• New short fiction, every week.
    The words you know and love . . .
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  • 17. The Museum of Whatnot

    By Kevin Wilson

    Kevin Wilson’s story comes from his acclaimed new collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. His narrator finds herself lost in a small, tidy universe of junk (“Junk isn’t a synonym for whatnot,” she is warned), until one doctor, six spoons, and a bag of rubber bands conspire to bring her a moment of joy.

    A man himself is junk and all his life he clutters the earth with it . . . he lives in it. He loves it. He worships it. He collects it and stands guard over it. —William Saroyan, 1952


    This is how my day starts: checking the newspaper hats for silverfish. Dusting the mason jars of baby teeth. Realigning the framed labels of apricot jars. My mother calls me every Friday to remind me about my body. “Janey, you’re going to wake up one day, childless, and all you’ll have are those . . . things.” And probably she’s right. Still, I tell her that I’d rather watch over other people’s useless things than have to deal with my own. She hangs up after that.

    I am thirty-one years old. I have a degree in museum science from Dartmouth. I keep to myself. I am the caretaker and sole employee of the Carl Jensen Museum of Whatnot. We, and by we, I mean me, call it the MOW. We sell T-shirts but no one’s buying.

    The MOW is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the acquisition and preservation of the everyday made unique. Things that are ordinarily junk but not junk because someone, somewhere, made it more than that by their collecting, hoarding, and preserving it.

    In 1927, Carl Jensen passed away and, as is the custom when rich people die without heirs, he had decided that the house he’d lived in would be made available to the public. However, Mr. Jensen had no art collection to speak of, no gold-leaf furniture, no snuffboxes from China. What he did have was five hundred and seventy-three framed labels of canned apricots, apricots that none of his closest friends had ever heard him admit a fondness for. He also had a stipulation in his will that his estate be turned into a museum to house not only his own collection of artifacts, but also those of other like-minded people. And that is why I am sitting here in this echoing house, taking care of inanimate objects that someone cared for with more passion and tenderness than I have ever felt about anything, animal, vegetable, or mineral.


    I was just out of grad school, working part-time at a second-rate museum of history at a state university, and living with a man who was writing a novel about bird watchers. Flipping through the pages of Curator Monthly, I found a classified that asked for someone in the field of museum arts who was willing to veer off the beaten path. Up to this point, all I knew were beaten paths, tattooed with footprints, and I had come to the understanding that they were not much fun to travel because so many people were waiting for you at the end, wondering what took you so long. So, three interviews later, conducted with the very aged board of directors, all collectors of knickknackery who were ensuring that their collections would live on, I was hired. I quit my job, packed my very few belongings, left the man and his typewriter and Audubon books, and moved into my apartment on the third floor of the mansion. It was just me and the stuff. I bounced a ball off the steps of the giant staircase. I played hide-and-seek by myself, sitting for hours behind a curtain. I drank a lot of bourbon. After a week, I realized I was going crazy, and decided I’d better put the ball and alcohol away and start dusting.


    Here are the comment cards in the Suggestion Box for the month of April:


    This place is really weird.

    A very curious place. I will recommend this to my friends.

    Nice place but the art is really weird

    I am very disappointed. My stepdaughter cried when she saw the chicken bones exhibit.

    Why am I supposed to care about these things? Tell me that.


    A snack bar would be nice.


    Get a fucking life.

    As for me, I don’t keep anything. The only thing I own outright, not provided by the estate, is a transistor radio that on good days can pick up stations in Eastern Europe. Anytime in my life when I see an accumulation of items, a title of ownership in my name, I feel my insides swell. What am I going to do with all of this? Where am I going to put it? So I get rid of it. And I feel calm again. I am a library patron, a renter without an option to buy, a Salvation Army donator, a spring cleaner of the highest order.

    Why then, why in the world, do I work here, surrounded by all of this? It’s easy enough. This is art, and it is not mine. I am only looking after it while the real owners are away. Most of all, I suppose, although I may not want things, I don’t mind touching them for a while.


    It is Wednesday afternoon, which is why the doctor is here. He is a regular, one of those whom I can count on no matter how few people step inside the museum each week. He comes in every Wednesday during lunch hour, white coat on, stethoscope around his neck. I look up from my library book and he flashes his lifetime membership. I smile, happy to see him, and he nods politely as he walks over to the newer exhibits. He tries to appear interested, paces from piece to piece, but I know what he has come here to see. It is always the same thing. The spoons.

