The Secret Exhibit
By Carey Cameron
One cool, October morning, I was stuck on a smelly bus. The bus in question smelled like rotten socks and a middle school student’s B.O. Classic. Of course, I was stuck in the front along with the other odd kids who weren’t that popular or who didn’t cause drama. The front is better. I was with Ms. Gerald, the Social Studies teacher, who was accompanying us on our field trip to the museum. She made sure I wasn’t picked on or teased by other students. I knew she made extra sure because I think I am her favorite in the very talkative class I was assigned to. As I was lost in thought, writing the mental story of my life, a hand tapped me on the shoulder. I held my breath and turned around slowly, praying it wasn’t another girl commenting on my “nice hair” ( a little note: my hair is so frizzy that I once found my sister’s Barbie shoe in it. No joke.) . Thank god it was Ms. Gerald. “Liesel, it’s time to get off the bus now. I know you especially have been looking forward to this trip!” she said sweetly. I smiled wearily, grabbed my backpack, straightened my windbreaker, and hastily stepped off the bus after Ms. Gerald. “Now boys and girls, you can roam the museum by yourselves. Just meet me back in the lobby at precisely 5:00. Got it?” All the kids uttered a hazy “yes”. “Lettttt’s Gooooo!” Yelled Ms. Gerald as a blur of middle school kids (with me trailing behind) ran into the concrete building.
The inside was far more impressive than the outside. Posters of old movies and plays decorated the walls, signs for exhibits drew in people like moths to light, and artifacts in the same glass cases with silver borders stretched down the lobby all the way to the front desk. Instantly, I knew I loved it. The smell of dust and the feeling of comfort took over my body leaving me paralyzed as my fellow classmates kept running down towards new and exciting exhibits. One group went to a section about the history of the museum, another to a president and first ladies’ exhibit and most went to the food court and gift shop, where they would wreak havoc instead of learning history. “Rude.” I mumbled as they walked towards the shops. I decided to walk to an interesting exhibit on WWII when I heard something. “Liesel” a voice mumbled. I spun around looking for the source. I was alone in the lobby. “Come here Liesel” the voice said again. Now I was alone AND scared. “The door Liesel, go to the gold door and come” I spoke up, confused, “What gold do-“. There it was. It was an ornate golden door with REAL gold. On the door were beautiful carvings of people’s faces. The people were all different and unique; there were even some with scars and freckles! Above this door was a matching gold sign that also had the carvings bordering it. The sign read,” The People of the World: A History”. Intrigued by the door and the voice, I pulled on the (you guessed it) gold handle and slipped inside.
The exhibit was enormous.
The room seemed infinitely stretching in all directions except down, with a huge glass elevator with gold borders going all the way up to where I couldn’t even see. There were little cubicles all lined up in rows, and right before me lay a huge book with names and years listed in tiny print I could barely read. The faces and gold repeated themselves along the borders of the book in an enchanting pattern. Suddenly, a voice piped up. It was a different, younger, and softer voice than before. “Do you need help?” asked the voice. “Who are you? Where are you?” I asked, mystified by this strange place. A young woman popped out from inside a cubicle. She was the second voice. “I am Alice, the head curator.” Alice was hard to describe. She had short, red hair swept up into a bun, a green dress with red polka dots, a red cardigan, and a pretty 40s hat to top it all off. “You look like someone from WWII!” I joked. She stared at me with blank eyes and then spoke. “Look kid, I don’t really know what you’re talkin’ about but I can show you how this place works.” “Ok…..” I uneasily whispered back. Alice walked down the rows of gold cubicles and then abruptly stopped at the 10th or 11th one down. She stepped in the small space. I had no choice but to follow suit.
