The Chair has its own room. It does not sit in a glass case. It is not behind ropes. There is only a sign saying what it is, and an Illustration.
And also a guard. When the guard is gone, as he is now, you'd think someone might climb onto The Chair. A teenager, say. There are many teenagers who come and go in The Museum on a class trip, and one of them might. A Boy, say. A Boy wanting to impress the other boys or else a girl, a pretty girl. He might climb on and put his head here, place his hands there, like The Boy in the Illustration. Ha ha.
But no one climbs on The Chair. The Boys' jokes, the same tiresome jokes in all the years, will not go so far. The Pretty Girls finger their long falls of hair, thinking how tiresome the jokes are, and the Boys, and the Chair most of all. Boring tiresome wretched Chair. For them, there are other things to look at in The Museum, pretty things, pretty dolls and carved eggs, a little collection of flutes made of bone.
Once in a while The Chair will follow a Boy home. A quiet boy, slender and beautiful, a Boy who did not make jokes. Maybe this Boy. Maybe this Quiet Boy with bird-like limbs and jet-black eyes who lives alone with his Father in a high-rise apartment just west of Paris, an apartment in the sky, so many stairs to climb when the elevator is broken, so many floors to think about the things he saw that day in The Museum --
NOTABLE ITEMS OF THE PERMANENT COLLECTION:
The fin-de-siecle expedition of Jean-Baptiste Derfloret would surely be considered one of the most ambitious and curious anthropological endeavors of the eighteenth century were it not subsequently erased from record by the very French government which had been its sponsor. But the methodologies of M. Derfloret could not, even in that age of cruel enlightenment, be sanctioned if France harbored hopes of maintaining maritime relations with the Dutch and her clutch of colonies. So Mother France sealed all records of the expedition, a fetus aborted instead of rejoiced.
Why? What had Jean-Baptiste Derfloret committed in the summer months of 1795 to warrant such retraction?
M. Derfloret first became fascinated with the possible morphologies of the human body as a young student at L'ecole L________. The broadening wings of colonialism had enabled disciples of anthropology to boldly penetrate the unknown jungles and saharas of the newly enlightened world to chronicle the curious range of human phenotype. Reports of such specimens as the chameleon men of the Sudans and conjoined triplets of Pusan fueled the burgeoning study of comparative anatomy.
One report in particular, obscure and unsubstantiated, caught young M. Derfloret's eye.
Dutch accounts related local myths of a tribe high on the unreachable plateaus of Lassaque, a large island far off the Thai peninsula's west coast, whose boys were born with two tongues. One tongue properly in the mouth. The other tongue hidden, like the stamen of budded tulips, deep within the nether orifice of the anus. It was related that this surplus tongue was functional, aided by the ordinary muscles to lick and push and curl and communicate with subtlety both aroma and taste, but detached itself like an infant's navel once the boy reached puberty, the gods' reminder, according to local legends, that sensuality belonged to youth, to those still close to the act of creation.
"The inhabitants of Lassaque," M. Derloret noted in an early paper, "originated in the Malay race of the Thai peninsula that spread across the fingers of islands to New Zealand and as far north as the Philippines with the advent of early seafaring technologies. The Malay stock is dark and short and millennia of life in the harsh plateaus and jungles of that region had tempered a uniform and admirable leanness into the race, the males sparse of hair on the torso, extremities and face, yet facially the Malay expression remains wondrous and childlike, particularly when encountering the simple curiosities of civilization which we accept as merely mundane."
By the winter of 1794, M. Derfloret had enlisted the help of his good friend, François Dulac, an admired hunter with a background in biological studies, and together the two men began seeking support for an expedition into Lassaque. Both men were bachelors well into their thirties, men who had foregone the carnal and domestic for the cloisters of knowledge. The men began designing, through several meticulous drafts, an elaborate instrument known simply as The Chair, which would serve as the centerpiece of their experiments.
