“This is disgusting.”
“You’re just being difficult.” He always accuses me of being difficult.
“No, it’s disgusting.”
“Would you just go with it? This is supposed to help you.” He shifted his weight to his other foot, that way he does when he’s trying to look like he’s not pouting.
I sighed and rolled my eyes at him, even granted him a little smirk. Partly because he’s still cute – the salt-and-pepper at his temples is probably my fault – and partly because the hip-shift caused a weird little disturbance in the hologram being shot up by a hundred little projectors embedded in the floor. “Fine.” I could survive this. I was promised pizza afterward.
“Thank god.” He turned and started a little at the projection he had interrupted. There was part of a woman there, jaw agape in surprise. When he stepped back, the rest of the image was unimpeded, and her arm materialized in front of her. This exhibit was supposed to be solemn. I giggled anyways.
“This isn’t funny.” His pout gone, he now had on his stern eyes.
“I’m sorry.” I hoped it sounded genuine.
“This isn’t going to work unless you at least try to be serious.”
“I know, I know.”
He considered the hologram woman for a moment, now that he wasn’t standing inside her. She was lit up from the front, and her line of sight indicated something horrifying behind us. I knew what it was. I didn’t want to look yet.
“Michael Whitmore.” He read the tag that hovered next to the woman frozen in fright, her hand covering her face.
“Her name was ‘Michael?’” I tried the smirk again.
“Stop.” He sounded real serious this time.
“You like this sort of thing. You brought me here.”
“Because your therapist thought it would be a good idea.”
He looked down at the glossy pamphlet he held tight in both hands, then back up at me. “It’s a safe way – ”
“It’s a safe way to relive a traumatic event, allowing me to process it with higher-order thinking skills, to help the healing process.” She’d been feeding me that shit for weeks now, ever since the financing came through.
“It could help.”
“This has nothing to do with – ”
“Stop. We both know why she recommended this.”
“Yeah, but you secretly love it. It’s like the Hiroshima museum.” I wasn’t going to go down without saying my piece.
“Fine.” I leaned my head way back, stretching my neck. He could have this one. Besides, he did love museums. Who was I to deny him this?
“Michael Whitmore.” He faced the woman again. “She was a zookeeper, meeting the Thai ambassador to discuss breeding a captive Asian Golden Cat.”
“Boring.” I could taste the crust, flaky on the outside, steamy on the inside.
“She was a mother of two. Over there was where the shooting started. At least in this building. She was the first victim.” A red line on the floor indicated her eyeline, just in case visitors were too dense to figure out what she’d be looking at.
A man in a light brown t-shirt very obviously pointed a rifle in her direction. Only, the rifle wasn’t displayed in the hologram. So he just stood there like an ass with one hand twisted up by his nipple and the other cradling the air in front of him. Something about trigger warnings. Triggers. We could have opted into the tour that showed everything, but the therapist had other thoughts about that. Baby steps.
A blue square resolved a few meters beyond the woman, a crowd of people appearing with it, all responding to the same empty-handed assailant. There was a fat man with an unoccupied holster at his belt. He was frozen for all eternity trying to retrieve nothing out of it. Or until they needed the building for something else. Nothing lasts forever.
“Whitman,” he read the security guard’s badge. “He’s the only one named in the group. These were the – ”
“Whitmore and Whitman. No relation.” I tried to get him to crack a smile. “Whitmore and Whitman, attourneys at law? Nothing?”
“Babe.” He tilted his head to the side. Tired now. Another reaction for the bingo card.
“Okay,” I sighed, a little more dramatically than I intended, and he turned away.
I’d been through worse. And there was cheese and tomato at the end of this rainbow.
“We can either go down here, or across the way.”
“What’s across the way?”
He scanned the flyer again. “Uh, downstairs follows this shooter as he made his way through the building. Across the way is the adjacent building, where the other gunmen were.”
“This is morbid.”
“How long is this gonna take?”
“If we only do the one tower, it’s a little over an hour for a walkthrough. According to the flyer.” He offered it to me like it was another testament of Jesus Christ.
“Can we just do the one tower? I’m hungry.”
