Taxidermist’s lullaby

January was carrying bodies from the road to the reaper’s cottage. Muntjac, horns snapped, laying narcoleptic across white lines; the unscathed pheasants and pigeons who seemed to walk towards death as though in a dream— we carried them all in, anguished howl of spectral wind slamming the gates behind us. First came the rosary and the water, as if a futile blessing could wake the fox in its bed. Shake the birds conscious and make them fly again but it never did. And so I’d watch my father’s hands deconstruct; skin unpicked as though poorly stitched, the heart, a music box exhausted of spin. The medicinal bone. The all-seeing eye. Me, listening carefully should the animal sigh and outside, the stripped-down trees watching like waxworks through the bolted window, sky dark as frostbitten fur behind us. They called me ‘roadkill girl’ at school, barked like coyotes down the pallid halls— but unlike me, they understood; you cannot take a crowbar to life and jam open its hood. The stoat on the shelf knew a thing less than me, and he died with a smile round his mouthful of teeth.

Claudia Downs