Historical Monument 56 snores on a green couch that sags under his weight. His black tennis shoes and brown shorts are piled on the floor. He sleeps in threadbare blue boxer shorts and a stained black t-shirt. He is face down, a right arm lifted above him like a signal. He is in his original state as required by The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines.
Around him gathers my 2:00 group. It’s a small tour of only eighteen. A man with a graying beard leans on the end table and I wave him up quickly. He responds with silent apologies. The rest happily look on Historical Monument 56. Half of them have black, bulky tour headphones on that give the historical data on the monument as well as analyses by several leading critics. A teenage boy, maybe 17 or 18, has a small brown sketchbook that he holds in one hand while he frantically sketches the monument in pencil. The notebook trembles in his hand but the boy never takes his eyes off his subject, who snores with his mouth open. A woman with a camera holds it up to me, suggesting a picture. I nod and whisper, Okay, but no flash. A little boy in red shorts walks right up to Historical Monument 56 and pokes at his arm. I rush forward, but the parents quietly scold the boy and pull him to the back of the crowd.
Historical Monument 56 stops snoring. The group looks at one another, waiting for the next breath. An older blonde-haired woman puts her brown-spotted hands together and silently says a prayer. Historical Monument 56 flickers his eyes and sits up on the couch. He scratches his belly and stands. There is a small gasp from the audience as he staggers between them and through the living room and into the bathroom.
How ya doing? he asks, pushing past me. He stumbles through the tour group and loses his balance. The man with the gray beard grabs Monument 56‘s arm to help steady him but 56 throws him off, collapsing back onto the couch, back into heavy slumber.
I signal the end of the tour and hold open the white wood front door. They quietly file out, some taking notes, and cross back to our awaiting white bus.
I move the pillow under 56’s head to make him more comfortable. His eyes flutter open and he sees me. Thank you, he says, thank you. He takes my hand and I feel ashamed for what we have to go through together, and I don’t have the heart to tell him that it is my last day and that I will miss him. Instead I say, You’re welcome, and let go of hands rough from years of blue-collar laboring, and he crosses back into sleep. I fold his shorts and lay his socks on top, leaving him in good shape before the next tour group ascends.
Ron Burch‘s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Eleven Eleven, and PANK. He has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Bliss Inc., his debut novel, was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.