by Patti D. Thomas
A hush fell over the room as they listened to the howl of the wolf. Jasmine sat with her eyes closed, a soft smile on her lips. As soon as the howling ceased, with her eyes still closed, she crossed her hands over her heart. Slowly, she inhaled as she lowered her hands palm-up, fingers spread. She nodded once and every person in the room mirrored her movements.
On the exhale they all rested their hands on their laps. Jasmine opened her eyes. They appeared gold in the candlelight.
“I speak on behalf of the spirit of the Wolf Clan of the Tlingit people. Your words are true. The pole was made to shame the white man, Josiah, so it must be displayed,” she spoke this word emphatically. “It is your task to open a dialogue about Josiah’s actions of harming our land and taking advantage of others. Amends must be made. You must encourage your children to be caretakers, not conquerors, of Mother Earth. You must live honestly and honorably. The American people have sacrificed their dignity and integrity at the altar of greed. Offerings must be made to support efforts to keep our language alive and teach it to others. Those who came from Europe can learn much from Native people.
“The riches that your Mother, the museum, has bestowed on you must be managed with care. Those chosen for your council will be guided by Kah-shu-goon-yah, our creator who made the universe and who lives in everything. Those who do not respect the honor of our artifacts resting in this building will join the woman known as Toni.”
Jasmine seemed to be listening for a moment, then suddenly laughed.
“What’s funny?” Catherine asked, surprised.
“The wolf spirit just said: ‘One last thing before I leave you. You can stop tying your white tongues into knots by struggling to say, ‘Tlingit.’ It’s pronounced ‘Klinkit.’”
As they all laughed, Pete said, “Whew, good to know.”
Ted took a breath and said, “Since we’re all here, there’s something I’ve gotta say. It’s great to have at least a tentative plan about the money. And I love that the wolf spirit says we should do environmental education. But I’m having a problem with this advice coming from a—”he used air quotes“—wolf spirit.”
He forged ahead. “I’m having a really hard time with all this woo-woo shit. It’s always been my mom’s trip, but I’m more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I mean, hidden rooms I get. The whole gold leaf thing I get; it’s not magic, it’s a chemical process. The building shaking? Earthquake, duh? Now we’ve got this pile of bones rattling and displays coming to life? I’m like WTF, man?”
The Carolina parakeets had been perched on the totem pole listening with increasing fury. The ignorance of humans never ceased to astound them. Avery caught Billy Bob’s eye and cocked his head to one side. Billy Bob nodded, and they both started side-stepping across the rafter until they were positioned directly over Ted’s head.
“On the count of three, buddy, let’s show this guy what woo-woo shit looks like. One…two…three!” Ted’s hand flew to his hair and immediately he yanked it away.
“What’s wrong, Ted?” Lindsay asked.
“It’s almost like a bird pooped on me,” he said, holding a candle as high as he could, and peering upward, “But there’s nothing there.”
Billy Bob and Avery switched to visible-mode and flew down to land on each of Ted’s shoulders.
“Oh my God!” he cried, slapping his hands over his eyes.
Around the circle, every other pair of eyes widened.
Sunburst spoke up. “Okay, Ted, try to relax a second. Maybe I can help to explain.” She cleared her throat, then stretched her arm toward Avery. “Hey, want to come over here?” Avery immediately flew over and landed on Sunny’s shoulder, fascinated by the candlelight glinting off her silver lip rings. Without being invited, Billy Bob left Ted’s shoulder and landed on Catherine’s arm. She began gently stroking his head.
“When I was at MIT,” she held up her hand as a collective “Huh?” rippled around the room. “I’ll explain all that later. Anyway, we watched some video of the International Conference on Buddhism and Science. They’ve been having these huge meetings for years in the U.S., India, Japan. Even Mongolia. The Dalai Lama has described himself as half-Buddhist and half-scientist. For over thirty years, he’s had discussions with scientists on neurobiology, cosmology, psychology, and physics. Especially quantum physics.
“If you ever care to study it—” her mouth flew open and she clapped her hand over it, temporarily startling Avery. “Oh! We should do an exhibit on this! I’d love to set it up!”
Catherine and Lindsay exchanged smiles, noting with pleasure Sunny’s use of the term “we.” Already camaraderie was developing within the group.
“Sorry,” Sunny said, making a face, “I’m so passionate about this stuff that I get carried away. I’ll try to keep it short. One example of how it works is that studies have shown that brain scans of monks who have meditated their whole lives look different from a person who’s just started to meditate. Their brains actually start to reorganize themselves during meditation. It’s almost like the brain cells become rearranged. Cool, right?
