American LGBTQ+

It was just a museum, an old building with old stuff that no one cared about, sitting right in the middle of town.

It was also right where a supermarket could go. No one went to mom-and-pop stores anymore like Bill’s Grocery or Jack’s Supply. They went to SuperMart because it had everything they needed at a low, low price. The town needed a new shopping center. It didn’t need a museum.

But to Sue, it wasn’t just a museum. It’s where she met Bernice.

Bernice had always been so smart. She was an engineer—and not the kind who worked on trains. She was the kind who worked with numbers and whatever things smart engineers worked with. Sue didn’t understand most of what Bernice did for a living, but she was proud of Bernice just the same.

The two had met in the lobby of the museum on a hot day in the summer of 1951. Sue was on lunch break from her job as an operator for Ma Bell. Unlike Bernice, Sue wasn’t booksmart. Heck, she wasn’t even streetsmart, but she always made sure the gentleman’s calls went to the wife when they wanted to talk to the wife and to the mistress most of the other times.

It had taken Sue months to properly learn the switchboard. Sue was the only one who had applied for the job which was probably the only reason she made it through the first week. But once she got good at plugging wires into the right holes, she was really good. Sue was glad she was good at one thing as it made her feel better when she was around Bernice.

The fact that Sue even met Bernice was a happy accident. In August in Augusta, it’s not uncommon for the temperature to reach triple digits.  It was on such a day that Sue decided to eat her lunch in the lobby of the local museum, the only public building within walking distance. The museum had benches located in the lobby, and more importantly, it was always a cool 72 degrees inside.

On that day, as was normally the case, Sue’s head was in the clouds as she entered the museum, causing her to walk right into Bernice. Sue’s meatball sub crashed to the floor, her apple rolled under a counter, and her coffee spilled all over Bernice’s pristine white shirt.

“I’m sorry,”  Bernice said with a smile. Though not at fault, she apologized anyway.

“Oh, there’s nothing to be sorry about.” Sue blushed, as she did her best to wipe the coffee from Bernice’s shirt. “I’m the fool.” 

“Not at all.” Bernice responded, touching Sue’s arm gently. “It could happen to anyone.”

Sue didn’t know if it was Bernice’s smile or disposition or fate, but she was immediately attracted to the girl in the coffee-stained shirt. Sue’s feelings were, to say the least, confusing.

In 1951, it was unthinkable for a woman to have feelings for another woman, but Sue couldn’t help it. It wasn’t about her physical appearance as Bernice wasn’t a beautiful woman. She was about Sue’s age and a few pounds overweight, but Bernice had lovely cornflower blue eyes. Bernice’s hair, short and auburn, looked like she didn’t care what her hair looked like

Sue immediately noted Bernice’s kindness and gentle humor. Sue saw someone who belonged in the museum, making Sue want to be there as well.

In the matter of what seemed like seconds, Bernice had forgotten she had coffee all over her shirt and began peppering Sue with questions—ones that Sue was ill-equipped to answer.  “How often do you come to the museum? What is your favorite display? Do you think they should add a wing exclusively for modern art?”

The questions came one right after another, as if Bernice didn’t notice Sue wasn’t answering all of them. When Bernice was done with her litany of questions, Sue asked Bernice just one. 

“Will I see you tomorrow?”

So much hung on the answer to those five words. Sue nervously scanned Bernice’s face, looking for any indication that her new friend felt even a little of the attraction that threatened to consume Sue. 

“I sure hope so!” Bernice replied breezily over her shoulder, as she scurried out the front door.

The next day, precisely at the same time, Sue made her way back to the museum. It was still brutally hot outside, but Sue wasn’t after the air conditioning. She was after Bernice. 

Dressed in her prettiest periwinkle summer suit, Sue marched right through the museum’s front doors. She didn’t carry any coffee this time—she wasn’t taking any chances. Once inside, Sue positioned herself so she could see everyone who walked by. Crowds of people entered and exited, perpetually filling the lobby, but Sue patiently waited for just one particular visitor. Then it happened, like clockwork, at the exact time as the day before. Bernice walked briskly through the door.

“Hello again!” Sue said, not even trying to hide her excitement.

“I was hoping you would be here,” Bernice replied, putting her hand on Sue’s arm just as she had the day before. “Would you like to walk with me?”

“I’d love to.” Sue smiled from ear to ear.

Sue learned later that day that Bernice, who normally rushed from one place to another, always slowed down when she spent time in museums.  The two young women spent all of Sue’s lunch hour admiring paintings and sculptures and each other. When the time came to finally part ways, Bernice gave Sue a hug and offered Sue her phone number. 

At the museum, Bernice wandered slowly, studying the exhibits, reading every information card and exhibit posting. The displays contained a cornucopia of knowledge that Bernice would feast on during her lunch hours. Through the maze of hallways, Sue would follow Bernice, not like a puppy, but like an inquisitive student. Sue struggled at times to understand all Bernice explained to her, but hearing the sound of Bernice’s voice brought Sue great comfort. Over time, she would come to understand, enjoy, and love the exhibits just as much as Bernice did.

Bernice was especially fond of new offerings and exhibits. She made a point of getting to know the curator on a first name basis so as to get the scoop when new collections would arrive. She would then circle the days on her calendar in bright red so she was sure to be the first to see all things fresh and exciting.

At the time, there wasn’t an acceptable word in polite society for the type of relationship Sue and Bernice engaged in. They were friends, of this there was no doubt. Yet, as powerful of a word as friend was—it vastly understated their attachment. 

Days at the museum were augmented by lunches and dinners and movies. Eventually, Sue would spend the night at Bernice’s apartment. Soon after, she would spend all of her nights there.

Over the course of years, they became each other's constant companions, yet they never identified themselves to others as anything but friends.

