The museum will close in ten minutes. The taxidermy lion stares out proudly from his plexiglass coffin. A little boy in
A few minutes later he stands up, hands on hips, satisfied that the lion is not a threat. A faint whirring sound from beneath the case draws his attention to the lion’s tail, which flicks up with a sudden jerk. The boy squeals and runs crying to his mum, who has been watching. She points to the tail, which flicks up again with the same mechanical motion. But he has been betrayed. She told him the animals couldn’t move. How could he believe anything she said now? He cries harder.
In the next room, two teenagers with school bags are having a contest to see who can hold their hands against a block of ice for the longest. A bust of Sir Douglas Mawson oversees the proceedings. The pre-recorded whistles and howls of the tundra fill the air like a cheering crowd. The girl pulls away first. The boy gloats triumphantly, so she puts her freezing cold hands on his face. He chases her, laughing, past the jars of Arctic parasites. I have a feeling they want to kiss each other.
The museum will close in three minutes. The voices and laughter drift further away as people leave. I go down the stairs into the next room. The sudden stillness catches me off guard. I now notice the whole building smells of a certain kind of death. Not like dried blood or decay, but like the lingering stale air of a long undisturbed room. Except it’s not, hundreds of people walk through here every day. The past just has a certain smell, like a second-hand store; the stagnating natural scent of people from a time before. Each artefact is doused in the smell of its time, and the collective stench catches in my throat.
I’m not alone in here, but the room is somehow quieter with someone else in it. At the end of the day, when all the atmospheric sound effects and interactive panels have been switched off, there are no illusions of life. Already inanimate objects seem to die, suffocated in the glass cases. The remaining few people shuffle through the final room in
Words by Frances Cohen
This piece was originally published in Edition 28