My breasts are cold because they are made of cold compressed air, contained by cold, hard plastic, and placed under my cold, stretched, nerveless skin. I can only feel them with my hands, from the outside, just like anyone else. If I tap on them, they sound hollow and I remember going to the tiny anthropology museum on the campus of the college town where I grew up.
In the summer I would ride my bike the mile or so to get there. I would be sweaty the way children are, above my lip, a damp hair-ring around my head from my helmet decorated with stickers and scratch marks. I would slip into the proud old building that shiny-new students had deserted long ago for the business or computer science building. It had columns and arches even on the inside and I walked with reverence, conscious that god was there.
The museum was on the first floor. The door to it looked like all the other doors, half thick oak, half framed glass, with a sealed horizontal window over it that had hinges, but no crank to open it. Usually it was locked. The summer hours must have corresponded with something, but I could never figure it out, so it was especially exciting when I would, with aching slowness, turn the old brass knob. I did it slowly so I could whisper ‘please’ three times, hoping the old building would hear and smile on one of her last parishioners.
The museum behind the door was in a converted classroom. It had been somewhere more worthy, but time and ambivalence had moved it. The air was still and warm and the classroom crammed with wood and glass display cases custom made to fit the precious objects inside. I would start near the door and study the arrowheads that had been found locally. From in their cases, they taught me to walk silently, foot directly in front of foot, eyes lowered respectfully yet still nimbly searching the ground for my own arrowhead I lost while hunting in my neighborhood. If I did it right, I knew the earth would return it to me. Next, I would examine the ancient pottery, building it myself by starting with the shards and working my way up to the complete bowls and urns. The brightly colored masks asked me to dance, the fishhooks of bone snagged my t-shirt. I avoided the tiny case holding the wisp of fabric from someone’s mothers’ grave. My path never varied–the order of seeing merging with the objects to form my private ritual.
The final case, much taller than my father, stood in the far corner of the room. It waited for me as I had waited for it. At first, the object inside looked like the swaying wind chimes my mother hung on our back porch. But these wind chimes were a burnt orange color, the size of an orange, and dead still. I pressed my nose to the case and stared with my mouth slightly open. The shrunken heads in the case stared back.
Some had long black hair. Some had mouths that had been stitched together with human-leather shoe-laces. They all looked surprised. The dusty white label on the back of the case read ‘Shrunken Heads.’ The peeling-off label right beneath it read ‘Skin Drum’ and my eyes would travel to the heads, to the labels and then down to the bottom of the case where sat what looked like the wooden salad bowl we had at home, covered with a large, tan, uneven piece of human skin. It was impossibly taut and had wear marks on it where the drummer liked to hit it most.
When I’m still, I can feel the vibration of my heart striking the human drum from the inside. At the hospital where I worship, they also remove my insides and leave the skin, stitched up and silenced. My relics are tossed in the garbage. Someday you will find me in the corner case that is taller than my father. I will silently climb in myself, foot directly in front of foot, all the while still looking for my lost arrowhead. You will press your nose to the glass to read my peeling white tag. It will read ‘Offering.’
With an undergraduate degree in sculpture and a J.D. from Dickinson Law School, Carla Myers followed the most logical path to becoming a writer. This year she retained a significant number of body parts, but not as many as she had hoped. She lives in central Pennsylvania, which is a lot like the ‘Upside Down’ from Stranger Things but darker and with less to do. She recently won the flash-fiction writing contest at The Gateway Review with a story about killing off some of her ancestors. Her work has been accepted/published in Sick Pilgrim/Patheos, Muse/ A Journal and the Same.
You can read more from Carla here.
“Approaching Mystery” is a regular feature on Sick Pilgrim curated by Joanna Penn Cooper in which we post vignettes that dwell on the mystery of the everyday, that hang in an unresolved (and unresolvable) space of wonder and unknowability.