Sunday Storytelling #11: The Taxidermistfeatured

Sunday Storytelling {the ponytail diaries}

Sunday Storytelling is where I post a piece of fiction on Sunday. It might be a complete short story, a snippet of a work in progress, a character sketch, a response to one of the thousands of creative writing prompts I’ve collected through the years. Most of them won’t be polished or “final,” so feedback and criticism is welcome, but please be constructive in your comments. Read other Sunday Storytelling pieces here.

Norman spent most of his time making trophies for hunters. He didn’t particularly like the work, but it was what his father had done and his grandfather and probably his great-grandfather as well. And his uncle and two of his cousins. It was the family business – “Ernie & Sons Taxidermy. You Shoot’Em, We’ll Stuff’Em.”

Ernie had been his grandfather. Ernie had died when Norman was twelve, right after his father, George, had taken over the day-to-day management of the taxidermy. So Norman got to start his unofficial apprenticeship earlier than they’d planned – he was supposed to finish school and started helping on the weekends when he was sixteen, then join his father full-time after he graduated. As it was, he started working on the weekends when he was thirteen, and only finished two years of school before his father decided he was needed full-time. Once Norman got his license, George needed him four days a week to run errands and do supply runs. Weekends were still for learning the fine art of taxidermy.

Norman didn’t hate taxidermy, he just didn’t find the same artistic joy as Ernie and George (and his uncle Bill and cousins Jimmy and Randy). He wasn’t squeamish about cleaning the blood or handling the organs. But he found himself wishing he could see the elk and buffalo and bears he stuffed when they were alive, in the wild, before the hunters’ bullets found their brains or hearts.

But there wasn’t much else to do in the backwoods of Montana. So every day, Norman went to the shop and checked on his father and sat down to the books. Their accounts were still kept long-hand, in dusty ledgers. His father didn’t see any need to modernize. He finally conceded to getting a card reader when more and more customers started coming in and looking bewildered when they were told “Cash only.” But it was one of the readers where you placed the card under a sheaf of carbon papers and slid the thing back and forth to imprint the card number, name, and expiration date. Those were brought – by hand – to the bank every two weeks, where the charges would be processed.

Those errands were Norman’s favorite – going into town for the banking. He usually tried to make a day of it, meeting with old school friends for some fish and chips and a couple beers, seeing a movie, or getting a latte. He marveled at how big the town was getting every few months, even though it was still just a small hunting outpost, the last bit of civilization before entering the backcountry.

It was on one of those errands that he learned about the Renaissance festival. It was coming to Boise next month, the bank teller told him. It would be there for ten days. Jousts, feasts, craft booths, “authentic” mead. There would even be some re-enactments of some of the battles in the War of the Roses. Norman wasn’t quite sure what the War of the Roses was, but it sounded romantic and exciting. The bank teller pointed to a stack of flyers at the end of the counter and told him they had all the information about the festival. He took five back home with him.

Now the challenge would be convincing his father to let him take a day or two off to go. Boise was about a five hour drive, so it would make the most sense for Norman to leave early Saturday morning, spend the day at the festival, stay the night in Boise, then drive back Sunday morning. He could leave early and still put in a half day on Sunday.

His father worked six and a half days week, every week for every month of the year. Even in the off-season, when no hunters came in with kills, or when new restrictions and licensing were put in place to limit how many animals were killed, his father believed there was always work to be done – cleaning, maintaining or upgrading the equipment, calling suppliers and butchers and veterinarians, finishing “personal projects” or the occasional family pet that someone wanted preserved. George didn’t believe in vacations. He took one week off when he married Elaine, Norman’s mother, and the day Norman was born. He took holidays off only because Elaine forced him. And if George didn’t need vacations or days off, Norman didn’t either.

George was starting to get up there, too. Norman knew he’d be asked to take over the business soon. He wanted to see if Randy, his younger cousin, would be interested in partnering so Norman wouldn’t have to commit his life to the store the way his father had. He also thought about waiting for George and Elaine to pass on so he could close the shop altogether and leave. But he didn’t tell anyone that.

Maybe he could convince George he’d heard about some new equipment in Boise and wanted to go check it out. Then he could come home and say the deal fell through. That would be tricky, though. George knew virtually everyone in the area who dealt with taxidermy and its sundries. He’d want to know who was selling what and how Norman heard about it.

Maybe he could just leave Saturday morning, before George woke up? Leave a note saying he’d be back on Sunday? George would be mad, sure, but it wasn’t like he could fire Norman or anything. He had no other employees and no applicants.

That settled it, then. Norman thought he had enough money stashed away to cover the festival admission, his food, and a motel in Boise for the night. His truck was gassed up and ready for the drive. Friday night, after George and Elaine went to bed, Norman quietly packed a change of clothes and some basic necessities in an old duffel bag and placed it carefully at the foot of his bed. He laid out his nicest Wranglers, quietly buffed and cleaned his Lariats, and ironed the shirt he normally wore on Sundays. The family had never gone to church, but Elaine usually led them in prayer on Sundays and his uncle brought the family over for Sunday dinner. He nearly burned the shirt, not understanding the settings on the iron, and the pleats were a little crooked, but he didn’t think anyone would notice.

He lay still in bed that night for a long time, too nervous and excited to sleep. He’d have to drive through town first, when he left, to get coffee. He wouldn’t be able to risk making a pot at the house and possibly waking George at five in the morning.

Finally five rolled around and Norman rolled over, surprised he had fallen asleep. He lay still in bed for a few minutes before remembering why he was up so early. Silently, like the hunters he had spent his watching tromping in and out of the store, he brushed his teeth and got dressed. Silently, he crept through the house – the cabin, really – and slowly unlatched the front door. He re-locked it after letting himself out, terrified the click of the lock would wake his parents. He froze for a moment on the front step, waiting to hear George’s thudding footfalls.

When he got to his truck, he froze again. What if the engine woke them? He should have parked farther away last night, closer to the road. Should he try to push it down the lane? No, he had to get moving. He’d just have to risk it.

Not until he was safely on the road and out of sight of the turn-off to the cabin did Norman start to feel relieved. Relief quickly gave way to excitement and he let out a whoop and thumped the steering wheel. Finally, he was doing something he wanted to do. Finally, he was making his own choices for himself. Finally, he was going to have some excitement in his life.


Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism welcome…