Bernice was the one who stayed up all night in the hospital’s waiting room the night Sue’s appendix burst, and Sue went to every oncology appointment with Bernice. Afterwards, they would make their way to their home away from home, the museum, commenting on the latest acquisitions.

Bernice would give Sue updates on her condition, explaining her prognosis in technical terms that Sue struggled to fully understand. She used words like white blood cell counts and platelets.

“Are you getting any better?” Sue would ask, as the numbers simply jumbled together in her mind.

Bernice would always put a positive spin on her test results, but after decades together, Sue could read her friend’s non-verbal clues.

Bernice wasn’t going to get any better. 

On another hot day in August, a day a lot like that first one in 1951, Bernice lost the battle against her unseen enemy. Sue was alone—alone except for the museum and the memories it held.

After Bernice’s death, Sue would get up each Sunday morning, stop at her favorite coffee shop, and head straight to the museum. The collections changed, but Sue’s affection for both Bernice and their museum did not. As Bernice had done before her, Sue would circle the days on her calendar in red whenever a new exhibition was opening.

Sue knew everyone at the museum and everyone there knew Sue. It wasn’t uncommon for Sue to stop and talk with the curator, the staff, and the security guard, so she wasn’t the least bit flustered the day the latter stopped her as she walked towards the door.

“Sue, I don’t know how to tell you this,” the guard confided to her before taking a deep breath.

“What is it?” Sue asked, flashing her trademark smile. “I’m sure it can’t be that bad.”

“I’m afraid it is,” the guard replied. “They’re closing down the museum, Sue. It’s been sold to a developer.”

“A developer? What in the world for?”

“They’re going to build a SuperMart right on this very spot.”

It was just a museum, an old building with old stuff that no one cared about, but to Sue, it was her connection to Bernice, and the news was more than she could bear. Tears streamed down her face, she was helpless.

Tears are God's way of easing both physical and emotional pain, but they can do precious little to save a museum. After a good long cry, Sue asked herself a question out loud.

“What would Bernice do?”

Bernice had been more than just a smart woman; she was a woman of action. She wouldn’t take this lying down, Sue thought. Sue had no idea how she would do it, but in that moment she decided she would honor her friend by doing all she could to save the museum.

After numerous phone calls, Sue discovered she wasn’t the only one who was upset the museum had been targeted for developers. A small but spirited group of museum supporters had already decided to block the entrance to the museum on the day of demolition, hoping to bring attention to their cause.

Sue woke up early, bought a cup of coffee and met her new friends on the steps that led to her and Bernice’s favorite place. She sat down on those steps directly in front of several bulldozers and angry men in hard hats. 

Sue proudly linked arms with all who were there. She had no idea if their protest would work. She expected it would not, but she felt Bernice was watching and cheering along with their chants. That thought made the effort to save their special place entirely worthwhile.

After several hours of the standoff, supporters brought in refreshments to the growing crowd who hoped to keep the museum and its memories alive in a town that was quickly losing both.

A woman about Sue’s age with close-cropped hair distributed sandwiches and coffee to the museum protesters. When she handed Sue a cup, the woman managed to spill it on Sue’s pants.

“I’m sorry,”  Sue said with a smile. Though not at fault, she apologized anyway. 

“Oh, there’s nothing to be sorry about.” The other woman blushed, as she did her best to wipe the coffee from Sue’s pants. “I’m the fool.”

“Not at all,” Sue replied. “It could happen to anyone.” Without much thought and happy to have found a kindred spirit, Sue began peppering the woman with questions. “When did you join the protest? How long have you been coming to the museum? Do you remember the old curator?” Sue quickly realized she hadn’t given her new friend a chance to answer. "That's a lot of questions, isn't it?"

"It is," agreed the other woman, looking at her boxes of sandwiches. "I’d love to answer them all, but I have to hand these out.”

“Oh,” Sue replied.

“But I do have one question for you," the other woman said.

"What is it?" Sue asked, flashing her trademark smile.

“Would you like to walk with me?”

February 15, 2023 21:28

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Thom With An H
18:35 Feb 18, 2023

This story was perfectly understated. It flowed along so smoothly and ended with hope. One of my favorite Reedsy stories so far.


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Rebecca Miles
17:10 Feb 18, 2023

This story really grew on me. I like the flashback to dating, especially dating not considered appropriate in a time pre apps when, perhaps, it was just a bit more romantic: those chance encounters. The museum and the need to preserve it for what it stands for- the legacy of their love- is moving. I also liked that the ending is not cliched; there is the chance to move on while still preserving the memory of what Bernice meant to her. Good job.


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Helen A Smith
18:25 Feb 20, 2023

Good story in which I became strongly invested in the characters. The museum represented so much to the MC. I loved the fact that the potential demolition galvanised her and she found the strength to act. I really hope the museum was saved.


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Betsy Ellis
18:47 Feb 19, 2023

I feel like I have read this story before but it was good enough for a reread. I think it is well written and approachable for those that may be less comfortable with the idea of two women falling in love. Bringing the story full circle was effective. I enjoyed rereading the story, but I am ready to read some new stories. I saw two errors. One is ending the text in quotation marks with a comma if the character does not finish the usually interrupted thought afterwards. Also "targeted by developers" was instead of "targeted for developers...


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22:02 Feb 18, 2023

Christina, Thank you for this timeless love story. No matter the time or place, "the heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care" (stealing from Emily Dickinson). Loved this: "At the time, there wasn’t an acceptable word in polite society for the type of relationship Sue and Bernice engaged in. They were friends, of this there was no doubt. Yet, as powerful of a word as friend was—it vastly understated their attachment." I read an article about the death of courtship and how couples are yearning for long lunches, conversations ...


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