“And to get to your question about running dinosaur, howling wolves and—” she tipped her head toward Avery and paused to scratch his head. Before she began speaking again, Avery decided to show off. He’d always been proud of the special gifts of the various museum inhabitants. Now he decided to display one of his. He began quickly alternating between visible and invisible modes. Billy Bob became envious of the attention and started doing the same.
As if seated at Wimbledon, heads swiveled back and forth between the birds.
“So, how do they do that, Miss Smarty-Pants?” Carmen asked.
“I haven’t a clue,” Sunny readily admitted.
“Anyway,” Sunny was talking faster now, aware she was monopolizing the meeting, “There’s this theory that there are more than three dimensions. Maybe as many as ten. Someone with extremely advanced knowledge might be able to rearrange their cells, much like in the monks’ brains. That could allow them to become invisible,” she paused dramatically for the birds to demonstrate. They did, taking a bow after they returned to their splendid colored forms.
“Since time is one of those dimensions, it doesn’t exist as we know it. So the dinosaurs aren’t extinct; Lydia never died; and spirits are as ‘real’ as we are.”
Pete stood up and stretched. “Thanks a heap, Sunny. My headache’s back with a vengeance.”
“What is the task at hand? How do we move forward?” Lindsay asked. Catherine reached over and grasped Lindsay’s hand. “Archie. What is your vision for the Walker?”
Archibald sat back and thought a moment. He felt the weight of the question. “First of all, in keeping with the request to make amends, I wish to declare my shame, which is mistreating Carmen years ago when she was a student. You are a brilliant, talented person, Carmen, and I sincerely apologize. I resolve to always be respectful to you and all women. For the time I have left, I desire to be an honorable man.
“As to your question, Lindsay, I’d like to see this museum not only thrive but become a cornerstone of this town.”
“Thank you, Archie, we appreciate that,” Catherine said. She felt bolstered from Lindsay’s grip. It was so good to feel supported. “Anyone else?”
Carmen spoke up. “When the wolf spirit was talking about their creator god, Kah-shu-goon-yah, I remembered that the Tlingits believe that jek, supernatural spirits, can confer power on people, including healing powers. If we want any healing to happen, it would be great to have a board member who can act as a liaison between the museum and the Native community. But once they hear the extent of the damage Josiah did, that might be a tall order.”
Sunny ran her fingers through her lavender dreads, stimulating Avery to start preening them. “Oh, I don’t know. Not that tall. About 5’3”,” she said coyly.
“What do you mean?” Ted wanted to know.
“It’s not something I talk about unless there’s a reason. But both of my grandparents are Tlingit. I’m sure they’d be happy to introduce me at a tribal council meeting.”
To indicate her approval, Margaret began emulating the parakeets by flashing in and out of invisible mode. Charles tried, but he’d been dozing and could only manage one area at a time. One fin. His head. The other fin. He became embarrassed and gave up. Margaret nuzzled against him to let him know he was perfect just the way he was.
“Well,” Catherine beamed, “We’ve covered quite a lot. Let’s see where we are.” She picked up the stack of Walker’s Pearls and held them closer to a candle. “Hmmm. I’m just thinking…” She tapped her finger against her lower lip.
“What is it, sweetheart?” Lindsay’s eyes grew huge. “Oh, I’m sorry. It just slipped out…”
“I think we’re all past that, Lindsay,” Pete said kindly, reaching over and patting her arm. Look at me. I married the ‘right’ woman. I have money and drive a Porsche. And I’ve been miserable for years. Nobody has a formula for happiness,” he glanced at Catherine’s contented smile, “but I have a feeling you two have a good shot at it.”
“What I started to say,” Catherine said, chuckling, “Was that this one: You Never Know what goes on behind Closed Doors” could certainly refer to this room we’re in. But who knows how many more doors there are in this old place?”
The museum rumbled with a sound that resembled the chuckle that Catherine had just produced. With that, Avery and Billy Bob took flight and began fluttering against a wall. A few seconds later, a door appeared, first flickering, then gradually becoming more solid, until it was finally stable. Of its own accord, it swung inward.
Standing in a long, pale blue dress that her daughter had never seen before, stood Marilyn. She sighed deeply and stepped into the room. “Hello, everyone. Apparently, my invitation got lost in the mail.”
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Great chapter. Love seeing all the characters interact for the common good.