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Caroline Sulzer

The Taxidermist

 

He had been so fond of animals as a child, and then many things happened to distract him from this quality, which now so many years later he could see as a defining aspect of himself, almost as set as the shape of his face, the color of his eyes.  Like anyone who isn’t born into means, he’d had to find ways of making his way in the world, many of them occupations that bored or even revolted him.  He was with a friend when he first gutted and then preserved a deer.  His friend had done it many times before, mostly just the head.  And in this case, too, it was only the head, which they took turns sawing off until it became its own thing, deader than dead.  He’d been disgusted by the situation, not being a hunter himself, mostly because it told him he’d neglected to plan his life and choose his friends more carefully.

 

He had not had much school, but he did like to read. He liked to read books with animals of all kinds in them, but what he didn’t like was when writers strained to use animals as a metaphor. Meat-phors, he’d coined them believing then that using an animal was using an animal, even if it was for the meat of a person’s idea. The animal had to be real and come alive of its own accord on the page and he thought perhaps this was best done in books for children where the anthropomorphizing was simple and shameless. In any case, animals, including birds, fish and insects, were profound whether some writer chose to write about them or not. The many dull and difficult jobs over the years, a marriage in which he had to pretend to be someone he wasn’t, made him forget his views. Still, there they were, somewhere at his core.

 

Standing by his friend in the presence of the deer, a tenderness developed in him for the body, estranged from its head but still beautiful he thought. 

 

‘We should preserve it, too,’ he said to his friend.

‘A headless deer?  That’s funny.’

‘Really.  I could practice on it.’  He knew this pragmatic approach would appeal to his friend. 

And so, with the help of his friend, he gutted the body and prepared it for preservation.  He was not sure what to do with the opening where the head had been sawed off. It was an enormous wound, could not even be called a wound, perhaps, as it was inflicted after death. The actual bullet wound was close to the heart, a merciful kill. After emptying the neck region of its contents, and taking the necessary steps to prevent rot, he found he could sew it up without much difficulty.  He felt, as he touched each part of the carcass, as though he knew it more intimately than he had ever known anything or anyone, even his wife.

 

He’d brought the deer home, and this was probably the first step in the winding staircase that led, a very long year later, to him and his wife approaching divorce.  It was her decision but he could not find any reason to protest.  He had been taken by surprise by his passion, and felt he wasn’t quite the same man she had married, or maybe he was the same but only now showing that man. He had quickly developed enough of a reputation to start a small business in their garage.  His initial revulsion had become, over time, a fascination with layers of skin, with what is inside the body, with making it look, again, almost like something living, yet clearly dead, without the slightest motion, yet, if done well enough, giving the illusion of almost life. 

 

Since he did not hunt, not being a man who would choose to kill, he depended on other men killing and bringing him their prey, or trophies.  Eventually he also got quarry from women and even children, who were given guns for their birthdays and Christmas.

 

There was a boy who came in not long ago with two men, presumably the boy’s father and maybe his grandfather.  He was slight and pale, wearing a flannel shirt several sizes too large.  We’re going to have this one done real good. Your first, son. The boy didn’t look strong enough to pull the trigger. Yet he smiled when his father said this.  It was a strange, fixed kind of smile, the kind that probably lived somewhere other than where it seemed to. He looked up from his work, at the boy, who stood oddly still. He did not see or hear the men, who were talking to each other and shifting in their boots. The garage was overflowing with the quiet of all the animals to whom he’d given his passion.

Get out, he said to the boy, louder than he meant to.

Go out and play.

 

 

                                                            END

 

 

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