The museum is deserted.
The museum never closes, but it is deserted. The evening sun lengthens the shadows, stretching the dark patches left by the little information stands until they are the same height as the buildings themselves.
A janitor leaves one building, pulling a cart, headphones on, tunelessly humming every second bar of the song pumping through the tiny speakers.
Inside the next building, the back wall is made of clear plastic, ancient pipes carefully labelled behind it. It is someone else’s job to take care of those, to carefully take them apart, to check that the protective resin is still proof against the rust, and then put them back exactly as they were, ready for the janitor to come past and scrub down all the glass. A janitor in a busy museum might have scrubbed off fingerprints, the little marks left where people pointed things out to each other, and children pressed their faces against the glass, and people leaned back against the exhibits while waiting for a late companion. But here, the janitor’s scrubbing removes only dust and whatever little pieces of grime that might get in when the janitor opens the door to clean the exhibits.
The job takes a long time, but is not hard. The wood fittings are oiled, the metal ones polished. The range of bottles along the back wall are dusted off and placed back, making sure that the antique labels are facing forward, so they could be easily seen if a guest should happen to wander past. The plaques are wiped down, showing the terse descriptions of the things on the bar.
“Cocktail shaker. Boston style. Early 21st Century.”
“Photograph of a 20th Century film star. Mass produced. Black and white. Film star died 1962. Photograph likely printed 2008.”
“Certificates of the venue’s license to serve alcohol. Obtained in early 21st Century. Restored.”
Next door, the building is white, lit by the fluorescent lights so popular at the time. The lights make it painful, almost, after the moodily-lit bar. They reflect off the white walls, the white ceiling, everything except the little black tiles on the floor, little islands in the sea of white. The janitor cleans down the benches, the stand-alone metal machines with displays and trays next to them. Then, the interior proper, shelves upon shelves upon shelves full of plastic models of things, all labeled. A two-pack of leeks. Potatoes, loose or by the bag. Kale, bunch. Further back in the shelves, the plastic models are of cardboard and plastic containers. Cereal. Eggs. Instant coffee. Detergent, for laundry. Each shelf has a little button next to it that will remotely activate a pair of headphones and play a guided tour as a guest walks past, detailing all the necessities of the household of the time.
This is the last building the janitor needs to visit. This is the end of the day shift. Soon, another janitor will arrive to pick up where this one left off, but in between them, the museum is silent.
The museum stretches for miles. Next to the supermarket there is a health food store, on the other side of the bar, a Tex-mex restaurant. The museum contains stores, movie theatres, blocks of apartments, warehouses and factories, all carefully preserved, labeled, and categorised. In places, the walls are peeled back so that the curious can see the inner workings of these places: electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation batts, the cross-section of solid brick or thin-as-a whisper plywood and plaster. It takes an army of janitors and archivists and curators to preserve the whole museum. It is a marvel of engineering and planning and human effort.
The museum never closes.
But it is always deserted.