“The other tower is where the first of the explosions went off.”
“Don’t sound too excited about this.” I again tried to be playful.
“The daycare is in the other building, too.”
“I really don’t want to see that.”
“I don’t either.”
One time, at that museum in Japan, he had been weirdly drawn to this one replica of a schoolboy’s uniform. The title card said they couldn’t find a complete one, so the display had been cobbled together from the bodies of three separate children. This place wasn’t trying to echo that one, though. It was trying to do its own thing. Experimental. Pushing some envelope.
“There were three gunmen in the other building,” he rattled on. “Documents found later said this guy wanted to go it alone.” He shuddered.
“Let’s just stick to this one then.” Shortest distance between two points. “We can look online later at what’s in the other one. Like a highlight reel.”
“Always with the jokes.”
I stopped. “You have to let me process this my own way.”
“I just want you to take it seriously. If you’re just gonna keep being snarky it’s not gonna help.”
“Baby steps.” I finally gave him the eyes I knew he was looking for. He always gets all mushy when I give him that look.
The next floor down sent us around a corner and we were standing behind the same shooter, a wall of people rising in front of the three of us. They were all scrambling, parted in the middle like the red sea, those to our left falling right and those to our right falling to the left. He was empty handed still, in Rambo-pose, one leg cocked out in front of him, so masculine.
I’ve shot my rifle plenty of times. I’ve never kicked my hip out quite like that. Motherfucker had been grandstanding.
Strapped to his back was an olive backpack. Some hovering text told us that was where he’d schlepped the bomb along with him. It had dangly straps.
I stepped right in the projection of him, my frame smaller than his in most places. I tried to kick my leg out in front of me the same way he was, but my bones never came back together right so it hurt to pop my hip out like that. I blocked most of the hologram, even sticking my arms out in front of me, not-holding the gun the same way he had been. I couldn’t cover the backpack, making it sort of look like I was wearing it, and the sides of his chest were bigger than mine, so my boobs jutted out in front. Something about the position of my head kept his from rendering though, so I mostly blocked him from existence.
I wondered how many other people had done this. I pictured teenagers coming here and mocking the tragedy. They wouldn’t have lived enough life to know better.
“What are you doing?”
My heart dropped, thinking he might be thinking that I was trying to make fun in the same way.
“You wonder if other people come here –” I lowered my arms, and the gunman’s flickered in front of me again. “Do they come here and pretend if they stand right here, they can stop this from happening? Like retroactively?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Not for real, dummy.” I stood up straight again, much more of the gunman revealed now. “Like, do they come here, and just for a minute, pretend like if they stood here, then he wouldn’t exist, and all of those poor bastards there would still be alive?” My gaze fell to an old guy in a janitor’s uniform. Probably had expected this to be a typical work day. Wonder who he’d left behind.
He continued reading, something about a French restaurant below us, bomb placement, the structural integrity of this building.
“Where was the bomb in the other building?” I’d only been half-listening.
“Uh, says the next floor down over there was an electrical room. The uh, the model of the blast over there is actually limited to the floor above the explosion, since the floor they detonated it on was unoccupied.”
“Not much drama there.” All these people are still dead. And yet you’re still here.
“You okay?” He asked, emotional roulette making it all the way to “concerned” now.
“If this is too much –”
“No.” I on-purpose said this with what I hoped was resolve. “I want to see it.”
“If you’re sure.”
“You started this. ‘C’mon, let’s go to the memorial museum. It’ll be fun.’ Like I don’t know you’re in cahoots with her.”
“I’m in some of those sessions with you.”
I cherish the moments I get to deadpan him.
“Right. Kidding again. I just want to make sure you’re okay. I want to push you, but not too much.”
“I’m a big girl. I’ll tell you if you’re taking things too far. Besides, I know you’re eating this up.”
“You have to admit, it is interesting.”
“Maybe for you. You know I think ‘museum’ is spelled B-O-R-I-N-G.”
“You sure you’re okay?” Damn him.
“There are some things you just don’t want to see again.” He waited patiently for me to say it. “No, let’s go. I’m not going to let a display scare me away. Let’s at least have a look. That way you’ll get your money’s worth.”