    On the second floor of the museum, there is a small exhibit in the permanent collection consisting of over four hundred spoons. They are simply presented, attached to glass-fronted corkboards like butterflies on display. Although some spoons seem quite old, genuine antiques, they are mostly your standard variety of silverware, all different patterns. They are ordinary enough to make you wonder why someone collected them, but there are so many that you understand that there is a very specific, very important reason that someone did it. But that person is dead, and the spoons are here, and the doctor stands in front of them, curious.

    Though the doctor is old, I cannot help but be interested in him. He has silvery-white hair and a clean, handsome face. He walks confidently through the museum, his back straight. His smile touches something in me that has been dormant for quite some time. Am I a lonely old maid? No. On the road toward becoming a lonely old maid? Maybe so. Still, I am trying. But the doctor is preoccupied and does not notice my advances, however tentative they may be. On Wednesdays from noon until one, he cares about one thing, or one group of things. Those damn spoons.


    When people call to ask about the museum exhibits, I tell them it is post-postmodern. Or premodern. “So,” they say, “like um . . . conceptual art?” Yes, exactly. Exactly. They still don’t come.


    For the opening reception of the museum’s new exhibit, I put out box wine, chessmen cookies, a carrot and celery platter with dip, and blocks of cheese. This is the standard MOW spread. Less would draw attention to the already shabby reception. More would make people think, “All this food . . . for this?” Maybe I’m only imagining this.

    The exhibit consists of the letters of the alphabet cut out of magazines and books and newspapers by a now deceased teenager from Hunstville, Alabama. The boy kept each letter, thousands and thousands of multicolored, multifont G’s for instance, in thick album folders with plastic sleeves. When the time came for him to write something, say a note to a pen pal, he spelled out the text using the cut-out letters, giving each note he wrote a ransom letter quality. That alone would have earned him a place here at the MOW.

    However, the museum places a great deal of emphasis on the emotional resonance of the work. The items being collected are heightened by the space they took up in that person’s life, how much they relied on these objects. Therefore, when the boy spelled out his suicide note with some of the letters from his collection, I don’t think I belong here, the museum had its next exhibit.

    Of course, these are subconscious notions of the board of directors that I have noticed, not written parameters that they follow strictly. Also, it isn’t as if the MOW goes after these pieces. The museum is contacted each time, the pieces donated in good faith that they will be exhibited and taken care of. So, when the parents of the boy contacted the board of directors, wanting only for the letters to be somewhere far from their home, the museum took them. It is an act of goodwill, preserving the things that others cannot or do not want to understand.

    The reception is sparsely attended. The board of directors is here with their patient spouses. There are a few quiet, museum types who pore over the newspaper’s arts section for some excuse to leave their apartments. And there are some college students who are only here for the box wine. The boy’s parents aren’t even here, could not bear to see their son’s obsessive unhappiness displayed. I stay by the food. I’ve seen the exhibit many times over, getting it ready for the show. It was my idea to extend the exhibit the length of the wall, each letter shelved and lit individually. This way, each visitor can flip through the pages of all twenty-six of the folders, from A to Z. At the end of the alphabet is the suicide letter, framed in a simple metal rectangle. A little morbid, yes, but show me a museum that isn’t.

    The board of directors huddles around every album folder, flipping slowly through each page. They comment on the thorough care the boy took, the precision of the cut-out letters, the angle of each positioned B in the folder. This is what they appreciate. They do not question the why, only the how. When they reach the end of the folders, they stare at the suicide note for a few seconds and then head back to the reception table for some more celery sticks.

    What I think about when I stare at the alphabetized folders is how many letters it took, how many D’s and O’s and R’s it took before the boy realized they would never say the things he wanted them to. How many letters before he felt he had enough to spell the simple message he had been thinking of for months. I imagine him looking down at all of his albums of language and knowing not a single bit of it could help. So, he got rid of it the only way he saw fit. And this is where I find myself coming to terms with the piece, the feeling that the objects in your life begin to take over, fill up your life, and there is only so much you can take before you have to give it away, or leave it behind.

    Once everyone has left, the doors locked, the lights dimmed, I walk past each exhibit, making sure everything is accounted for, that nothing has been misplaced. Each room that I walk out of, I flick the light switch and darkness trails behind me. I finish up at the new exhibit. I linger at the suicide note. I don’t think I belong here. I turn off the final light and walk up the stairs to my room, which is the same way I left it, empty.


