We went to the museum about once a month. Hector would hold my hand as we rushed from display to display, his boyhood eagerness for knowledge hurrying his steps. Everything here was scavenged from the surface. He would laugh and point at the lampshade embroidered with a picture of a camel. His eyes would shine at the pictures of elephants and turtles and tigers. He reenacted casting a fishing line when he saw the fishing rod and tackle. His cheeks would color when we walked past the mannequins dressed in shimmery negligees and ladies’ dresses. He would talk about how one day he’d drive as fast as he could when we saw the windshield wiper and driver’s side door from an old car.
I followed Hector as he darted back and forth between exhibits. Suddenly, he stopped and looked at me. “MeeMaw, what is your favorite thing here?” he asked. It was difficult to choose, but I always seemed drawn to the one that held the old Avon lady carpet bag. There were pictures and trinkets reminiscent of a much, much simpler time placed in beautiful glass cases. But knowing he would not understand nostalgia so much, I got a small bit of mischief in my eye and said, “YOU are!”
Hector laughed and raced ahead. He was headed for his favorite display. The one with the most tragic of stories. His cheerful mood grew solemn as he approached. “Tell me about the Million and One MeeMaw.”
The skull in the jar was a brutal reminder of the tragedies that happened after the earthquake. There were hundreds of tokens left in tribute to those who died. Scattered around the jar were bottles of rum and tequila, a child’s small plastic bracelet, and candles in various colors and heights. There was even an old twenty dollar bill printed in 2008.
When the earthquake happened, the leaking radiation proved the surface was not a viable living option. Half the population went underground. The other half took to the skies. Some chose not to deal at all.
On the wall behind the shrine were a million and one names carved into the stone. These people who died were not just poetically just mercy killings of someone with a broken heart. These were people who did not want to move forward. They drank a poison and had their remains cremated. The last fleet of blimps to leave the surface took the ashes and scattered them throughout the land in the hopes that the soil would once again be fertile.
“How long until we can go to the Surface, MeeMaw? ”
“I’m not sure, Lovie. Now, how about we go home and play some catch with your wiffle ball while your Mommy finishes lunch?”
Hector grabbed my hand. We exited the museum and started down the tunnels for home.