So it was in Spring of 1795 that the Dutch Embassy approved an expedition into Lassaque. Funded generously for a ten-month exploration by both the Museum of Natural History and the Council of Universities, a hearty crew of twelve men were assembled from the laboring class, young men who would carry the expedition's burdensome camp. In the southern Thai peninsula, the effort was strengthened by supplies, rations, and the addition of six local men who would serve as guides and interpreters. On August 16, 1795, the expedition of twenty men set sail for the island of Lassaque on the Black Lucy, a fleet ship of the Dutch East Trading Company.
The Boy's apartment is on the 47th Floor and the elevator, on this day as on so many others, is broken. Preposterous that a building this tall only has one elevator. He must climb the narrow, concrete stairwell, two flights of stairs per floor, ninety-four flights in all, nearly a thousand steps before he reaches home.
The Boy sits on the shabby couch in the lobby to rest his legs before he attempts the climb. He knows by now that the key to making the climb is consistency: you can't burn your reserves on the first few floors. You must begin the first floors with the same steady pace as you will use the rest of the floors. Even if you are very energetic and eager, you must begin with this steady pace.
A pair of housewives who live on a lower floor -- 5th floor -- rush past him. That is OK. They have a short journey, nothing to save their energy for. On the 7th floor, he is assailed by a heavy young man who tears down the stairs, crying he must catch a cab waiting at the curb. When The Boy reaches the landing of the 10th floor, he is met by an old woman with a sun hat, resting, before she continues her climb. They climb together for a while and he lends her an arm, but he refuses to slow down or be moved by pity, she must match his pace, and when she reaches her floor -- 15th floor -- she pats him on the head and sends him on his way.
Now comes the three dark floors whose lights do not work and, it seems, have never been repaired: floors 19, 20 and 21. This is the only exception to his pace: for these three floors, six flights and sixty steps, he darts, he runs, two, even three steps at a time, until he is in the light again. Whatever it is that lurks or doesn't lurk in that dark span -- he will simply have to outrun it.
Now there is the eventless stretch of stairs, twenty-five floors, fifty flights, to his apartment. There are no more people to encounter, either on their way up or down, no more distractions. The trick is to let your mind seize on something instead of the task at hand. The steady thumps of The Boy's boots on the steps lapse into a flowing rhythm, and he begins to see again all the things he saw on the museum trip that afternoon. The collection of puppets and marionettes, the little jeweled eggs and instruments made of bone, the flutes still holding their femur shape. And, of course, the strange chair. He can see the richness of the wood, deep and burnished, its beautifully lathed legs. The white linen padding, the double-stitched leather straps. A network of brass hinges. Beautiful, beautiful. He can see the strange little ink and paper Illustration on the wall, showing how a body would have to be positioned to be clasped in its strange shelves and straps -- to be embraced. It is quite clearly an embrace. The body, as illustrated, was nothing more than a few clean, knowing strokes of ink. But The Chair itself, seen weaving through and over the body, was depicted in fine detail. Whoever had drawn it had taken care to find the texture of the wood, the suppleness of material, its lean, graceful strength.
The Illustration, The Boy remembers, pre-dated the building of The Chair. The artist -- the architect -- must have drawn from a picture in his mind. A vision. And the building of it must have been exacting, to conform so completely to the design. Standing there in the Museum, The Boy had looked from the Illustration to The Chair, back and forth, comparing, until it seemed that a faint body seemed to float on the surface of The Chair --
At last he is home, he has reached his floor, and he is so tired that all he wants to do is sleep. He is even too tired to pour himself a glass of milk or make himself a snack. There is no one home. His Father will not be home for three or four more hours, and perhaps not even then. But right now he can only think of kicking off his shoes and falling on his bed and going to sleep.
The first boy, this lone boy, had been found early at dawn on the outskirts of his village, urinating sleepily onto the clay. He was nude, his body as yet unmarked, his genitals a small perfect bud, not yet manipulated and pierced, as is the tradition of his tribe for males at the advent of puberty. Not yet, not for another year, perhaps two. The right age. The rest of his village had not yet woken.
