by Conner Habib
This essay is inspired by the ten years I spent in Western Massachusetts studying writing and biology.
The road is always lined with dead animals. Beneath the red maples bursting into velvet blossoms: groundhogs, possums, squirrels, rabbits; soaking into grass and pavement. Sometimes there’s a porcupine with its quills accusingly pointing in all directions, or a skunk I can smell from a mile away until I pass what’s left of its body, torn bits of black, red, and white. If I don’t see any animals on the road home from school, I feel a strange disappointment. Not because I want to see them dead, but because where else do I see so many? I’d miss the foxes and turkeys and coyotes if they weren’t turned over on themselves, dead and pulled at by crows.
I’m in school for writing and biology. I study the scientists and their strange motions and theories. These are crazy movements that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else, like spinning bits of mouse thymus gland in a machine. Or tearing the hindguts from termites. Hold the termite with tweezers and pull the long string of its guts out, then examine it under a microscope. There are important questions to be answered.
When you kill an animal in a lab, it’s called “sacrificing.” But sacrificing to what? To which god?
I don’t know, but it’s necessary, we say.
I know that you can’t always swerve your car on the way home to miss all the animals. Not at night, when the moths smack against my windshield, lured by the beauty of red and white headlights. The wings disintegrate into scales and dust, and the legs stay smashed and stuck until you smear them into oblivion with the wipers. Or when it rains and the black slip of road is covered in frogs, looking for food and each other. They burst so easily under the tires, that I don’t even know I’m hitting them. I know it’s happening, but it feels like nothing, and I can’t help it. Nothing should have to die that way.
At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, there are blown glass flowers, bird’s nests in glass cases, and huge and humbling dinosaur bones. In the lobby, there’s a greying skeleton of a sabertooth tiger. You’ll walk in, past the skeleton and the man at the desk will smile at you.
Here’s what else you’ll see: A hall of taxidermy. You’ll walk through quietly, because if you’re too loud, you might rouse the dead animals. There are heads on the walls. White rhino heads, water buffalo heads, bison heads. There are antlers that seems as long as you are tall. The air smells like sawdust, and everything is seized in place. You will think, at some point, I do not want to die alone.
The animals are grouped by family, not habitat. The polar bear is next to the grizzly and black and sun and sloth bears. The maned lion and its stuffed cub are propped up next to tigers and a leopard. There are cats you’ve probably never seen, nor even heard of; jagurundi, ocelot. Perhaps you will walk by them, look into their plastic eyes and still not see them. They’re posed in angry gestures, and their teeth are bared. They were fearsome
before they were killed. You’ll wonder if these were the looks on their faces before their faces went slack.
Next room, ungulates: black buck, oryx, eland, impala. Horns twist up and away in different paths toward Heaven. The ungulates look noble, even now with straw poking through the seams in their skin. Seams in their skin; lines you’re not supposed to see in the skin, the revelation that they’ve been emptied out.
You will feel unlucky.
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