The bottom floor of this wing of the museum had to have been where all the funding went. It was a twisty, turn-y corridor, and we followed our favorite tan-shirted mass murderer as he entered the foyer of said restaurant, did a teenage girl with a long, pretty ponytail, crouched to reload, and then moved in to the main dining room. There were people, frozen forever in a futile leap for safety, finding cover wherever they could. The whole thing was sick, but it was interesting to be able to view the incident from such a detached lens. I didn’t kid him again about how silly the censored gunman looked, but it made me think of a mime. A bald-headed, square-jawed murder-mime. Wish my sense of humor wasn’t so fucked up sometimes.
The next bend took us into a recreation of the kitchen. Our de-facto tour guide was menacing a waiter in a white shirt and black tie, and there was a chef, complete with the stupid hat, standing behind him, brandishing a frying pan.
“You have to admit, that’s a little funny.”
He finally gave a little, but it only showed at the corners of his eyes. There was my baby again, like he used to be. Always so worried ever since I got my deployment orders; always so serious now. I’m not going to break.
“So it says here the exhibit is designed this weird way, following him, you know?” He had the pamphlet open again, his nose stuck all the way into it. Geek. “They wanted to introduce him from Michael’s perspective, so you get the idea he was an invader, but then they wanted to depict the whole thing from his POV, I guess to try and humanize him? They didn’t want him to look larger-than-life the whole time.” He folded the paper closed and frowned.
“There’s no humanizing monsters like this.” I reached out and grasped at the projection of the frying pan. “I’m going to clobber you,” I growled.
“It kind of does lessen the impact,” he agreed. “But I guess it really happened. This chef’s name was – ”
“Let’s go.” I just wanted some pizza.
You know, Brooklyn Pie is right over by the museum. Eat shit.
We rounded the next bend and our man had his backpack on the floor, unzipped. The pamphlet said something about the cameras that day catching how violently the gunman ripped the bag open, and psychologists had pored over the footage in the years since, trying to deduce anything about his mindset via that jerky motion. Maybe the zipper had just been stuck. It happens. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
The explosion room was just ahead, just around the next corner. He was still reading aloud, something about this being the first 3D model to be recreated with the projectors, but he sounded far away. My heart beat beneath my collarbone. I wondered how hot it would be in there, how thick the air would be, what it would smell like. There were no smells in this museum. Maybe I’ll get mushrooms too.
He must have caught me breathing hard, because he got quiet. How long had I been doing that? How long had he been quiet? I was sweaty, and that was gross.
“Let’s go,” he said. “Let’s get lunch.” He reached out towards me and I jerked my arm away, harder than I meant to.
“I’m fine. I want to go in.” The corner was just up ahead. I could see some of the ambient light around it. The website claimed this was the more “visually stunning” of the explosions. There’s no way some stupid hologram can capture the force, the impact, the forever ringing in the ears, the aftermath of something like that. Why even try? For remembrance? It’s not sacred, its sacrilege.
I could walk right in there and pretend like I was a giant monster stomping through an explosion in a city.
He touched my elbow. “Are you sure?” Those fucking sad-for-me eyes again. But he wasn’t trying to do something for me, or make me do anything. He was just waiting. Like he always did. Waiting for me.
“Let’s go.” I went around, leaving him behind.
I got my pepperoni. And mushrooms. Big, foldy slices, the kind where the paper plate gets all greasy and translucent and loses all structural integrity after you’ve been sawing at them with a plastic fork.
I kid. Who eats pizza with a fork? Terrorists, that’s who.
And I got to seem cooperative, which would get both of them off my back for a while. Progress! the psych would say, over her glasses. And then I’ll smirk and lie about how much better I feel, how the blast hadn’t taken away anything I couldn’t get back. Baby steps.
He sat there with his hand on my knee, fork in a salad, still buried in the brochures he’d snagged on the way out. He always goes for my prosthetic leg when he wants to caress me. He confessed once that he did it so I still felt like a whole woman.
I’ve never told him that I don’t like it, because I know it’s way more reassuring to him than it is to me.