The Archivist's Mother
by Christine Crutchfield
She made it safely to the convent. She wants to know how preservation is going, if he needs a hundred crucifixes or so, holy water, bottles and bottles. Is he still worried about the ballpoint pen, our least archival writing tool? Is he still worried that, because of computers, none of our work will survive? His great aunt was never allowed to be a nun. She was the last of the aunts who built their own convent out of their dead father’s house and are dead. His mother emails a picture of Mr. E and his cat Shitface. She writes, “Mr. E used to stop by with cakes and sweets. He called my aunts the Virgins.” Mr. E is also dead. The Archivist prints the picture and pins it above his desk. Then he catalogues a yearbook for a Russian tax department: 349 full-color pages, glossy pictures of women in uniforms staring at computers.
This is true. This is mostly true. This piece came from a Gchat conversation with my friend PB. PB’s aunts really did start their own convent and Shitface was real. I want to believe Shitface was real. I saved this conversation hoping to pull a couple lines for a poem or story, but what the Aunts got me thinking about was PB himself. He was finishing his library degree and had worked both in archives and in preservation. The Aunts reminded me of searching through boxes of old family photos when relatives died. They made me wonder about the fate of our unprinted digital photos. A jpg becomes more and more pixilated over time. How long until a CD loses its data? And the ballpoint pen—let’s not even go there. The Aunts made me think about our own preservation and what a task current and future PBs have ahead of them.
Christy Crutchfield writes and teaches in Western Massachusetts. Her works have appeared in Mississippi Review online, Salt Hill Journal, the Collagist, wigleaf, and others. She blogs about writing and other monster at