please.”  Dr. Kelley breaks my amazement.  I slowly fold up the bodysuit and place it on the table.  Then I reach for my clothing and find my favorite comfy bra and cotton thong.  I bought them at Target so long ago it’s embarrassing but they are so comfortable.  I put them on, enjoying the waves of frustration I feel coming from Dr. Kelley.  Then my jeans and sweatshirt.  I’m looking for socks and shoes when Dr. Lona asks, “You like to paint bare foot, don’t you?”

“Yes, usually, but I need shoes to walk out of here.”

“You’re not walking out of here.”

“I don’t understand.  Don’t you all have to get to work on some exhibit or something?”

“Olivia, you are the exhibit.”  With that the black window changes to clear and reveals a mob of people.

Just like the last time, I can see the mob’s excitement but not hear it.  There are several of those poster iPad signs.  I walk towards the glass and their excitement grows.  I can see now that they’re not iPads after all.  At least not a kind I’ve ever seen.  They’re flexible.  Actually being waved and waving with the movement and the colors are as vivid as any I’ve ever applied to canvas.  I’m right up to the glass now.  I put my hands up to touch it.  It’s cold and hard and it anchors me.  What I’m seeing is so surreal.

“Welcome Back, Olivia!”

“Happy Re-Birthday, Olivia!”

And then the most confusing of them all, “Welcome to 2517!”

I’m sweating. I feel light-headed and nauseous.

“Are they a part of the exhibit also?”  I point to the crowd.  I’m wondering if we’re all being filmed or something.  Is there another crowd somewhere else watching all of us?  It’s all so bizarre but there must be a rational explanation.

Dr. Kelley shakes his head, “No, Olivia.  What Dr. Lona said is true.  You are the exhibit.  We are in the Art & Science Museum of North America.  You personify the beauty that is created when art and science combine.  You are incredibly famous and all these people are here to see you because you woke up.”

“I woke up.”

They all nod.  I turn my back on them and stare back out at the people.  One little girl is waving at me so fervently that I have to wave back.  When I do the crowd goes crazy.  My vision is getting blurry.  I’m sweating so much that my clothes are sticking to me.  My hands are back up on the cold glass and I lean my forehead on it but that doesn’t help.

I know I’m going down.

I’m back on the bed.  At least I think I am.  I don’t want to open my eyes yet.  I hear whispers, but can’t make out what they’re saying and nor do I care.  Maybe if I keep my eyes closed long enough I’ll sink into oblivion and away from this nightmare.

“She’s waking up.”

Crap.  How did they know?

“You gave us quite the scare there, Olivia.”

I don’t answer.  If I ignore them maybe they’ll go away.  Someone pulls my left eyelid back and I flinch at the sudden intrusion of light.  I rock my head and raise my hands to ward off the prodding fingers.

“Leave me alone.  Please, just leave me alone.  I just want to go home.  I just want to see Paul.  I don’t understand why this is happening to me.”  I can’t hold back the tears anymore.  I cry quietly rolling into the fetal position.  I am so lonely and confused.  No one touches me.  No one says anything but I know they are there.  Watching.  Observing.  Analyzing.  I can feel the heavy gaze of their judgment.

Time passes.  I don’t know how much but I’m empty of tears.  I feel as if I’m drifting off to sleep and I am thankful.  At least in my dreams I can be home.  I can be with Paul.

“Olivia, I think it’s time for us to talk.  We underestimated how disturbing this all would be for you.  You displayed minimal brain activity all through your coma so we assumed that if you ever woke up, we would be dealing with a woman of minimal mental competence.”

I don’t respond.  I just want to sleep.  I just want my dreams.  Remarkably, they take the hint.  Dr. Kelley ushers the team out but not before he lets me know they will be back tomorrow.

I’m driving our Jeep.  Paul drank too much otherwise he would be driving.  He hates when I drive.  He’s passed out in the passenger seat with his head resting against the window.  I’m singing along to John Mellencamp and driving up the dark, narrow, winding road toward our neighborhood.  There is a glow at the top of the hill we’re climbing; mere seconds later, headlights are speeding right toward us.

I have no time to react before the horrifying noise leads to blackness.

I awake with a scream.

What was that?  Were we in an accident?  Is that what happened?  Is Paul dead?  My heart is pounding and I start crying again.  That must be why he’s not here.

The door opens and Dr. Lona walks in.  “Hello Olivia.  Are you alright?  Did you have a bad dream?”

I sit up to face her.  “Paul is dead, isn’t he?”

