Bianca sighed in dismay. The vacuum cleaner was broken again. It was a black and blue monstrosity. When it did work properly, it pulled Bianca every which way whenever she turned it on. Sometimes she wondered what her mother would say if she bought a saddle for the vacuum cleaner and just rode it around the museum. But lately it was giving her problems. This was the second time this month that it refused to work. Bianca doubled-checked to make sure it was plugged into the socket properly, placed a new piece of duct tape on the cord and then tried to turn it on once more…still nothing.
“Stupid piece of crap,” she muttered under her breath. “Oh, God,” she groaned as she picked up the heavy vacuum cleaner and put it back in the utility room. She would have to tell her mother, Rose, about the broken machine after story time in the Princess Room.
The Princess Room was every bit as girly as the name entailed. It was a place that catered to little girls with hopes and dreams of being pretty little princesses. The walls were painted in pale pink. There was a forest painted on one of the walls and an enchanted castle on the opposite wall. There were small chairs and tables so the children could color after hearing a story. There was also a big round rug close to the stage in case the children wanted to sit on the floor. It was a very comfortable set up. The items in that room were more in the Hans Christian Andersen vein. Rose was worried that the items from the Grimm stories would frighten the younger kids. That was why Rose went to great lengths to make a tiny set with the characters from Thumbelina. Inside one of the display cases were items from the story The Little Mermaid. A comb made out of seashells, pearl earrings and bracelet set and pale aqua colored fish scales. In the furthest corner of the Princess Room was a huge Plexiglas case containing a few of the feather mattresses from The Princess and the Pea.
Bianca looked at the clock and sighed. It was nine fifty-five in the morning. She peeked into the room, and there were already ten little girls with their respective moms waiting for Rose the Storyteller. Three times a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, you could count on hearing a different fairy tale in the Princess Room.
Rose walked into the room wearing a pale pink conical hennin, which was a headdress in the shape of a cone that was worn by nobility in the Middle Ages. A long and wispy white veil was sown into the tip of the hennin and delicately trailed behind her. It amused Bianca to no end to see her mother wearing their work “uniform” and still look elegant with a princess hat. Bianca looked down at her own clothes. Their uniform at the museum consisted of khaki pants and a red polo shirt with a name tag pinned above her heart. Rose said it made them look professional. Bianca thought it made them look stupid, but that was her opinion.
“Good morning, everyone!” Rose said.
“Good morning,” all the children and their parents replied in unison.
“How are you on this beautiful summer day?” Rose asked as she took a seat and cradled a book of classic fairy tales against her chest. Bianca noticed how peaceful Rose looked when she held the book close to her body. Almost as if she wanted to absorb all of the words within its pages through osmosis…if that was at all possible she knew Rose would find a way to do it.
Everyone in the crowd replied with different answers.
“Fantastic,” she said with a cheerful smile. “Today, I’m going to read the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This is a personal favorite of mine. I hope you all enjoy it.”
Rose and Bianca Frost ran the only children’s museum in town: The Museum of Magical and Rare Artifacts. It focused mostly on items that came out of fairy tales and other rarely-heard fables from other countries. As far as Bianca knew they were the only museum in the United States that had such items.
Bianca went to the supply closet, grabbed the Windex and a huge roll of paper towels. She figured if she couldn’t clean the carpet, she could at least clean the windows and the glass cases. She didn’t mind doing this menial job. Of course, it wasn’t her favorite thing to do, but she liked helping her mother any way she could. Bianca sprayed the blue cleaner on the glass case that held a small green pea and she listened to her mother’s melodic voice as she read the story of Snow White.
Her mother’s voice was clear and deep as she sat in front of a tin soldier and a ballerina figurine. For people who didn’t know the story about the Steadfast Tin Soldier, there was a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s book of fairy tales on display inside the case open to the story about the brave tin soldier who risked everything for love.
“Once upon a time… in the depth of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the clouds, a queen sat at her palace window, which had an ebony black frame, stitching her husband’s shirts. While she sat thus engaged and looking out at the snow, she pricked her finger and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. Because the red looked so well upon the white, she thought to herself, ‘Had I now but a child as white as this snow, as red as this blood and as black as the wood of this frame!’ Soon afterwards a little daughter was born to her, who was as white as snow, and as red as blood and with hair as black as ebony, and thence she was named Snow White. When the child was born, the mother died…”
Bianca mouthed the words her mother spoke. She knew every word by heart. Her mother had read every fairy tale imaginable to her since the day she was born. Bianca was amazed how quiet the kids were. She shook her head, unable to understand her mother’s ability to calm children down using only the sound of her voice. Anytime Bianca had to step in and take over story time, the children would stand up, talk or whine. Yet the moment Rose returned and resumed storytelling, the children magically stopped and listened to her.
Bianca couldn’t believe people still came to hear Rose tell stories they’d read hundreds of times. Although she had to admit, her mother was an excellent storyteller. It was almost as if nothing else mattered except what she had to say at that moment.
She left the Princess Room and headed to the Snow White Room. She wasn’t really finished cleaning, but she wanted to be alone for a while. She remembered a time when she had loved the museum her family had run for generations. But this was a place that was passed down to the women in the family. Because she didn’t have any brothers or sisters she would eventually inherit the responsibility of managing the museum on her own when her mother passed away.. She was seventeen years old and she had spent every free moment of her life working at the museum. She didn’t know what it was like to call in sick from work or have vacation. She wanted to leave, see the world, meet new people and experience life. Not sit around all day long and tell fairy tales to kids with glazed over eyes. Bianca wanted to go to New York City and study art. She wanted to be an illustrator, a photographer, an artist…anything that required her to use her artistic talents and imagination.
