He keeps himself and all of his extremities held within the imagined border that’s drawn around him. It’s safe in his box. When he’s still, he’s even able to block out the sounds around him. But today is his social day, and on the noisy admissions line at the museum, he can’t keep anything out. Not the jostling or the coat-to-jacket contact he keeps feeling or the echoed sounds of voices bouncing around the room. Finally, he pays his entrance fees and moves into the great open atrium, contained in which is a gargantuan, mint-condition, army green helicopter.
He remembers, fondly, a friend of his who used to want to be a helicopter pilot. That boy was in his kindergarten class, and since then, they haven’t seen or spoken a word to each other. Still, every time he has the memory, he pictures the boy sitting in the pilot’s seat of a helicopter, staring into the limitless blue sky. He likes that image, thinks of it often.
He moves on. As he walks through the displays, his mind drifts. The museum is his favorite place to go on social days because it’s quiet. There’s things for him to look at and paths to follow, yet his mind remains largely unstimulated, which allows him space to think critically about his life. Today he’s thinking about the protest just outside the doors to the museum. All those people, and they gave up their mornings to convene with strangers in pursuit of a common goal. He admires them; envies, even. Those people are stronger, bolder, braver than him.
When he first saw them, those weren’t his initial thoughts. They were just an obstacle for him to pass to get to his destination. A source of anxiety. In retrospect, the protesters weren’t even rowdy. They were sitting peacefully, holding their signs up but remaining otherwise motionless. His perception of them was warped. He looked at them as though they were vicious dogs frozen in place as they waited to pounce on their prey. As he walked past them to get through the museum doors, he averted his gaze, made himself as small as possible, took the route as far from the group as he could find.
All that shame, and for what reason. Those people weren’t threatening. He was just a coward. Now, the coward stands in front of a decorated Native American headdress. The man who wore this was probably braver than them all, and yet his name isn’t even inscribed on the plaque in front of the glass case. He looks carefully at each of the feathers, the craftsmanship of the piece. The room that the coward stands in is dedicated to Native American history. Hunting skirts, breechcloths, buffalo skin robes, moccasins. The room gives him a cold feeling. So many displaced items, all from different tribes, condensed into one tiny display.
He keeps moving, suddenly experiencing that anxious feeling that he often does. His body drifts from one piece of art to another until his name is suddenly spoken and he isn’t alone anymore.
“Enzo,” a voice calls, and he turns to the sound.
It’s his sister’s voice, the sight of her making his head pound and his hands to sweat. “You didn’t tell me that you were in town.”
He’s been in town for a while. A long while, in fact, and this is exactly what he was afraid of by moving back to the city. Numbly, he forces himself to hug Elia, who tightens the embrace and rocks them both from side to side. He recalls her smelling different, previously of cheap perfume and now of deep, warm scents and vaguely of something sharp and unpleasant.
“Sorry,” he says, attempting to sound genuine, but the word instead comes out muffled and quiet. He clears his throat. “Uh, sorry, Elia. I meant to…to tell you. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I’m here with Martha and Jane.”
Enzo’s scalp jumps back with surprise as he looks past Elia to see her wife and child, Martha standing with her arms protectively placed on Jane’s shoulders. She offers Enzo an amicable smile, and he returns the gesture with a feeble wave. “Jane is a lot older now,” he comments drily, though the idea really does strike him.
“It’s been nearly five years,” Elia responds softly. Soft but firm, driving her point home. She was always good at unspoken language.
Enzo meets her eyes with a nod. “Right. I know.”
“Are you…how are you?” she asks next.
He swallows carefully. His eyes bounce around the room from picture frame to picture frame. Magnificently hued butterfly to holographic beetle to the hard exoskeleton of a scorpion. What exhibit is he in, anyway? “I’m good,” Enzo finally replies, gesturing around him faintly. As if to say, look at me, I’m finally out in the world.
“Taking care of yourself?”
Enzo’s Adam’s apple jumps. He really has been. For a year now, he’s stuck to his schedule, daring himself every week to spend a whole day out of his apartment. Some days he cheats and avoids any place that he knows will have too many people, too many voices. The only thing he did wrong was stopping his therapy. In his defense, his new job won’t cover the cost, and anyway, it was too hard to find a new one after he moved.
“I am,” Enzo says instead of delving into it.
Elia takes a long, slow breath and glances behind her at her family. He catches her gesturing to Martha to come over and when they’re all standing close to each other, Elia says, “Martha, you remember my brother, don’t you?”
In lieu of a hug, Martha holds her hand out for him to shake. Gratefully, he takes it. “Of course. Lorenzo, right? It’s really nice to see you again.” After a beat, she slides her hand from Jane’s shoulder to her back and pushes her forward a bit. “Jane, this is Lorenzo. He’s your uncle.”
Their daughter steps forward and wraps her arms around Enzo’s hips. He lamely pats her on the head, cringing at his reaction. Jane is unfazed as she steps back into Martha’s grasp, already looking past Enzo at the next exhibit, her brain barely registering his presence. He feels embarrassed that she doesn’t know him, embarrassed that Martha had to ask for his name.
He has no identity, it sometimes feels.
Elia chews on her bottom lip as she regards him. “It was really nice to see you, Enzo. Can I call you to get together?”
The word no is poised at his lips. The response would be so fluid, so practiced, that it almost slips out. But Enzo’s mind flashes once again to the protesters outside of the museum, to the brave chief who might have once worn that headdress, and he says, “Yeah, sure.”
A smile dimples Elia’s cheeks. He watches the family as they walk away, towards the butterfly room, and briefly imagines one landing on Jane’s head, making her giggle and smile. Her glee, real or imagines, makes him smile, too.
Enzo heads for the exit. He’s finished with the museum for today. Perhaps he’ll take a walk in the park or have a quiet cup of coffee in the bookstore.
On the steps, he’s once again confronted with the scene of the protestors. This time, the word “protest” doesn’t seem quite right. It’s really just a sit-in, a peaceful demonstration. One of the signs is pointed towards him, reading, RETURN THE STOLEN PROPERTY. After surveying the scene a bit longer, Enzo realizes that their protesting is about the Native American exhibit that he was in before. Biting his lip, he starts down the stairs, intending to walk past them.
He doesn’t quite make it that far. The entire day seems to have culminated to this moment, a simple choice that Enzo would have made quickly only a few hours ago.
Be brave, he whispers to himself, and so he does.
“Can I join you guys?” he whispers to a protestor, who smiles at him, not hearing. He repeats himself, louder and surer this time, and the protestor pats the ground next to them.