Gift Shop (Looking)

He was walking around in the clearance area downstairs, looking. They were supposed to meet here, right? He was pretty sure that, yeah, this was where they were supposed to meet. The email had been very specific – the shop on the lower level of the Air and Space Museum, and that’s where he was, ready to go. His bags were packed, and to commemorate the occasion he had even grabbed a cool-looking shirt with the SR-71 Blackbird – his favorite jet – on it. But the occasion had yet to come.

He walked around the store a couple more times, looking here and there, but every face was strange, and no one was wearing a salmon-colored shirt. Soon enough, he gave up and started killing time by looking over, for the third or fifth time, some of the many things for sale in the shop.

A series of identical blue-and-silver pens, encased in cheap plastic attached to cheaper cardboard, hung in rows on a small swivel stand. The cardboard boasted that the pen could write upside down, and even in temperatures ranging from -30 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

He didn’t know why anyone would want to write in temperatures like that. The one time he had been in -30 Fahrenheit, he had driven to a local convenience store with his brother to grab some drinks. Three steps from the truck to the door had given him enough cold to last all night; on the drive home – a short, five minute jaunt – they had let the drinks sit nestled in the snow in the back end of the truck. The drinks had frozen by the time the truck pulled in to the driveway.

On another side of the swivel stand, stuck neatly in lines to a plain-drab single sheet of metal, were circle-shaped, fingernail-sized magnets, golden-colored little doodads. A small coin – smaller than a penny – with an inlay of a skyline of skyscrapers was suspended between a raised ring with "Smithsonian Institution" etched in black serif lettering. You could flick the coin and it would spin rapidly around, or you could gently push the coin until you saw that the image of the skyscrapers was on both sides. He wondered where those buildings were, and who would design such a useless little trinket and then sell it in a museum of priceless aviation artifacts.

Next to the stand was a table with things about the Wright Brothers – DVDs, models, books. A children’s book with "The Story of the Wright Brothers" written in rainbow coloring on the cover caught his eye. He flipped through the cardboard pages, glossing over the brightly-illustrated pages and block-texted, simplistic retelling of the very-complicated story behind the first airplane.

He set it back down and picked up a thick, grey-white card sitting in a tray next to the book, "1903 Wright Flyer" printed in 16-point Times New Roman on the card to the right of the the Smithsonian Institution logo. "On a chilly windswept beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright inaugurated the aerial age with their historic flights…"

Next to the tray of cards, someone had left a similar card about a newborn panda cub. "The National Zoo’s giant panda, Mei Xiang, gave birth to a cub early in the morning on July 9, 2005. It was learned during the cub’s first exam on August 2 that the cub was a boy…" It didn’t say anything about the cub’s father. Did they even know who it was?

He slid the cards into his back pocket and decided to leave. He passed by a vintage poster – "The Little Aviator" – and stopped briefly to read the poem.

Boys had boats
their favored toy -
Not I
when I
was just a boy. I dreamt of wings
for soaring high
and cutting wakes
in yonder sky
And where my hero’s
footsteps went -
I’d follow
in the firmament

The man at the cash register was nice enough as he rang up the t-shirt. He hadn’t seen anyone wearing a salmon-colored shirt pass through, though. Oh well.