It has come to my attention that I am old. Perhaps old is the wrong word. Old is what I use to describe the guests with their etchings on paper skin, bee sting rheumatism in blotched ankles. I am old in the way of Petra, of sleeping kings left to bone and dust under sand tombs. I am not old. I am ancient.
Ancient in the ways of Romeo and Juliet of Tristan and Isolde if they had died raisin skinned and bones sharp enough to poke through flesh, if the breathed their last, a quiet rattle to the night, leaving themselves to be found by great grandchildren. It is popular belief, I know from watching the guests murmur behind our brochures with small smiles and flashing humored glances that these loves would never have lasted. Nothing born in youth and fire does. It is all dampened by the grit of life. A year they could have lasted, more if they spread their passions among others.
I could never believe this. My secret, one of many, is that I am a romantic. Love has given me everything and taken everything away. This is why I stay as the curator of the museum.
The museum has always been, though like everything I say this is not exactly true. There was a small time before the museum stood. It was built around an artifact, a shrine to the first thing to end. If you ask people, which I do, what was the first thing to end most will say life. They define all by the scream of life and the last breath but they are young or old. Some say happiness and they are almost right but they are bent over young children and worried of money. It is love I say when so inclined. I watch as the truth of it changes their faces. Of course their mouthes say for it is so,must be, always was, and once known it could never have been anything else.
Adam had a first wife. Those without surprise impress me. The museum was built when they stopped. When he was done, when Lilith walked away from The Garden. It sprang up around Lilith heart. It beat rage, it beat separation and disappointment. It even beat love. It is down the farthest step around the last corridor of the museum. I have seen it once, when I was a girl, though it took three days to reach it. My grandmother took me when the printing press was new, when my heart had broken for the first time, when I did not believe, when it was my turn to take over. No one has seen Lilith’s heart since. I can hear the slow thumps when I get close to the stairs. How she went on without her heart is her secret. She is entitled. I have mine.
I remember a time our brochures were one sheet. A kindly man with sad eyes had the only printing press in the town. He would deliver the stacks with dark ink spattered fingers. When he died his daughter came to me, bringing his and her mother’s wedding rings. For your museum she said. Two circles of gold held deep in my palm. Their story is finished now. There in the corner to the right on a velvet pillow, I always make sure on circle lays over the other. Sometimes hers, sometimes his. It seems only fair. It is not our largest or most beautiful display but it is one of my favorites. Fond memories.
She had smelled like bread and he of tobacco and ink. She had smiled wide and wanton on their wedding day. I sometimes find her face among the guests or a man who smells of ink or pipe tobacco, but they are never together. It saddens me but it gives me something to hope for. I wonder if they could find each other again in another incarnation, if there is anything that strong. An old woman’s fancy and ancient woman’s hope.