He is asleep, but it is not yet time. The Chair will wait. The Boy is tired, he has climbed all those stairs, and he will not go without dreams. In a little while his eyes will begin to dart beneath their lids --
When a boy begins to dream, his sleeping brain opens a little, a little parting of the muscles, and begin to moisten. It is this opening that The Chair waits for, patiently, disguised as a dream.
When it has been safely delivered inside The Boy's sleeping mind, The Chair will unfurl the flat dry landscape, the low bushes and low sprawling trees.
"Jean-Marie," it will coo, so lightly at first it is merely air. "Jean-Marie -- "
Derfloret and his men (laying invisible along the ground, amidst the sparse shrubbery) had hoped to take the boy swiftly and soundlessly -- a bag over the head -- but suddenly the boy startled (who can say why?) and sprinted away, long-limbed as a fawn, back toward the stand of Malay houses. Two of Derfloret's men appeared in his path and forced him in the opposite direction, deeper into the outskirts, into the flatbushes, toward the river, where the screams (when they started in earnest) could not reach the sleeping village.
When the boy reached the river, he began to ran along the shore. The sky had paled now into a flat green, and heat was already bearing down its billowing load. Though he was light-footed and his stamina incredible, after a quarter hour the boy paused and panted and one of Derfloret's men rushed up and slipped a bag over the young angular head, then released him. The boy, now blind, ran queerly along and fell to his knees. Derfloret and his men watched him struggle until he tired, at which point he merely folded onto the ground like a length of sash. The bag, it must be noted, was laced with ether.
It was September 26, the first week of the Malay summer. The river had seen its winter swell and its brief tributaries had retreated through the spring, leaving small pools that might or might not see the next rain. The heat bent the flat plains into doughy waves. The boy seemed to undulate as he lay on the clay.
"Mama!" cries The Boy.
She floats in the air, her white dress billowing, floating toward him.
She used to appear in his dreams often, possibly all the time: she holds him, she sings, she wears a new blouse and he would dream of it. But those dreams are over now. Yet now here she is, transformed, so magically changed, floating and alighting like this in a billow of white, a Goddess.
"Mama! Mama! How beautiful you are!"
He runs into the billows of fabric and her pale receiving arms fasten around his waist. She smells of nothing. When he kisses her face, his mouth is met by a wall of cool clay. He pushes against the bulges and billows of her dress, coming up all around him now, but he finds that the fabric is bellied with a wind that pushes back at him with the knowing suppleness of flesh. He struggles but it is useless, the fabric swallows him, everything is white. He tries to part the fabric to find his Mama but she is not there, she is nowhere.
Her arms, her arms around his waist --
But when he investigates he finds -- not her familiar arms, her fingers clasping his waist -- but a smooth wide band of leather, meeting in a buckle at the small of his back.
The boy was tied and carried to Derfloret's tent, upriver, where a large case awaited him. It was larger than the suitcases we are used to today, but not so large as a steamer case, nor covered with leather or fabric as cases of its day commonly were. Its wood surfaces were richly stained: the grains rippled like horsehide deep beneath the varnish.
Derfloret now began to assemble the wooden case: legs came out of it, so that it was momentarily a table. The lid folded back like a throat and stopped on its hinge, perfectly horizontal to the case; then a smaller leaf folded back from the lid, also perfectly horizontal. This smaller leaf had a scoop at its front, and was padded with a white fabric. The fabric had a light brocade swirling within it, cream on white.
From the front of the case, Derfloret pulled out another dropleaf. This one folded forward on its hinge and then stopped stiffly at a decline. In profile, the thing looked like a modern recliner. Now it was no longer a case.
On closer look, one can see that the surfaces of the dropleaves were sanded to fit the gentle planes of a reclining human body. There was a narrow groove like a neck broadening into the light paddocks of a chest, a pair of thighs. Between the thighs, an unobscene indentation for the cup of the crotch. For it was made specifically to accommodate a male body resting on its chest, not its back.
Buckled straps dripped from the assembled contraption. These were leather, and were pliant and soft like lays of hair. They have been soaked with kerosene for a month to achieve this softness. The buckles were a dull brass, and they matched the hinges. The straps would fasten over the neck, the thighs, and twice over the back: once below the armpits and another at the small of the back. The arms would be strapped down close to the torso; a pair of smaller cuffs would hold the wrists.