    On the phone, my mother says, “You don’t care about anything, Janey. That’s no way to live your life.”

    “I care about things, mother, you know I do,” I say. “You’re just being mean.”

    “Well,” she says, “you don’t want anything.”

    “Maybe. I don’t know.”

    “It’s just as bad as not caring about anything, honey,” she tells me. “You care and then you want and then you get and then you . . .”

    “Then what?” I ask.

    “Well, then you keep finding more things you care about and then you want those things and so you get them and your life keeps expanding and getting richer. That’s the way it works.”

    “And what do you want, mother?”

    “You know darn well what I want. I want you to be happy and find someone and get married and have kids and be fulfilled. And I want you to do it before I get too old and start getting senile and can’t enjoy it.”

    “You aren’t giving me much time then.”

    “Get out of that museum,” she says, almost shouting.


    In the basement, searching for an older exhibit that has been in storage for the past year and is scheduled to be rotated into the museum, I find a small Styrofoam box. It is about the size of a shoebox, unlabeled, which is strange for this museum. I cut through the packing tape and inside is a small plastic bag holding six spoons. I immediately think of the doctor and try to imagine what these spoons might mean to him, the look on his face when he sees them. It is not a discovery on par with ancient ruins or dinosaur bones, but it is what one would call a foot in the door, or a twist of fate, or a snowball’s chance in hell. Whatever it is, I am grateful.

    I take out a piece of corkboard and cut it down to hold these six spoons. I attach each one, using a ruler to line them up. After that, I type up small labels and place them beside each new spoon. When this is finished, I place the entire project inside a glass frame and carry the frame upstairs, forgetting all about the old exhibit, understanding, for a brief second, the joy of possessing something, of putting meaning into an object.


    In the mail, I receive a package from my ex-boyfriend. It is a copy of his novel, which is called In Flight, at Rest, and the cover is a painting of a man holding onto the legs of a flying bird. Inside the book, on the title page, is a handwritten note, which reads: Did you ever believe I would finish? Probably not, but I did. Enjoy. Over the weekend, I read the entire book and am pleased to admit that it is good, better than I had expected. For some reason, this admission makes me feel mature, as if I do not begrudge the things I have left behind. I take an X-Acto blade and carefully cut out the title page, with his note, and throw it away. Then I walk three blocks to the library, where I donate the book.


    When the doctor arrives on the following Wednesday, I wave to him and try to explain about the new spoons but I cannot think of what to say, feel afraid for some reason that he won’t care. While he stands patiently, waiting for me to speak, he seems so kind, the way his head tilts slightly as if waiting for a patient to explain a strange symptom, one he has undoubtedly encountered before. I shake my head and look down at the desk, and he continues walking, the metal of his stethoscope knocking faintly against the buttons of his shirt.

    It is not long before he is back at my desk, face to face with me. He opens his mouth, but he doesn’t say anything, his eyes still on me. He motions toward the stairs, gestures for me to come with him, and I step out from behind the counter. We walk, slowly, up the stairs to the far corner of the east room, where there are six more spoons than the week before.

    We stand there, still silent, and I watch him out of the corner of my eye, the amazed way that he regards these spoons, and I feel something light travel up my spine. “I found them,” I finally say. “I just found them in the basement, in an unlabeled box. They must have been misfiled and no one had thought to look.” There is a long pause before he turns to me, points toward the spoons, and says, “This,” another pause, “this is wonderful.” And then he takes my hand, encloses it with both of his own hands, which are as smooth as every doctor’s I have ever known. It seems as if he is about to cry, he is so happy, and I am grateful for mystery of why there are things you can give someone that will bring them joy, that perhaps there is this capability with all things. At just this moment, it makes me want to find something else, something equally wonderful, to keep his hands on mine.

    Back at my desk, I sit in my chair, expecting him to leave now that his hour is up, but he lingers in front of me. “Janey?” he asks, and it takes me a second to realize that he knows this from the nametag that I wear. “Yes, Doctor?” I reply. “Calvin is fine,” he laughs. “It would make me happier if you called me Calvin.” There is a pause and I wait for him to ask his original question, but he stares at me until, finally, I say, “Yes, Calvin?” He finally begins. “This spoon business,” he says, “seems odd, I’m sure. But I am very indebted to you, and it would please me very much if you allowed me to take you to dinner.” I must look startled because before I can agree, he says, “Nothing untoward, I assure you. I would just like the chance to explain the spoon business and I don’t know anyone else that might be remotely interested.” I nod and he smiles back. “Friday?” he asks and I nod again, finding, in the moment, it so easy to be agreeable.


