Susan, Alvin, and Scott were all writers, which is to say they wrote short stories for a workshop led by a famous author they had never heard of. Susan was the only one of them who been published, in a literary journal of few readers and some renown, the winner of a contest, and thus the object of Scott's affection.
The museum had been open one week. It had two rooms. The first room was small and told about the origins of the short story. "Short stories undoubtedly began as folktales," the plaque in the room read, "much like this." Beside the plaque was a piece of yellowed paper mounted in a see-through plastic frame. On the paper was some writing. It looked like Chinese to Scott, something Asian, he couldn't tell. Susan said it was Japanese. Scott swooned.
The next room was huge, like Scott's high school gym, only with black ceilings and exposed duct work, which made it look like the night sky if all the stars were as large as the moon and they were held up by PVC piping. It felt very romantic.
This room was full of kiosks. Many of the kiosks held sets of cards. The cards said things like, "Wish you could have been here with me at the Museum of Short Stories." Or, "Having a great time at the Museum of Short Stories." Or, "Short stories undoubtedly began as folktales." Other kiosks had key chains. The key chains said, "Museum of Short Stories." Another kiosk had bobble-headed dolls, whose heads were supposed to look like Hemingway but which actually appeared to be a guy Scott recognized from a kids' television show he'd watched in kindergarten. The bobble-headed dolls said aloud, "Museum of Short Stories," if you bobbled them hard enough.
In the room's center was a counter with registers and employees and a giant sign overhead that said, "Thanks for visiting the Museum of Short Stories. Come again!"
Susan bought a card. It was the one with the account of the origins of the short story and across from it a photo of the piece of old paper in framed plastic. After that was when she told Scott she loved Alvin, which was good, because if she'd told him before, the whole visit would have been ruined.
The advantage to crying in the bathroom was that when the tornado sirens sounded and the people began to scream, Scott didn't have to go anywhere. He just sat and waited for the sirens to subside. He wondered, briefly, if he should open the door to let Alvin and Susan in but then thought better of it; he hoped they'd found somewhere safe.
And then he realized that the alarm wasn't for a tornado--it was for someone who had taken a souvenir without paying.
Scott opened the door.
The world was a white sheet.
published 7 November 2012