Her usual mask turns sympathetic and she slowly nods her head.  My comprehension is slow but her expression doesn’t change.  Paul is dead.  My cries explode into wails.  Hands to my head, I violently shake it, incredulous with grief.  “No!  Nooo!  That can’t be true!  He said he would never leave me!  My parents left me!  He said he never would!  Nooooo!”  My screams echo through the otherwise silent room.  My body is shaking with the grief; the pain.  Tears and snot are streaming down my face.  “I’ll give you some time.”  From her tone I can tell she’s uncomfortable.

She leaves the room where my heart has been ripped out and now taints the immaculate floor.

I must have cried myself to sleep.  My hair is being smoothed in a soothing, rhythmic motion and it brings some comfort.  My mother used to do that to me as a child.  I just lie still and try to focus on the gentle touch.  I pretend the hand belongs to my mother, my guardian angel, and she’s come to help me understand all this.

A few minutes pass and I hear Dr. Kelley’s voice ask, “Is she awake?”  The hand startles and then withdraws.

“Yes.”

So Dr. Lona is my angel.

“Has she spoken?”

“No.  Dr. Kelley, I would like to be the one to explain the situation to Olivia.  I think she might respond better if it’s one on one, woman to woman.”

There’s silence for a few beats before he responds with, “Very well then.  You will be observed however; so choose your words carefully.”

A few seconds later I hear, “He’s gone now.  Please open your eyes.”

I don’t.  I’m not ready to face the music yet.  A few moments pass.

“Olivia, please open your eyes.  I have a lot to tell you and much of it is rather complicated so I need to know you are truly hearing me.”

I don’t want to truly hear her.  Now that I know about Paul, I have no interest in what she has to say.

“Olivia, I have a letter for you from Paul.”

My eyes fly open and I quickly sit up.  “I thought that would get your attention.”

”Let me see it,” I say while holding out my hand.

“I need to explain some things first.  This letter won’t make sense unless I do.”

I nod in response and then say, “Okay, go ahead.”

“On January 1st, 2017, you and Paul were in a car accident.  The woman in the car that hit you was drunk, had a fight with her boyfriend, got in her car and drove off.  It was a head-on collision.  She died instantly.  You and Paul both sustained terrible, life-threatening injuries.  You fell into a coma.  Paul eventually gained consciousness and after many surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy was healthy and strong enough to leave the hospital.”

I go to say something but she holds up her hand to stop me.  “I will explain.  He was able to leave but he hardly ever left your side.  He just sat at the side of your bed and talked to you, read to you, sang to you.  Friends and family encouraged him to try and get on with his life but he wouldn’t hear it.  He was your advocate and oversaw every part of your care.  He spoke to doctor after doctor, researcher after researcher, looking for a way to wake you up.  Your injuries healed but you kept sleeping.  By then he was almost ruined financially.  Paying for your care and his medical bills was crippling.  He had to start working again so he brought his art supplies into your hospital room.  You were his muse and he painted you over and over again.  He would post his work on social media and write about you to help raise money for your care.  Then a journalist for the New York Times wrote an article about you two and you both became famous.  It was such a romantic love story and the world loved it.  You both became recognized globally as talented artists and Paul was able to sell both of your works.  A film documentary followed that won an Oscar.  After that, money wasn’t an issue.  Everyone capable of investing in art wanted to own a piece of either yours or Paul’s work.  Through all this he hardly left your side.  If he had to be away it was never for more than a day or two.  This went on for years…….”

At this I held up my hand.  “Please stop for a moment.  This is all a lot to take in.”  My head is spinning.  I just want to run away; but where would I go?

“How many years?” I ask.

“We’re about three years into the story.”

Three years?

“I have so much more to tell you.  Are you ready?”

I’m not but I nod anyway.

“In 2021, Paul partnered with a doctor he became very friendly with to create a foundation that funds research dedicated to helping coma victims.  They would have dinners that cost thousands of dollars a plate and auction off your artwork, his own, and others donated by artists looking to make a name for themselves.  Work with the foundation kept Paul very busy and he wasn’t able to be with you as frequently.  By 2025 he was only coming on Sundays.  But he would still talk to you and read and sing.  He would always tell you how much he loved you and missed you and would beg you to open your eyes.  But in 2026, his relationship with his partner, Dr. Drizell, changed and they became romantically involved.  Once that became public knowledge……”

I tune her out.  Romantically involved. 

She announced that like she was announcing the weather.  If there was anything left of my heart, it has now gone up in smoke.  Smoke is going to rise up my esophagus and out my nostrils.  The image makes me giggle and Dr. Lona stops talking.  My giggle escalates to full on laughter.