    After work on Friday, as I dress for my dinner with the doctor, my mother makes her weekly call. I tell her that I can’t talk long, that I am having dinner with someone.

    “A date?” she asks.

    “Dinner. Eating.”

    “With whom, may I ask? Are you at least eating with a man?”

    “It’s a man.”

    “And he does something, I’m assuming?”

    “He’s a doctor.”

    “This is good.”

    “You would like him,” I say.

    “I like him so far.”

    “He’s just a little older than you,” and then there is dead silence on the other end of the phone.

    “I’m sure you find that hilarious,” she says. “I’m sure you find that funny enough for the both of us,” and then she hangs up.


    It takes me a second to recognize the doctor, waiting for me at the entrance to the restaurant, without his white coat. He waves and I nod and we go in and sit down at a table. He asks me about the museum, how I ended up there, and I tell him the story: the ad, the interview, the job offer. It is boring even to me, but he listens and smiles. He tells me about himself. He has lived here since birth, has only left for school, and still practices general medicine at the hospital. His wife died six years ago and he has since lived alone. He has two children and three grandchildren. He has no “doctor hobbies” as he calls them, no sailing or mountaineering or fine wine interests. He shoots free throws every afternoon at the YMCA and once a month plays in a pick-up game, which is all his body can take. He likes archival country music and poorly written detective novels. And while none of these things exactly endear him to me or provide a common interest, the fact that there is not one specific thing that occupies his life makes me happy.

    And now, after dinner, coffee on the way, he tells me about the spoons, which he continues to call “the spoon business”. “No matter what I say, I doubt it will make you think it was worth all the time I spent staring at those things,” he tells me, but I tell him that I’d like to try.

    “Well, those spoons belonged to my father. I had no idea that he collected spoons until he died and left his belongings to me. I didn’t know much of my father, actually, because he left my mother when I was very young, five or six years old. I didn’t mind at the time, or now; he was very cruel when I knew him. My mother remarried and I took that man’s name and I didn’t see my father again until ten years ago. He was sick and alone and so my wife and I took him in. Even then, we rarely spoke, and he died less than a year later. Anyway, that’s the background. He didn’t have much for me to inherit but he had specific instructions to donate the spoons to the museum, which makes me think he came back here for the museum and not for me. I started to visit the exhibit every now and again. And eventually, what came to take up most of my interest was that he had so many spoons, and he wasn’t choosy about selecting them, but he did not have a spoon from the set we had when I was a young child. He didn’t take one and it made me inescapably sad for some reason, that he left my mother and me and wouldn’t even take one of our spoons with him. It seemed like he had done it on purpose, just another way to be cruel to us. And then you found those spoons and, of course, one was from the set from my childhood.”

    “And that makes you happy?” I ask him.

    “I don’t know what it makes me feel. It makes me feel . . . complete maybe. There was something that bothered me and now it doesn’t and I can move on. I don’t even feel like he loved us; that’s not it. I just feel like he didn’t hate us enough to disdain one of our spoons. Good God, he was a son of a bitch, but he kept something of ours for his entire life.”

    “Well, I’m glad I found it,” I say.

    “You could not be more glad than I am,” he says.

    He takes out a little box and slides it toward me. “Thank you,” he says. I push the box back toward him. “I can’t take this,” I tell him. “You don’t know what it is yet,” he says, smiling. “I can’t take anything,” I say. “Well,” he asks me, “can you open it?”

    I lift the cover and there is a small, silver barrette. On the edge is a tiny black crow and its eye is made from the tiniest red ruby I have ever seen, like a pinprick of a jewel. “It’s very beautiful,” I tell him. He nudges it closer to me. “I saw that you wear them a lot, and I found it yesterday at the antique shop. But you can’t take it?” he says. I place my hand over the box and look up at him. “Nothing else,” I say. “Not a single thing more,” he says and lifts his hands off the table in surrender.

