The Taxidermist and His Dog
By Zuzanna Wasiluk
Ted was a taxidermist who lived in Albany. He adopted a dog when he broke off his only friendship with an intelligent university student when the friend’s family died in a house fire.
Ted was an isolated character who only outstretched the hand of friendship to one talented university student. The pair of friends had undeniable gifts that separated them, yet the fear and guilt that plagued them were sisters. The day before the student’s birthday, the friend grieved for every single member of his family that passed in a house fire. Ted remarked how the term house fire didn’t do any justice towards the enormity of their family mansion.
Ted’s friend murmured, “Are you an arsonist now? It was only 7,500 feet, hardly a mansion. We even had to build a house near it for our maids.”
“Did that burn down too?”
“I’ll check for you.” But instead his friend walked to his bed and the tension between them increased.
Abandoning his friend to deal with the sweet shame of his life without companionship entitled Ted to a dog. On the same day he brought the dog home, he bought toy soldiers for the dog’s entertainment and blockaded the door to his studio with belts he’d outgrown. As soon as he’d fed the dog, Ted returned to his studio. He spoke out metaphors that disqualified him from being both a taxidermist and a pet owner until the dog’s purpose occurred to him… He was growing terrified that his habits and preferences perpetuated a mechanical way of living. He knew that if his mind was limited it would be reflected in his craft.
His plan for the dog worked like a disembodied clock. It had all the right elements to work: the dog, toys for the dog, food, and a place solely dedicated to the dog’s rest. But it didn’t because Ted was too proud to accept creative help. He was agonizingly aware of the dog’s potential contribution to the project he’d been stuck on but refused this help.
One Sunday, during a time where there were two different kinds of light peering through the window, the dog turned a corner too fast. Its legs became hooked on the carpet which shifted the vase into colliding with the floor. This Sunday, Ted was particularly exhausted because he’d been up all night monitoring his dog’s strange intestinal affliction that caused him to retch and gag.
Without brushing his teeth, he took the dog to the vet who briefed him on the contents of his dog’s stomach: “He appears to have eaten three cherry tarts in the last 24 hours which caused the upset stomach. It didn’t help to flush it all down with mint tea and pistachio macaroons.” The Bastard.
The vet held up her clipboard and jotted down a series of instructions for Ted to follow over the next week. She turned to him but kept her eyes to the paper, “What do you do for a living?”
Ted anticipated her reaction if she had bothered to look up from her clipboard. He answered, “I’m a taxidermist.”
Suddenly, the vet appeared to forget the lengthy list of instructions she required Ted to complete to prevent the dog from dry-heaving for seven additional days. She moved closer to him, too close, and whispered, “Is this… a project… of yours?”
Ted weighed the idea of using his talent in taxidermy on his dog by imagining two golden scales. “Maybe, if there were ways to preserve the digested cherry tarts or the odor of the mint tea in his stomach.”
He asked her to hand over the instructions, noticing the vet scribble a message in the corner of the page, a 10-digit phone number and her name. Was he supposed to call her if he taxidermied his dog, or was this an extension of her impeccable bedside manner? Were vets actually morbid, rescuing and healing animals after lunch and before dinner while by night, they watched the deconstruction of their anatomy? He reached for the dog with his left hand while the dog stared at Ted’s hand trying to understand what the gesture could mean. He walked towards the vet, who held out a treat for the dog’s good behavior and threw it in the carrier. Ted took the carrier in his right hand.
Driving back home, Ted stopped at the grocery store for a few ingredients. He needed onions and garlic for himself, and the organic dog breakfast mix recommended by the vet. Who pays 20 dollars for dog food? He held up the dog food next to a bag of children’s breakfast cereal to show the dog his options. Gesturing to the two bags he said, “One of these is supposed to cure cancer and the other childhood obesity! You’re getting this one!”
When the cashier scanned the breakfast cereal, Ted lied by telling her he had two beautiful kids named Theodora and Junior. The head vet’s name was Theodora and she expected Ted to call her… but he still wasn’t sure why. He thanked the cashier and started to plan his dinner with such intensity that he forgot to signal 100 feet before turning. Decidedly, it was going to be a dinner without any cherry tarts for dessert.
I came up with the idea after my second meeting with my mentor, Aphrodite, because I told her I wanted to write about characters who placed themselves in strange situations or endured bizarre circumstances. We both loved the simplicity of it, but the story quickly developed from the seven-point outline I wrote that day. The hardest part of the creative process behind this piece was deciding between a cat and a dog as the protagonist’s pet. Aphrodite suggested that a dog would be more endearing if the taxidermist warmed up to it or shocking and even appalling if Ted hurt the dog. The story was created around whether it was going to be an endearing story about a man and his dog or something horrific.
Zuzanna Wasiluk grew up in Greenpoint and had multitudes of pets in her early childhood. However, she’s been reduced to two kittens at the moment, Cricket and Felix. She attends high school in Brooklyn, NY, and a Polish school in Greenpoint to connect to her roots. She enjoys creative writing and painting as personal hobbies and joined Girls Write Now to develop as a writer in a more comprehensive direction in an inclusive environment.