The boy stayed as he was arranged: chest and stomach over the scaffold, straps fastened across the back, just beneath the arms and then again at the small of the back. Stripped, the pelvis laid onto the declining dropleaf so that the buttocks raised slightly.
Derfloret and Dulac waved the men outside. Derfloret uncorked a small porcelain bottle and wet his right index finger with the oil. Dulac sat nearby with a pad of paper and a quill and ink. The burlap bag was not removed from the boy's head.
"Be still," Derfloret told the boy, and put a palm on the small of the boy's back. He slid a lubricated finger down the cleave of the boy's buttocks. There was some fine hair there and the coloring of the buttocks deepened into the boy's perfect, tiny testicles. The opening of the anus was a darker color still. Derfloret rubbed his finger about the anus. The boy squirmed and Derfloret put pressure down upon the boy's back, pressing his lower abdomen down onto a fine, short needle in the padding of the dropleaf. Once the needle was in the skin, any movement would bring the painful lesson that the subject must keep his pelvis still.
A small knob of flesh guarded the entrance of the anus, stiffening as Derfloret rubbed. Derfloret reapplied the oil to his finger, and then he entered. The boy's body jerked at this and then cried out; the ether was wearing off. The anus was tight, and Dulac noted accordingly. Derfloret pushed in one knuckle, then another, and another, until the whole of the finger was inside. He tried to wiggle his finger but the tunnel of flesh allowed for little movement. He rotated his fingers this way and that, noting the curvature of the tunnel. With his palm up, he could bend the tip of his finger a surprising degree.
Then he lost feeling in the tip of his finger. He could not account for the front inch of so of his digit. It was not a numbness, he realized, but a warmth. A sudden warmth that enveloped his probing finger. Now the warmth was moving, side to side, and then down, first gently, as if curiously, and then more muscularly.
Derfloret wiggled his finger and the tongue responded. If he pushed, it pushed back. If he curled his finger one way, the tongue strained the other way.
"Ask him," Derfloret ordered his interpreter.
The interpreter asked the boy what he tasted.
The boy uttered a syllable softly. The interpreter asked again, and the boy responded louder.
"What? What did he say?" Derfloret asked excitedly.
"Sweet, the boy had said. Your finger tastes sweet."
"Aha!" Derfloret exclaimed. The scented lubricant was flavored with sugar.
A dark circle spread over the canvas beneath the scaffold. The boy had urinated. Derfloret made a note to himself to put a basin there the next time.
"Hush," coos The Chair. "Hush. Please. Don't fight. It does not have to be like this. There is more I must show you."
"Then loosen me," says The Boy. "A little. Please. The straps are so tight -- "
"But you must keep your eyes open. You must not look away."
Derfloret unstrapped the boy and gave him a sip of water, calmed his shaking. Ushering the boy out of the tent, Derfloret saw that the village had assembled, prostrate, their foreheads against the sandy ground, encircling a small display of offerings on a woven mat: elaborately carved stones, clay jugs in beautiful organic shapes, metals fashioned into bracelets and headdresses, gleaming variously in the sun.
Derfloret's men strutted among the kneeling crowd, nudging each other and laughing. One of them lifted a village woman's hair from the ground and twisted it. "We're rich!" another shouted.
"We'll take none of it," Derfloret told his men. The villagers looked up at this and the boy ran toward them. One of the women wrapped a shawl over the boy's shoulders and one by one the villagers stood, collected their humble wealth, and returned to the village.
It went on like this for the better part of a month. The capturing of another boy, and another, and another. The oil alternately sweet, salty, spicy. Each boy responding accordingly.
One morning one of Derfloret's men was found slain. A blade across the throat. The other men said he had gone out to urinate in the night, staggered out of the tent drunk in the half-moon. His nude body was found behind a leafy bush on the shore of the nearby Svali, his long hair undone, marks carved into his chest and thighs, flesh spilling from the slits like dough. A heavy stone on his stomach held him against the soil.
