Joseph Cornell "Toward the Blue Peninsula" (1952)

Joseph Cornell “Toward the Blue Peninsula” (1952)

a flash story by Jefferson Navicky

MR. CHEHAB SAVED artifacts by encasing them in concrete. The artifacts felt safer that way. He had been the Director of Antiquities until the outbreak of civil war. Now, destruction was de facto. De rigeur. He poured on the third floor of his modest house. Like the concrete, Mr. Chehab’s face was a smooth surface on which nothing could be read. He registered a mild distaste, but beyond that, nothing. We all felt distaste, and much more, in these times; Mr. Chehab simply steeled it better than others. We wondered: what was his secret?

Mr. Chehab kept his keys to the museum. It was an odd thing to do, considering the museum no longer existed, its doors shut seemingly forever. No one had time for museums anymore. Or ice cream. Or lectures. Or dining out. Gun fire softened the streets. They liked it quiet. We never would’ve guessed how quiet quiet could be.

Mr. Chehab confined himself to his house. At first, it was the thought of the air that did it. The Museum Air. Its peaceful staleness, the scent of old things, kept and cared for. He knew all the artifacts were still sitting there, quietly, in the rare and glorious air. Now, alone in the house, he thought of them. He thought of the air. Maybe it was his way of. Maybe it was his time to.

He snuck out the artifacts one by one, at night, through the service door, the quiet click of his dress shoes on stone in darkness, the hushed quiet about to burst. He dressed for work. If he would be shot, he would wear a tie. His hands shook. Cufflinks against porcelain. That’s how he did it.

The concrete was easy enough to mix. He made molds. Some. A set of short stairs. Poured. Free form, ugly objects. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t care. Mr. Chehab simply wanted to do. This was what he could do. It was sloppy. It was satisfying. They caught him one night, and shot him on sight, the vase in his hands shattering when he fell. He’d tried to protect it on the way down, but he couldn’t. Gravity took sloppy care of the rest of his body.

When peace finally settled, when enough people had died, we found his house. The third floor of Mr. Chehab’s house became so heavy with concrete that it came crashing down. Some called it a tragedy. Some called it a metaphor. We sent in archeologists to excavate, who chiseled and jack-hammered and filed. We found all the artifacts, well preserved, but we also found—strangest thing—something else. Beautiful divots encased in concrete like a necklace of loss. Some said the tears were still wet. Some said, I never saw him cry.

Jefferson Navicky grew up in Cambridge, Ohio. His work has recently appeared in The Conium Review, Hobart, Birkensnake, Ohio Edit, and Fairy Tale Review. He works as the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, teaches English at Southern Maine Community College, and lives in Freeport, Maine with his wife, Sarah, and their frisky puppy, Olive.