“You said he was dead.  Which is it?  Is he dead or did he leave me for another woman?”  The idea of either one is so absurd it’s funny.  Morbidly funny.

“Both.”

My laughing stops and tears prick my eyes.

“As I was saying,” Dr. Lona continues, “the public was outraged.  They didn’t care that you had been in a coma for nine years and showed no sign of coming out of it, they wanted the love story.  But Paul had lost hope and Dr. Drizell seemed to hasten that for him.  She herself was a brilliant neurologist and you had been studied by the best in the world.  None of them were optimistic that you were ever going to wake up.  Then when Dr. Drizell became pregnant, he legally signed your care over to the foundation and him and Dr. Drizell left the country.  They lived in relative isolation in Sweden for 20 years, raising two children, before they were both killed in a car accident.”  She stops and stares at me.  It’s like she just tied that story up with a neat bow.  So matter of fact.  “Karma can be a real bitch,” she says and smiles.

Am I supposed to be happy that he died in a car accident in Sweden with his mistress?  My emotions can’t move that fast.  He is, or was, the love of my life.  The tears are just streaming down my face as I stare back at her.

I feel an overwhelming weight of sadness that literally pushes me to fall forward.  I almost hit the floor but Dr. Lona catches me.  “Whoa, are you alright?  I know it’s a lot to take in but we have a lot more to go over.”

“I’m done.  I don’t want to hear anymore.  Just give me the letter and get out.”

I’m sitting on the bed again with my hand out ready for the letter.  She sits back down and looks away as she says, “Unfortunately, I can’t do that.  I have been directed to give you the complete story.  You need to hear it and accept it so that we can move on with the exhibit.”

“The exhibit!” I yell.  “Screw the exhibit!  I don’t care about or even wish to be a part of any exhibit!”

“I’m sorry, Olivia, but you don’t have a choice.”

“Of course I have a choice!  I’m a human being and an American citizen.  I have rights!”

“The United States of America, as you remember it, no longer exists.”

I look at her in utter disbelief.

“Please just let me continue.  When Paul signed your care over to the Foundation he also stepped down as the head of the Foundation.  The new head was a brilliant man though he lacked a lot in the way of scruples.  His name was Dr. Lyle and he basically sold you to science.  He teamed up with a company that was researching the science of Cryonics.  This company was looking to unlock the key to immortality through freezing.  For years while you slept, they experimented on animals but when it was time to experiment on a human being, you were offered up.  You were frozen at the age of fifty-five and haven’t aged a day since.”

Fifty-five?  That can’t be right.

“I’m 35.”

Dr. Lona sighs in frustration at my lack of comprehension.

“You were 35 when you were in the car accident.  You were in a coma for twenty years before you were put on the Vytronics machine.”

She pauses and stares at me perhaps to let that sink in.

“What year is it now?”

She continues to stare.  She looks torn like she’s not sure if she should tell me.

“Just tell me!”

She jumps from the rage in my voice then sighs.

“Olivia, I will tell you but what you need to focus on is how important you are.  You, Olivia, are an absolute miracle cherished and loved by millions of people.”

“I don’t care.  I never asked for any of this.  What year is it?”

“Today is June 24th, 2517. You’ve been asleep and frozen for five hundred years.”

She says this with a smile and tears in her eyes.  She reaches forward and places her hand on mine and looks at me like a mother would her child.  I pull my hand away and start laughing again because she must be either joking or out of her mind.

“2517?  You can’t be serious?  2517, ha, ha, ha, ha !  Are we in space?  Is this museum on Mars?  Ha, ha, ha,ha….”

She gives me a hurtful look that morphs to very serious.  “No, we are on Earth but my sister lives on a new development station just a few hundred miles from Mars.  Not my cup of tea though.”

She’s straight faced and business-like.  The doctor is back in.  “Now that you know the year, here is the rest of what I am charged with telling you: The Olivia Phoenix Foundation still exists and the head of the board is Dr. Kelley.  He has been the head of the board and your legal guardian for the past eighty years.  For twenty of the past eighty you have been on permanent exhibit here at the museum.  Your awakening has created a scientific marvel; and it’s brought an exciting, revelatory element to the exhibit. And the Foundation’s board as well as the museum’s board are overjoyed about all the possibilities.”

“The possibilities,” I repeat.

“Oh yes, Olivia.  The possibilities.”

# # #

Sick Lit Photo

Stacey Longenberger is a south shore Long Island girl, born and bred.  She left a career in fashion to stay home with her three kids and doesn’t regret it one bit.  Stacey loves to read and when she’s not reading, she’s creating a story in her head.  Every now and then, she writes one down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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