When head nurse Mary Perrineau went to sleep in the small, grey room dedicated for nurses on emergency service, she had a most peculiar dream. She was slowly walking through an art museum, which was filled with almost all of the paintings and sculptures she could remember. She went to the local museum twice in the past, but it was a small, badly-lit place, and she did not care much for the art on exhibit there – too modern, too obscene. But here, in these long hallways, filled with a warm light coming seemingly from nowhere, were the masterpieces, the great pieces of art she had often thought about in the past, when she was younger, sillier.
She noticed that she actually seemed and felt younger than her fifty-two-year old self; her hands lacked the dark lines, and her hair showed not even a hint of grey. To her surprise it fell over her shoulders, as she had worn it as a small child, and was not pulled back into a tight bun as she wore it now. Her dress was also far more colourful than anything she owned in reality, and she felt indecent in it, not fitting for such an occasion. But not one of the people around her seemed to mind, and in fact most of them weren’t wearing clothes you’d expect in an art museum, either. And many of them were talking, she heard singing from another hallway, and children ran across the halls, with no velvet rope to reign them in, no conservator to stop them. Mary was appalled by all this. This wasn’t how you should behave in a museum – this was a place of quiet contemplation, not a playground. But again, no one seemed to mind.
The people around her seemed to come from all walks of life – young and old, rich and poor, men and women. The only thing they all had in common was a certain cheerfulness. Mary shook her head, her thin-lipped mouth tightening – this wasn’t right. There was neither rhyme nor reason behind those people’s behaviour, and she was adamant in not joining them in their folly. She walked through the halls, looking for an exit, when suddenly, she felt an itch in her nose. Hastily she searched for a handkerchief, but her dress seemed to have no pockets. She put her hand up to stifle the sneeze, but it was to late.
In the real world, Mary Perinneau’s sneeze consisted of nothing more than a short moment of silence, followed by a sigh. But here it came to pass with a force unprecedented, throwing her head backward and escaping with a loud noise not unlike those you hear around elephant houses in the zoo. Her hand in front of her nose was pushed away with amazing force, and with horror she realized that a mass of what could only be phlegm left her nostrils. Ugh! Phlegm was one of the few things she couldn’t handle with professional ease, and although she often scolded the other nurses if they let their disgust show, she felt it too. Before she could open her eyes again, she realised that all the commotion around her had stopped. Looking hastily around, she saw with wide-open eyes that everyone around her seemed to be staring at her, and at what was laying on the floor in front of her. Mary Perinneau was filled with shame and helpless rage, and lowered her head. That’s when she saw what was lying in front of her, in an amount which surely couldn’t have come out of her nose. It was glitter.
Before she could raise her head again to look in disbelief into the surrounding faces, someone began to clap. Soon others joined, and in a moment all the people around her were applauding, cheering, rejoicing. Mary was nonplussed, and turned to leave, to leave this madness behind, but her nose itched again, and before she could react another sneeze, even louder than the first, rocked her whole body, and a cone of shimmering glitter shot out of her in a wide arch, covering people, statues and some of the paintings. This was met with another roaring applause from her audience, and to Mary’s utter astonishment the Venus de Milo, covered now with her projected glitter started to laugh and stepped off her plinth, as did the Thinker and David, who stole a stole of a nearby visitor to hide his lower area.
Another sneeze, and this time the paintings came alive too, and the water lilies swam out of their frame on a stream of water, a scream of joy was heard when a suddenly quite happy looking man with a peculiar head stepped out into the open, miniature stilt-legged elephants waltzed across the floor, and some of the kids nibbled on Arcimboldo’s Summer, who didn’t seem to mind. And through all this, Mary couldn’t stop sneezing, and every one of them was greeted with jubilations and fanfare, as the men and women around her danced, sang and cajoled with the living pieces of art, and after a while she enjoyed this attention, and tried to spread the mysterious glitter over as many works as possible; and the men and women thus borne into reality thanked and applauded her, and the creatures bowed their heads. Music played, and the portrait of Picasso grabbed her hand, and they danced, round and round through the halls of the museum, and Mary sneezed over his shoulder, producing wonder upon wonder.
When Mary woke up, she spent a few seconds looking at the grey ceiling of the room, feeling a most unfamiliar muscular contraction around her mouth. She got up, washed her face and stared into the mirror, her steely gaze banishing any tears which had hoped to well up back into their canals. Then she tidied up, pulled her hair back into a tight bun and left the grey room to find some apprentice nurses to scold.