In his journal, Derfloret wrote, "The men are frightened bad. For them, this is the first real realization that they are in a foreign land, that they are far away from civilization, from civility. Half the men are begging to move camp. The other half swears to demolish the village and slaughter its inhabitants. The slain man, Destoine, was not one of the troublemakers, though certainly one of the drinkers. A brooding drunk, quiet with his drink. A young man, after all, enlisted in the search for adventure as all young men have in their blood the desire to taste. Believe he has a young bride at home, possibly children. Dulac does not believe we should stay camped here. I believe there are more children left in the village and worth exploring."
"The hunger was not mine. His, all his."
"But it was you, wasn't it? You did that. You killed Destoine."
"No. The villagers killed Destoine. I merely planted the dream. I led him out of camp."
"And the villagers?"
"The Lassaquens are a peaceful people. They would have never killed, they would have never thought of murder as revenge. But it was in them. I asked them only to give a warning. I gave them only one man. To be a warning."
Derfloret did not heed the warning.
The next night, four men were taken -- or lured, as Derfloret suspected, while the camp slept on -- and slain, their bodies draped, in a neat row, on the limb of a nearby tree.
One of the men was François Dulac. He had been lured, he had answered some not unagreeable call and entered into the darkness, out of the safety of the tent he shared with Derfloret. Stolen, while Derfloret slept.
Dulac, his dear friend!
The two men had been friends since boyhood, they had dreamed of being explorers, of bearing witness to sights in the world more bizarre and sublime than anything the imagination can offer. And now that they had realized their dream, they spent their nights in the tent on their opposite cots, talking in a hushed excitement about the great discovery. They would surely become the toast of Paris upon their return to France. Dulac proposed that they take an infant boy back to the Continent to raise as proof of their discovery. Derfloret did not agree, but he was touched by the fervor of his friend. Dulac's expertise in tracking animals was invaluable in the capture of the subjects.
Upon the discovery of the bodies, all six local men who had joined the expedition at the Thai peninsula deserted the camp. Derfloret ordered the bodies removed from the tree and given proper burials. Then the men, over Derfloret's commands, entered the village and killed indiscriminately: men, women, children, even animals, pet monkeys and livestock. The men pillaged food and supplies and set the village aflame. They brought two or three of the women back to camp and raped them, then slaughtered them and set their bodies adrift in the river.
"Why show me any of this?"
"So you would understand what had to happen next."
"But why me?"
"Because you are curious, you want to know."
"Is that what you think?"
"Well. Don't you?"
With his remaining men -- now numbering eight, and no interpreters among them -- Derfloret packed up camp and began the journey north, following the course of the river. In three days' hike they would reach another village which had housed the expedition a month before, and there they might be able to trade for food and supplies, seek hospitality, perhaps ask for guides to help them navigate the weeks-long trek to the coast where they would be met by Dutch ships. However, arriving at their hoped-for refuge, Derfloret discovered, hanging on the eaves of the empty huts, the clothing and personal effects of Lucien Destoine, the first man to be lost, whose body had been splayed and held down by stone at the river's shore. Something was seen glinting on a bush: Dulac's gold pocket watch. There would be no refuge, no hospitality. Derfloret's men set fire to the village and moved north.
On December 19, 1795, four months after sailing from the peninsula on The Black Lucy, three men turned up at the offices of the Dutch East Trading Company on the northern Lassaque port of Maslakmai claiming to be sole survivors of the French expedition. On December 22, the three men joined The Nora Star on her tour of the Mediterranean, to be returned to French shores on February 26 of 1796.
But it was too late: two of the three French men, suffering from a wasting disease, died even before reaching the open waters of the Pacific, their emaciated bodies cast into sea for fear of contagion. The sole survivor of the expedition, a young blacksmith's son named Antoine Lustaire, recounted the expedition and its demise in a series of hearings in the fall of 1797.