    Back in my room, I take the box out of my purse and look around at the things that surround me. I try to imagine a spot where I can place the box and every possibility seems to draw too much attention to the object, make the rest of the room seem empty. I take the barrette out of the box and put it in the medicine cabinet, with my other barrettes. When I return to my room, I take the coins that are on top of my dresser and place them in the box. Usefulness is the key, finding ways to make things fit, but there is only so much that a person needs.


    The next morning, just as the museum opens, the doctor appears with a little boy. I am wearing his barrette in my hair. He sees it and I feel a sharp rush of frustration, anticipating his mentioning it, but he does not say a thing. He only nudges the boy toward me and says, “This is my grandson, Henry, and I thought I could show him around.” I tell him that is fine. “Would you care to walk with us?” he asks but I say that I must stay behind the desk in case other visitors arrive. We both smile at this and then I finally give in and lead them into the main room.

    On rare occasions, teachers have brought their class to the museum, so I have some experience with children. I know to steer them away from the pieces that require too much explanation, the kind that makes everyone confused or depressed. Instead, I show Henry a row of jars filled with one man’s lifetime accumulation of his toenail clippings, which is sufficiently gross to be engaging. Then I lead them over to the Cracker Jack display, which holds one man’s entire collection of Cracker Jack toys, nearly eight thousand knickknacks, which was recently on loan to a toy museum in Michigan. The doctor looks at the exhibits with interest, as if this is the first time he has seen them, and perhaps it is, his preoccupation with the spoon business blinding him to the other pieces. While we stand behind the boy, staring at each exhibit, the doctor places his hand on the small of my back and I let him because it is only his hand and I know he will need it soon.

    When we are finished, and it does not take long, the doctor buys Henry a T-shirt, which is the first sale ever and even this makes me happy, getting rid of inventory. The doctor invites me to dinner again tonight, but I decline. “You need time to yourself,” he says, nodding in an understanding manner that seems very much like a doctor. “I do,” I say, though I am embarrassed to admit that I have no idea what that time will be spent doing. Dusting perhaps.


    Big news comes from the board of directors. William Saroyan, the famous writer, donated his works to a university in California. The one stipulation was that they would also oversee his collection of whatnot, which amounts to, among other things, boxes upon boxes of rocks and eleven garbage bags filled with rubber bands. The university, understandably, contacted the museum to learn of our interest. Interest was overwhelming.

    “Just think,” the head of the board of directors tells me, “one of the greatest creative minds of our times, and he collected all this wonderfully mundane bric-a-brac.” To me, it just seems slightly embarrassing, that someone of his talent still had to squirrel away rubber bands. But it is a big deal and will probably result in news coverage and that, reminds the president, “will bring more collectors our way.”

    The shipment will arrive in a week, so it doesn’t give me much time to prepare. I decide to leave the letter albums of the teenage boy in the main room and focus on the room beyond it, which is slightly larger and has better natural light. At night, I draw detailed maps of the room, trying my best to figure out how to creatively display eleven thousand paper clips. It makes me wonder if one’s obsessions are like goldfish, growing only as large as the constraints will allow.

    When Wednesday arrives, I forget about the doctor, and when he shows, I am in the basement, storing exhibits to make room for Saroyan’s collection. When I ascend from the basement, he is waiting, his white coat and stethoscope calming me, reminding me of the time when he was near enough that I could see him but not close enough to accept his gifts. “Did you look at the spoons?” I ask him and he stares up at the ceiling and then leans over my desk. “I did but they did not hold my interest. In fact, I do not really care about the spoons at all anymore and yet, here I am, in the museum, and I can’t quite understand why.” It has been three weeks since our dinner and though I am pleasant when he is around, I am also reticent to engage him, turning down requests for dinner, making myself scarce during his Wednesday visits. The fact is that he is charming and handsome and kind, but my room is very small. I am afraid that the space that I occupy, which has always felt comfortable, will become less so with someone next to me. He does not get the hint.

    “Dinner?” he asks hopefully. I tell him how busy I am with the Saroyan exhibit. “You do find the spoon business distressing, don’t you?” he says. I shake my head. “I’m just,” I say, “really busy.” He looks at me as if he has just discovered something potentially troubling during examinations, a new mole or a rapid loss of motor skills. “I am old enough to have heard that a few times and I know enough to salvage what dignity I have left.” He turns to leave and then stops just before he steps out the door. “Though that dinner invitation is good any day of the week. There, now I’ve gotten rid of all my dignity,” he says, as he walks outside. “I don’t like to hang onto things either.”


