It was not quite silent in the maze of treasures. The endless rooms had hard floors and the heels of women’s shoes, the stomp of winter boots, echoed dimly. Even sound was hushed and sober, seemingly in awe of the artworks cocooned safely in glass cases and resting on cordoned-off pedestals. Here, once you have defeated the fierce backpack-forbidding guards, you can find butterflies in the middle of winter.
Butterflies traced in astounding detail, lightly flitting on panels of furniture, their weightless tracery a graceful incongruity to the stolidness of heavy wood furnishings,
delicate wings spread in an eternal dance on the sides of vases, gold filigree and shatteringly deep blue,
whimsical figures beating their way out of the pages of fairy tales, captured mid-flight on platters,
blue wings open, soaring pluckily on the handle of a knife.
We wandered the halls, gleeful as small children at each new discovery. Silver teakettles in the shapes of dragons and steam engines sparkled under one window, while ivory tusks’ seemingly whimsical carvings only partially disguised the far darker stories twining around their yellowed arcs.
We found the library, as all graduate students do. Its locked door was down more corridors and up a flight of stairs, near ancient frescoes from some long-ago, far-away place. The cold gray light from the frescoes’ windows filled the area like a ghost of time past itself, illuminating the riddle of hours mounted to the wall: I’m open on Saturdays, but only once a month; I’m closed during summer but open afternoons in winter, except every other Tuesday and weekends; I’m open until 5 except every 5th week when I will shut early, counting from the time of the last flight of librarians during the Catalog Conversion Wars … what am I? An archive library, sealing up pearls encased in leather and powdered in dust.