Belly-Deep In White Clover (Excerpt)

He saw the entry point of the bullet through the chest, into the heart region, a small jolt where life narrowed to a pinpoint, then vanished. For a second, he felt the impact on his own body. It was a juvenile male porcupine, about three months old, likely already foraging on its own with the mother nearby. He had never done a porcupine mount and he wasn’t going to start now. He picked up his magnifying glass. There were blowfly eggs embedded in the wound. He tweezered them out. And a 22 long rifle bullet.

Taxidermy was a dead art. These days you could buy preformed idiot polyurethane forms straight out of a catalogue. Made every animal look the same. He glanced over at his sandpipers with their slender beaks, posed in artificial salt pools facing a waveless sea. He still constructed his own armatures and recreated each animals physique with excelsior and clay. But no one was interested in taxidermy any more. His commissions had dwindled to restorations of moth-eaten martens and herons and time-consuming dioramas of impossible species combinations for an eccentric collector named Brackdale who’d bought seventeen lots of taxidermied specimens from the now defunct Tweedsmuir Museum of Natural History. He had been methodically remolding a cougar’s nose from this collection when some local, with a sharp rap on the door, dropped the porcupine at his back doorstep. Probably shot by those idiots who charge through the woods like mercenaries, slaughtering animals for fun. Way back when, he would have disposed of it in the woods, but instead he carried it gingerly, with gloves, bagged it, and laid it out whole in the mammal freezer.

His name was Johns. He’d lived alone out here in the Bulkley-Nechako for thirty-one years. He was himself a bit porcupine-like: hunched, prickly, solitary, nocturnal. Hardly anybody in the valley knew him anymore, and the few who did kept their distance. His last friend, Bjørn (“Bulldog”) Torske, a renowned trapper in the area, died eleven years ago of septicemia. Johns believed in the idea of will and knew the consequences of the loss of it, which his friend had suffered the last years of his life. You had to stick with something to keep going. […]

Source: Prairie Fire, Volume 39, No. 1, 2018