The loudspeaker announced the museum’s closure for the day. The last of the visitors shuffled to the exit. The old attendant was not sorry to see them go. They were always sticking their fingers into everything – Oh, he knew it was what passed for progress these days: interactivity, they called it. Bright buttons to be pressed. Boxes to put your hands in. And smells – smells, for pity’s sake!
In his opinion, there was nothing wrong with bunging the lot in glass cabinets and then roping off those cabinets so that no one could get within three feet of them. Progress doesn’t necessarily mean better.
He slid the bolt on the front door home and proceeded about his rounds, ensuring doors and windows were shut and locked, lights were off and there was no one in the building. The curator had long gone. Knocked off at lunchtime, the attendant reckoned. Lazy article. Well, good. The attendant preferred to have the place to himself. He liked it quiet, without the irritating noise of irritable schoolchildren, or the clatter of women’s heels on the marble floor, the rumble of the coffee machine, the clink of cutlery on ceramic. Why they had to have a cafe was also beyond his understanding. Why couldn’t the museum just be a museum?
With the turning off of the main lights in the foyer, the building was swathed in shadow and as quiet as the tomb. The attendant smiled to himself. It was his time to enjoy the place without the intrusive presence of anyone else.
He went to the staffroom to make a cuppa. He had long since given up fears that objects would come to life after closing time. He often laughed at the foolishness of his younger self when he had taken on the job decades ago. Yes, he had been younger then, and so had Harriet, the eager student of antiquities who would come in at lunchtime with her sketchbook and pastels.
Their fiftieth wedding anniversary was fast approaching, not that Harriet would be aware of it. She wasn’t aware of anything much these days, and whenever he visited her she thought he was a policeman in his dark blue uniform with its silver buttons. And with every visit, his heart would suffer another crack, like one of those fragile prehistoric vases pieced together by archaeologists.
He could have taken retirement years ago and have nursed Harriet when her mind had started vanishing. But he hadn’t. He’d preferred to stay at work, where you knew where things were, where objects familiar from years of his presence stood reliably where they had always stood.
He stirred the tea in his ancient mug, chipped and faded, commemorating some long ago jubilee – Harriet had given him that mug. Perhaps I should lock it away somewhere safe, he wondered. Before it gets damaged or destroyed and becomes just another memory of something I used to have.