As the plane lifted off the runway, James McClane latched onto the arm rest with one hand and his wife’s hand with the other. She smiled and adjusted her fingers so her wedding ring wasn’t pressing on her uncomfortably. Their son Michael reached over her lap and caught his father’s eye.
“Dad, you okay?” he asked gaily.
“Shut up, Michael,” James said through his teeth, then the plane dipped and he squeezed Betty’s hand even tighter.
Soon the plane leveled out, and James could enjoy the tops of clouds for the first time. The plane wasn’t as bad as he’d thought. Betty and Michael had both been on trips to Florida and California before, but James never had, always having to stay on the farm. Seeing the New York University was something James couldn’t pass up though, not now that his son was chosen to go. Besides, he had always wanted to see New York, especially the museum.
As James watched the clouds out his little porthole, he could see in their shapes the museum his father took him to long ago. Mary liked the little diorama people, and his mother liked the animals. James liked it all. He was looking forward to going to one again. He wondered how the New York museum would be different.
New York was like nothing James had ever seen before. His heart leapt into his chest whenever Michael left his side, even to throw a bit of paper in a trash bin. James relied on Betty to navigate, even though she swore she had only visited the place once as a little girl and didn’t remember much. The buildings were taller than James could ever imagine a building being. They saw the place they show on television during New Year’s. It looked smaller in real life. They passed flashy billboards and huge American flags and people of every shape and color, speaking languages James couldn’t even identify.
James felt small. Surrounded by his amber waves of grain he felt big, the tallest thing for miles, the ruler of his farmland kingdom. Here, in his nicest jeans, he felt like a grain of rice.
The week-long trip before school started at the university was both the shortest and longest of James’ life. Betty led them across the world, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building to Central Park, places James had seen on television and overheard about at the diner, places he felt a nervous star-struck feeling being near. They shelled out to see a show, why not? And all the color, sound, and music was so much James expected it to leak out of the auditorium.
Was this not America? Did the family truck not pale in comparison to brilliant yellow taxis, worming subways and double-decker tour buses? What was their ramshackle house with only one sink, compared to glimmering towers stretching higher than the sun? Was not every work song improved upon by Broadway? Was not their town comprised of less than fifty last names like a loaf of bread compared to New York’s so-called melting pot?
The longer they stayed in New York, the more cheated James felt. His mother had taught him to appreciate his amber waves of grain, but never told him the secret wonder of a city. Perhaps she was too dull to know. No…she had to have known. She was selfish, keeping him close, depriving him of shining seas and purple mountains.
The day before last was to be spent in the museum. James had been successful at keeping his mulling to himself all day, letting his family enjoy their week in paradise. At night in their hotel room he would stroke the silken curtains and look out at the city, heat tumbling in his stomach from a mixture of envy and whiskey. The lights outshone the stars. Was this not a marvel to be proud of? Was this not America?
He would then think of Michael, who would soon make a home among the starlike lights and world-famous streets. His own marvel.
The museum was wonderful, filled with sacredness and huge, quiet halls. Dinosaurs, important papers, dioramas, stuffed animals, paintings, jewelry. This place had it all.
The three of them stopped before a beautiful golden crown, propped on a red velvet pillow behind a box of glass. It was polished so it was shiny and dark, nearly black, and the gemstones shone far brighter than Betty’s wedding ring.
James, tears brimming, suddenly put one arm around Michael, his other arm around Betty. “I’m so proud of you, Michael, getting into this school,” James whispered to the crown. “God, I wish at your age I was as smart as you are.”