We burnt down the gift shop, but they built it again. After that, when we got too near, we could hear it breathing, see its walls expand and contract.
In the gift shop we found a book of little-known facts about Einstein, such as: near the end of his life he began to wear an infinite number of wristwatches, each stopped at a different time. Such as: he spent hours every morning on his hair to achieve exactly the effect he wanted, then, when he was satisfied, he would scruff it up into the mess we recognize from his pictures. “The important thing,” someone once told me, “is to show time who’s boss.”
“Will you love me when my breasts sag down to my thighs?” Janie asks me. “Will you love me when you have to press back the wrinkled skin to see my eyes? Will you love me when my teeth are sparse and translucent? When my knees no longer bend? When my mouth is brown and creased? When the fire is exhausted from my loins?”
The gift shop is attached to a museum containing a number of impossible objects. These include a dictionary that defines each word by a list of things the word is not, a vacuum cleaner that powers itself entirely through its own suction, and a young girl, alive, growing from the trunk of a tree. In the gift shop each of these is reproduced in miniature. Janie, her back to the salesclerk, slips a lighter shaped like the museum into her pocket, a gift for me.
A couple in the far corner of the gift shop is having a quiet but intense conversation. “Are those going to be the last words you speak to me? Think carefully. Are those going to be the words you remember?” And, “Two things. One, you’re not getting my daughter. Two, I don’t want you even touching my daughter.” Thanks to the gift shop’s perfectly engineered acoustics, everyone present can hear this.
Janie keeps trying to ask the salesclerk for things the gift shop might not have. “Hairbrushes?” The salesclerk produces a hairbrush. “Prescription eyeglasses?” He sits her down in a chair to test her vision, then presents her with a selection of frames. “Plaster molds of human teeth?” Etc. He never smiles at any of her requests, only rushes to present her with whatever she’s asked for.
I pick a fight with the salesclerk. “Where do you get off,” I say. And, “You clearly think you can just cozy in, huh, Bub? Like it’s as easy as that?” I never stand a chance. My lip’s split, my eye’s swelling before I can get away from him. Janie takes my hand and we race through the door. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, smiling.
We escape to the courtyard behind the gift shop. Janie presses her sooty hands onto my white button-down shirt. We pass matches back and forth between our teeth. Security guards come to pull us apart. “We were young once, we understand,” says one, cracking our heads together, spitting in our eyes, dragging us by the necks to the open trunk of their armored security car.