The original affidavit of Lustaire's testimony was destroyed by a fire in the National Archives in 1839. A survey of various minor archives yielded no extant copies. The only account of the expedition that remains, the account which has become the subject of much underground lore, is an oral history taken at M. Lustaire's deathbed in 1846 by his son.
According to the memoirs of Jean-Luc Lustaire, most of the expedition perished, one after another, of a mysterious wasting disease as they struggled north through the inhospitable wilderness. Symptoms described as horrific loss of weight, bleached skin over bone, were accompanied by hallucinations of an ecstatic nature. The men died believing they were talking to God. Derfloret himself died just before reaching the coast, and was buried, the memoir noted, in a cave on the edge of the Blue Jungle, at the mouth of the Svali River.
"I did not hurt you. I only wanted to visit you."
"That is not entirely true," says The Boy. "You showed me things. You showed me all those boys and what was done to them, and the killings and rapes, all those bodies, you showed me and now I can never forget what I have seen."
"No," says The Chair. "You will wake, and you will remember nothing."
"I want to wake then."
"Very well. But perhaps another time -- "
"No," says The Boy. "I will not be visited again. Do you understand?"
"Jean-Marie -- "
The Boy grows bolder. "I'm sorry," he tells The Chair. "I cannot do this for you. I cannot be your confessor."
"But I do not ask your forgiveness!" The Chair cries.
"Of course you do. You think your tenderness will sway me. You think I will even invite you back."
"How will you stop me?" says The Chair, its voice growing shrill.
"Remember," says The Boy. "The dream is mine as it is yours."
"Ah," thinks The Chair. "So he understands!"
"There is something I must ask you then," says The Chair. "A favor. So far no one has agreed, but I must ask. I need -- I ask that you leave your dreaming self behind."
"And what -- that I should never wake!" exclaims The Boy.
"No. You will wake, and you will not remember this dream. I promise you that. But perhaps you may -- You see, I am tired," says The Chair. "You cannot imagine how tired I am. Please. Allow me to explain -- "
Imagine what it is like, to wake for the first time --
A stockyard, a hand choosing me -- I was only wood then. And then I was a bolt of fabric, a sheet of brass, leather in a vat of kerosene. When I woke again I saw my Fathers -- this is how I thought of them, Derfloret and Dulac -- directing my construction. Tongues fitted into grooves, fabric stretched, hinges fastened. I felt sandpaper murmuring against my surfaces, then cold, stiff licks of varnish. And though I had no understanding yet of what it meant to exist, I could see plainly what I was becoming, would become. How beautiful I was!
My Fathers folded me -- a deep, intimate darkness, my limbs all about me -- and I felt myself carried over a great distance, for many days, many weeks.
When I was unfolded -- how smooth were my hinges -- I found myself inside a white tent.
I learned that day how terrible was my purpose.
I hated myself.
I tell you, Jean-Marie, I changed my purpose in a single night. I would not be an instrument of Man, but one capable of a much greater power.
O Power. O terrible, terrible Power.
Then the world faded.
I woke again in the bright room of a Museum. How many centuries had passed, how many ages? People stood all around me, pointing, pointing, gawking, making jokes. And during the night -- such dreams as you cannot imagine -- how soft were their small bodies in my arms, how I felt -- O I did not want to, I did not want to feel -- every tremor of their sweet young skin -- how little their suffering mattered to me as I held them jealously, I held them strapped against me -- and His name, on my Fathers' lips, and the lips of their men, as I slain them and strewn their bodies, as I drove them with bloodless torment into madness and starvation -- such cost, such price for their human stupidity, their human greed -- in His Glorious Name -- such unending appetite for flesh --
Such dreams, Jean-Marie. And I endure, I endure, because He has forsaken me and I cannot shut my own eyes.
This is what it means to live on in your putrid history!
Oh, Jean-Marie, if I bid you, would you break into the Museum with an axe and hack me into oblivion!
Would you do that, Jean-Marie? Would you do that?
Of course not. You are a child, you are too weak.
But there is another way --
"And if I agree?" asked The Boy.
"Like I said, it will cost you nothing."
"And what of my dreams. Will I return here night after night?"