Bianca stopped in front of a bright red apple. She sprayed a bit of Windex on the glass case and wiped it clean in circular motions like her mother taught her when she was ten years old. The apple was carefully kept inside a Plexiglas case. Well lit and on display for the whole world to see. The fruit was a perfect ruby red and it was centuries old. It would never rot. A tiny bite mark revealed the perfect whiteness that the red skin protected. This was the poisoned apple that nearly killed Snow White. Bianca wasn’t sure if it was real or fake. She didn’t know what to believe anymore. It was almost like being agnostic except that the things in the museum had nothing to do with God.
“Excuse me?” a tiny voice spoke.
“Huh?” Bianca said as she looked down.
Standing in front of her was a little girl with bright red hair tied in pigtails.
Bianca smiled her best smile and asked, “Yes? How can I help you?”
“I need to use the potty,” she said as she crossed her legs.
“Follow me, I’ll show you the way.”
Bianca led the little girl through a maze of fairy tale artifacts: a seven foot lock of Rapunzel’s hair. Puss in Boots’ miniscule black leather boots. A feather that belonged to one of the Seven Brothers. A handful of beans from the tale Jack and the Beanstalk. They walked past several other items until they stopped in front of a door with Princess in big glitter-covered letters.
“Here you go. Will you be okay to use the potty by yourself? Do you need your mommy to help you?”
“No, thank you. I’m a big girl,” she replied and then gave her a big gap-toothed smile.
“Okay, I’ll be close by if you need me.”
“Thank you,” she replied and then walked into the bathroom.
Bianca finished cleaning the glass cases in the Snow White Room and then she wandered over to the Wicked Wing to clean and straighten things out. That part of the museum always gave her the creeps. This was where they kept all of the really dangerous artifacts. No one spent much time in that area…with good reason. Most of the time it was filled with boys she knew from her school; daring each other to touch some of the artifacts that weren’t safe behind the Plexiglass. More often than not they would dare each other to touch the Evil Queen’s Magic Mirror.
You couldn’t pay me enough money to touch that thing.
Bianca cleaned the glass case that held the hot iron slippers that Snow White’s stepmother was forced to wear on her stepdaughter’s wedding day.
Yeah, Disney left out that part of the story.
She went to the next display case and stopped in front of the red dancing shoes. The red leather was worn and scuffed, as though they had been to hell and back. It was a Mary Jane-type shoe except that it had two additional straps. Bianca swore that the crimson shoes twitched whenever she looked at them out of the corner of her eye. Every time she reread the story she made a point to stay as far away from the dancing shoes as humanly possible.
Then there was the spinning wheel Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on. And a wall covered with the thorny branches all the princes had to go through to try to rescue Sleeping Beauty, as she waited for one hundred years. Bianca was fairly certain that she saw some bones still embedded in there.
The oven Hansel and Gretel pushed the witch into…that cooked her…alive.
Not real. These things are not real. They’re just really good fakes. They’re NOT real! She said that to herself every time she had to be in the Wicked Wing for any length of time. She had forced her mother to remove the needle in the spinning wheel after she had a horrible vision of her dusting it and accidentally pricking her finger and falling into a hundred year sleep. Bianca shuddered as she walked past it.
I’ve been helping Mom out in the museum for as long as I can remember and it still freaks me out. Of course, it didn’t help matters when her mother decided to put fake cobwebs in the room and keep it as dark as possible. It was obvious to anyone who set foot in the room that these items were not to be tampered with. There were other things in the Wicked Wing that would send a chill down anyone’s spine. Bianca shuddered once more and walked out of the Wicked Wing.
The children were applauding by the time Bianca was finished cleaning the windows and the glass cases in the Snow White Room and the Wicked Wing. That meant that Rose was officially finished with story time. The kids then wandered around the museum with their parents. Child and grownup alike were in awe over the fact that they could see items from their favorite fairy tales. They didn’t seem to care that they weren’t real; it seemed to be enough for them that it was something they could see with their own eyes. © Liz DeJesus 2012
For generations, the Frost family has run the Museum of Magical and Rare Artifacts, handing down guardianship from mother to daughter, always keeping their secrets to “family only.”
Gathered within museum’s walls is a collection dedicated to the Grimm fairy tales and to the rare items the family has acquired: Cinderella’s glass slipper, Snow White’s poisoned apple, the evil queen’s magic mirror, Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted spinning wheel…
Seventeen-year-old Bianca Frost wants none of it, dreaming instead of a career in art or photography or…well, anything except working in the family’s museum. She knows the items in the glass display cases are fakes because, of course, magic doesn’t really exist.
She’s about to find out how wrong she is.
Liz DeJesus was born on the tiny island of Puerto Rico. She is a novelist and a poet. She has been writing for as long as she was capable of holding a pen. She is the author of the novel Nina (Blu Phi'er Publishing, October 2007), The Jackets (Arte Publico Press, March 31st 2011) and First Frost (Musa Publishing, June 2012). Liz is currently working on a new novel.
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