    “You seeing the doctor still?” my mother asks me on the phone.

    “No,” I say.

    “Well, that is too bad.”

    “I thought he was too old for your tastes.”

    “He is too old,” she says. “That’s a fact. But he’s a doctor. And he got you to leave that damn museum. He’s okay by me.”

    “Well, I am not seeing him.”

    “You said that already. And if you recall, I said that was too bad.”


    It is nearly closing time the following Wednesday when I realize that the doctor has not shown up. The first thing that I feel when I realize this is disappointment, though I do not want to admit it. While I may decline his dinner invitations, I like the feeling I have when he is on the second floor and I am at my desk and things seem not quite so empty. But he does not show, and I keep trying to figure out a way to display the Saroyan junk. I slipped up on the phone with one of the board members a few days ago and called it just that, “the Saroyan junk.” He coughed softly and then said, “Junk isn’t a synonym for whatnot. A trifle, a curio, perhaps even a gewgaw, but it isn’t junk.” I corrected myself immediately. There was a pause before he asked, “You haven’t been calling it junk to the visitors have you?” When I assured him that I used the correct terminology in front of museum visitors, he sighed and then said, “Because calling it junk could significantly lower someone’s estimation of our knickknacks.”


    A week later, the room is still filled with boxes of rocks, bags of rubber bands, various stages of bent paper clips, and enough aluminum foil to wallpaper the museum. But it is not displayed, merely sitting in the room while I try to figure out, still, how to arrange it in less than two days. I am having great difficulty seeing this as anything other than “Saroyan’s junk” and that is a problem. The other exhibits, as strange as they might be, revealed something more, provided at least some aesthetic reward, however small. As a curator, it is hard to be excited about this exhibit, but I am trying. In the basement, I have built several clear boxes, each one as large as a bathtub, to house all these items. Over each box, I have created small labels that merely read “Rocks” or “Rubber Bands.” It could work, but I still am not happy with it. I am not happy with much of anything at this point, and then the doctor appears, holding his lifetime membership, and though I am still unhappy, it is lessened by a great deal upon seeing him walk into the room, look around, and say, “You’re working so hard that you can’t have dinner with me and this is all you’ve got?”

    I am slightly flustered to see him and start moving a garbage bag of rubber bands toward the center of the room. “You’re wearing the barrette,” he says, and when I touch my hair, I realize that he is right. “You didn’t come last week,” I tell him, “I wondered if you were going to show up today.” He picks up a handful of paper clips and shakes them around in his fist. “Elderly patient of mine slipped in the shower,” he says. “I didn’t think I could tell her that I couldn’t see her because I had to go flirt with some woman who’s been ignoring me. They’d rescind my license.”

    I set up two chairs and we sit beside each other, surrounded by the Saroyan collection, and he listens as I tell him about my problems with the exhibit.

    “It’s stupid,” I say. “I know I should just arrange it and be done with it, but I don’t like it. It’s just junk.”

    “Everything is junk at some point,” he says. “Museums are filled with the junk of previous civilizations, right?”

    “I suppose. Maybe that’s the problem. I just don’t understand it. I don’t know why people keep all of these things. I feel like something is faulty in my makeup.”

    “You still have the barrette.”

    “It’s only been a few weeks,” I tell him. “It could go at any time.”

    “But you could keep it forever. And I could give you something else, and you could keep that. And I could keep giving you things until you had boxes full of all of this stuff.”

    “But why would I keep it all?”

    “Because I gave them to you, since I like you very much. And because you like me. And because it makes you happy to see something and think of me.”

    “You only like me because I found those spoons.”

    “I didn’t always come to this damn place every Wednesday. Those spoons were here before you worked here and I would come maybe once a month. I wouldn’t look forward to it either. I didn’t want to look at those spoons but I had to, and then you were behind the desk and it became a lot easier to show up. And now I wish we could spend more time together and enjoy each other’s company.”

    “I don’t know,” I say. “It’s complicated.”

