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Folk Art of the Ocean

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The museum is cool and quiet and dark and Jane wanders the halls alone. There are security guards and a few other employees, but she does not speak to them and they do not speak to her. She has told them that she needs this time at the end of the day and she was not lying when she said it. Jane never ventures out into the museum to look at the pieces and paintings during open hours, when the halls and corridors are full of people whispering and murmuring and chatting and even sitting silently and contemplating. She ventures out then to talk to people and smile at them and see their reactions to the amazing things on display and to be the friendly and personable head curator she is known to be. But she does not look at the pieces then. She knows they wouldn't be the same.

Not that she's ever said anything to him, but Simon would probably laugh and ask her if she thought the artwork would be affected by Heisenberg or something ridiculously cold and calculated like that. The problem isn't that she thinks that the art would change. It's that Jane knows that who she is when she smiles and makes small talk and listens to all the little stories people tell her isn't who she is when she walks through the empty museum on her own.

There is a new exhibit coming in. One of the junior curators organized it - with Jane's approval, of course. But he's young and eager and promising and Jane had thought it best to see what he could do without relying on her. He was in the building late, checking the last touches before the exhibit's grand opening tomorrow. But now he's gone home and so have the workers who spent so much time getting it all right and Jane knows she will have the room to herself.

Of course she has a master key. The door's lock sticks a little and she frowns as she tugs at it until it turns. Inside the room she turns the lights on low and looks around. The cases are full, with the larger pieces on stands and pedestals. Paintings line the walls and plaques sit unobtrusive in corners.

Folk Art of the Ocean reads the sign at the entrance. Jane has been waiting over a year for this. Perhaps, she thinks as she surveys the room to decide where to start, she let her protege take this project so she would not have to do it herself. So she would not be biased. She'd let him take care of Barney's paintings too, assuring her brother that they would be perfectly handled and explaining that she didn't want to affect the exhibit with personal bias towards the ones he'd done of their family trips to Cornwall and Wales. They'd ended up highlighted anyhow. Really, anyone could see there was something magical about them.

On one side of the door is a case full of scrimshaw. The items range from piano keys to drinking horns and magnifying lenses have been provided so people can inspect the details. On the other side of the door is a model ship made of pieces of bone and Jane quickly moves past it as it sends a shiver of remembered nightmare up her spine. She pauses to inspect a painting done on sailcloth, carefully preserved under a climate controlled cover. The name of the artist means little to her. He never became famous and whatever else he did, she has not seen it elsewhere. But there is something very familiar about the piece itself. Something that makes her wish for salt air and the feel of sand between her toes. As Jane moves to the next case she considers taking a holiday. Or retiring, perhaps. But not for a few more years. She's hardly decrepit yet.

The room is not one single space, but two, with a smaller room off the end. The lights are out in the smaller room, but the switch is on the outside and she turns them on before continuing. Inside, the room is lit in blues and greens, with shadows lurking in the corners and under the cases. Almost everything in the room has spent time submerged, recovered only recently from wrecks or washed up on shore. The one exception sits in state at the far end of the room and Jane does not look at it, though she knows it is there.

She never would have brought it. She never would have asked for it or accepted it if offered. But this is not her exhibit and she knows that her protege could not have truly known what it means. After all, he would not have been allowed near it in the first place. Jane has spent some time studying the Greenwitch. She dreams of it every so often and wakes uncertain of what she's dreamt but knowing that it was important and that she did something good once. Something that meant the world.

When Jane has looked at everything else in the exhibit, she walks to the end of the smaller room and looks at the Greenwitch, woven with branches and smelling just like she remembers. Simon had once commented that smell is an excellent trigger for memory, but standing in front of the Greenwitch, Jane finds she is unsure of what it should make her remember. Someone? Something? Does she want to remember or perhaps it would be best if she didn't. It's impossible to know without remembering and ruining it all. A paradox. She sets it aside to talk to Will about later at their weekly lunch. It's the sort of philosophical question he sets to his students and she thinks he'll like it.

Jane looks for the plaque and reads it, skimming the history of the tradition and the description of how the effigy is made. She's seen it first hand and she knows the plaque will be accurate, if somewhat detached. At the bottom, in small italics, are the words "Made by the women of Tressiwick for this exhibit, using the leftover materials following the making of their own effigy. And Jane finds herself somewhat comforted that this piece was made by hands that know it, not by scholars who've seen it in books and documentaries. She also finds herself wondering if a leftover Greenwitch is the same as a regular one.

In the blue and green light of the room, Jane leans forward and touches the Greenwitch once, feeling the spiny leaves prick her fingers. She will tell Will about this too. And Simon and Barney. They might well want to come and see. Or perhaps not. Perhaps they'll say it's a silly tradition and fancy her, remembering something like that from so long ago. But perhaps not.

Jane looks at the Greenwitch, her hand still on it, and leans in closer, brushing a kiss over it and drawing in a deep breath of something wild and free and fleeting. "I'll see that you go home when you leave here," she whispers. "Home to Tressiwick. To the sea."

When the lights are off and the exhibit locked up and no one left in the museum but security guards who smile politely at Jane as she leaves, Jane walks home and chides herself for being sentimental. She goes to her home and has her dinner and returns a call from Simon and she does not mention the Greenwitch. She changes for bed and slips under the covers and as her eyes close she hears it. She hears waves and music and a voice she will remember upon waking.

The sea. The sea.