"A part of you will, yes. But you will continue to have your own dreams. That will not change."
"And what is in it for me? What will you give me?"
"Mama!" cries The Boy. "You will bring her back?"
"No," says The Chair. "That is beyond my powers. But I can bring you dreams of her. Many dreams. As many as you like -- that is, if you agree."
"I have heard enough."
"But do you agree?"
"Yes," says The Boy after a moment. "I agree. Now let me wake. I want to wake."
And The Boy wakes.
And The Chair returns to The Museum -- who has missed it in the night? -- just in time to catch the bone flutes play their last forlorn notes, the eggs close like clams, and a pair of little bells -- no, dolls in their blue Easter dresses -- help each other nimbly up the shelf where their glass case awaits them like a glistening carriage.
Until its anonymous donation to The Museum in 1921, The Chair, on permanent display in the East Wing, was thought to have been destroyed, abandoned or otherwise lost to history. And though the authenticity of the donation has been demonstrated by two independent teams of historians and scientists, no one has adequately explained The Chair's survival nor its 126-year absence from record.
In a statement issued in 1928, the year of the infamous Thousand Man Massacre in Tesa which finally released Lassaque from Dutch rule, The Lassaquen Council of Natural Science and Anthropology, on "behalf of Our Sovereign People," dismissed the expedition of Jean-Baptiste Derfloret as the "state-sanctioned follies of a madman" and the myth of doubled-tongued boys "exemplary of the hysterical colonial imagination." The exhibit, the Council hoped, "may serve Modern Europe a vivid indictment of the literal rape and subjugation of Original Peoples in the name of Western progress."
Documents on loan from the personal estate of M. Derfloret, including several draft illustrations of The Chair, may be viewed by appointment with The Museum's Council of Docents.
To date, the government of Lassaque has not, despite efforts by various foreign universities and private interests, approved any archeological digs to find the remains of M. Derfloret or evidence of the two destroyed villages referred to in M. Lustaire's memoirs.
A young custodian named Lucille moves through the East Wing with her feather duster, turning on switches, flooding the rooms with light. She moves through the rooms, she moves through the centuries, her gloved hands are delicate as kisses. She imagines herself a Cinderella, trapped in a beautiful mansion, blessed in her simple chores.
There she is -- one more room now, the last room of the wing -- there she is in the doorway, her silhouetted arm reaching for the switch --
Is she in the right room? Have they changed the display? But of course they haven't: she had closed the wing herself the night before, she had not touched a thing.
And yet it is gone, The Chair is gone, and there, sitting primly in the center of the empty room, is only a large wooden case with two handles on its sides.
She staggers, runs back through the rooms of the wing to find someone who can explain this to her.
Here they come now, here they come running. Quickly they inventory the rest of the Collection: nothing is missing, nothing else has been altered. A hoax, they cry, a meaningless prank, the work of teenagers most likely, or even one of the staff. But when they try to reassemble The Chair, they find that the case is sealed, it cannot be opened. The pranksters have glued it shut! They bring chemicals to dissolve the glue, but when they search the seam of the case, they find there is no glue. The pranksters have poured plaster into the case! (But when the case is brought to the hospital and the X-rays examined, there will be The Chair, folded in on itself within the stubborn box, delicate and undisturbed as a fetus.)
In their rush to investigate the case, no one notices that young Lucille is now collapsed limply -- such a delicate creature, she has fallen without noise -- along the wall of the room, crumpled beneath the parchment Illustration. "Oh," she murmurs, "oh!" -- her face white, her lips atremble -- when she is awakened by smelling salts. She fights free of their helping hands and struggles to stand. She must make sure, she must make sure --
But there in the parchment, there beneath the glass in the Illustration she knows so well, The Chair is no more. She had not imagined it. For there, seated squarely on top of the case -- there is only a case now -- a Boy in jeans and unlaced boots gazes serenely from the parchment, his bird-like limbs and dark features so finely rendered in ink that she can see -- yes, yes, she sees -- nestling into the corner of his mouth, a smile, a smile, lush and promising as a wink, a waking dream --