    He takes a rubber band from the bag and pulls it back as far as he can, aims, and before I can react, the rubber band smacks me in the forehead, a sharp stinging, and my hand instantly goes to the spot where it hit. “Jesus,” I say. “That really hurt.” He just smiles, slowly reaches for another, and when I see his hand moving toward the bag, I run at him, shove both of my hands into the bag, and come up with an overflowing amount of rubber bands. “I think maybe we shouldn’t get carried away with this,” he says, but I am already shooting a rubber band at him. It hits him in the neck and he shouts, “Jesus. That does really—” and then another one hits him in the chin. For the next few minutes, rubber bands shoot across the space and once we are finished, a truce, I look at the floor of the room, rubber bands everywhere, and it looks perfect, the chaos of these mundane objects. I take another handful of rubber bands and toss them across the floor. “Are you okay?” the doctor asks, and I nod and then tell him to cover the floor in rubber bands, every inch of space. “This could work,” I say. “This could be something good.”

    The doctor stays with me all night, arranging rocks and stringing together paper clips. He is calm and quiet as I direct his movements, but always smiling. When morning comes, we sit in the middle of the mess. Rocks are piled in strange pyramids and mounds, alien formations. Rubber bands, pulled tight, wait for the slightest touch to snap and recoil. Thousands of paper clips, melded together into unbroken chains, race back and forth along the walls, and aluminum foil carpets the floor, the ripples from each footstep bending the light into faint shimmers. Looking at all of these things together, it makes sense. There is so much stuff, that it simply has exploded, covered the entire space. There is a point where the things you take on begin to overflow and then, finally, become interesting. You live with it, walk around it, and the randomness of it all becomes part of you. There is, I see, something pleasing about allowing something, however trivial, to fill up your life, to stop and look around at the space you inhabit and say, “I want this.”

    The doctor’s hand rests on the space between my shoulder blades and I lean back against it. He kisses me, slow and tentative, and I let him. So he kisses me again, and I allow that one as well. When his movements suggest another, I accept it without reservation, happy at the prospect that there will be more.

    From the collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. (c) 2009 by Kevin Wilson.

    Tunnel inside the stories . . .

    . . . buy the book . . .

    . . . and say hello to Kevin!


    1. Martha L. Westbrook on April 28, 2009 :

      I loved this story!!!! I’m going to have to get the book and recommend it. I’ve already tweeted the story and now I’ll post it on Facebook. Great little read. Thank you.

    2. Georgia on April 28, 2009 :

      I really enjoyed this gentle, strange and quiet story.

    3. Kerri on May 4, 2009 :

      Going to buy the book.

    4. Jacquelyn Long on November 24, 2010 :

      I really love this book. A great debut!

    5. Anonymous on June 1, 2011 :

      thanks for sharing
      this wonder for post!! nice to read this information!! so very informative!!!
      thanks a lot!! and keep up the good work!!!

    8 Trackbacks

    1. […] read The Museum of Whatnot at Fifty-Two Stories. A man himself is junk and all his life he clutters the earth with it . . . […]

    2. […] Fifty-Two Stories open their doors to ‘The Museum of Whatnot’ – Yesterday reminded me that I’ve still to read last week’s Twainian short story offering over at Fifty-Two Stories, because they’ve served up another short story helping already. This week’s story The Museum of Whatnot comes from acclaimed fiction writer Kevin Wilson, and I’m interested in it for two reasons. Firstly Cal’s intro is intriguing – “[the] narrator finds herself lost in a small, tidy universe of junk (”Junk isn’t a synonym for whatnot,” she is warned), until one doctor, six spoons, and a bag of rubber bands conspire to bring her a moment of joy”. Secondly it’s a story from Wilson’s new collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, which looks a bit special, and is worth buying for the cover alone – scrummy! […]

    3. […] just after 6:30 this morning I logged on to Twitter and saw a post by @JSCarroll recommending a story. I’ll flick through these sort of recommendations quickly and easily, slipping them between […]

    4. […] The Museum of Whatnot by Kevin Wilson Date Read: 03 May 2009 Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which […]

    5. […] “Go, Fight, Win,” Wilson gives us “The Museum of Whatnot,” which encapsulates, in its imagery and concept, the argument for this author’s modes of […]

    6. […] stumbled on this gem at Fifty-Two Stories this morning. Janey is the curator and only employee of the Carl Jensen Museum of Whatnot. The MOW […]

    7. […] The Museum of Whatnot by Kevin Wilson Share this:ShareEmailPrintTwitterStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

    8. […] Kevin Wilson as soon as humanly possible. Here is the title story of his collection, and here are a few more assorted publications of his. Read up, crush on! Share this: This entry was posted in Writer […]

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