The cubicle, Alice called an “exhibit”. “For what?” I asked. “A person. Each person who has ever lived has one of these, no matter how ‘important’ they may seem”. This exhibit belongs to a Joseph Marnier Jameson. Apparently he was about my age and he was tall, happy, and he loved computers. I could tell from the pictures that seemed to be taken by no one in particular. These candid shots were spread all along the exhibit’s walls. What really drew my attention was a glass case with gold borders on a golden pedestal in the center. “This” said Alice “Is where the most important artifact or picture of your life goes.” Inside there was a picture of Joseph smiling and laughing with a girl. “Why is THIS picture in here?” I asked, confused. “That is Joseph’s future wife and this is the day they first met.” Wow, I thought. These exhibits show everyone’s most defining moment. Turning around, I realized that most of these people’s defining moments will be having a baby, meeting their spouse, or getting the job of their dreams. What if, some don’t have an achievement or a crowning moment? An even more important thought popped into my head: what is Alice’s artifact? More importantly, who is Alice?
“Alice?” “Yes?” “My name is Liesel.” “I thought so.” How did she know? As if reading my mind, she answered my question. “I saw your exhibit. I was cleaning your row yesterday and I never forget a face.” She smiled a smile brighter the sun, which in turn made me smile. After walking around for a while, Alice and I stopped at one of the many scattered benches to rest. She turned to me and sighed. “Do you want to know who I am and why I’m here? ‘Cause it’s a long story.” Vigorously, I nodded my head yes. “A long time ago, 1943 I think, I came into a museum.” “Wait. 1943?! You’re….old.” “Hold on” said Alice “I’m getting there. Anyway, a door was calling me so I went in. A lady gave me a note that read ‘Do it when the time is right.’ She left and, trouble is, I don’t know what ‘it’ is.” Alice sank down into the bench even farther, starting to cry. “I only clean now and I have no idea how old I would be if I aged, but I was 25 when I came in here.” I gave her a sympathetic look. She then wiped her nose with a tissue I gave her from my backpack and started talking. “You should go, I need to stay and watch over the artifacts.” That was it! Artifacts! “Follow me!” I yelled and ran towards the open doors of the glass elevator.
We stepped into the golden-glass elevator, when, to my surprise, I learned there were no buttons. “How do I move?” I screamed as we only had 15 minutes until 5:00 came around. “Say the person’s name!” Alice yelled back. “Alice…” I stopped because I had no idea what her last name was. “Lenneby” she finished, as if she knew what I was trying to do. The elevator lurched upwards and climbed until it reached a sudden halt and the doors opened. “We only have 15 minutes to do this Alice.” I said stepping out, pulling Alice’s hand and Alice behind me. I turned into the row we were next to and searched until I found “Alice May Lenneby”. Inside Alice’s exhibit there were hardly any pictures and her glass case was empty. Alice stumbled in, realizing that she had done nothing in her life. “I…I…I haven’t done anything. Look at those exhibits!” she whirled around pointing to the exhibits in front with wall to wall pictures and glass cases full. “My case is empty. EMPTY” she cried, her eyes welling up with tears. “Liesel, I need to leave. To not come back here and dust other people’s achievements without fulfilling my own. I need to live once more. Please take me away.” I nodded and we hugged. Silently, we both ran towards the open elevator doors. “Let’s make history, because I think I know what ‘it’ is now.” Alice quietly said as I mumbled the name of the boy’s exhibit on the bottom floor.
The elevator went down.
We now were right by the front doors. “Do it.” I said, as I didn’t bother to watch the clock anymore. Alice took a deep breath and pushed the gold handles down. We ran through the doors and into freedom.
Alice turned out fine. Most people’s memories had her as a museum employee who got lost while getting her last paycheck before she got a new job. So, we did change history. I got recognition for finding her, which gave me some money for college. Alice and I never really talked about “the incident” ever again. By far, the most interesting fact is that back in the old, dusty exhibit, hidden to the human eye, a picture was put in Alice’s case.
It was of two shadowy figures running through an open doorway into life.
Seventh grader Carey Cameron, Severna Park Middle School, Anne Arundel County, loves theatre, Shakespeare, and reading.