CONTESTS

Velvet Deathtrap

JANNIE EDWARDS

I wonder why taxidermists don’t sign their work. Really, what they do is art. And not all taxidermy is created equal, believe me. There’s Michelangelo and then there are Sunday painters. I spent my formative years practicing piano under the creepy yellow-eyed gaze of a badly preserved Scottish stag.

How we came to have it is that Dad’s brother, Uncle Archie, came from Aberdeen for his one and only visit and decided our brick fireplace needed a stag’s head. So back in Aberdeen he procured one and mailed it to North Battleford, Saskatchewan. How did it ever get through Canadian customs? Big Mystery. The stag was like the Cuban Missile Crisis of the cold war that was Mom and Dad’s marriage. Mom hated it from the outset, but after all Archie’s effort Dad felt obligated to hang it. So Dad, the unhandiest man in the world, gouged a big hole in the brick fireplace drilling a screw to hold the stag. Mom turned into an iceberg and froze him out. Would not speak to him. She made me the go-between. “Tell your father his dinner is on the table.” Or worse: “Tell your father if he wants dinner to make it himself.” The stag said nothing. Dad held out for over a week in that nuclear winter before he caved, moved the stag downstairs over the piano and hung in its place a kind of mail-order family crest he’d bought from Reader’s Digest or someplace.

There’s a diorama wildlife museum on the Alaska Highway that my hubby Hal and I saw on a long road trip to Whitehorse. It features the most lifelike taxidermy I’ve ever seen. There’s one scene of two fighting caribou that locked horns so hard they couldn’t unlock. They died like that.

Male caribou grow a new set of antlers every year. That would be like growing a whole new set of teeth every year. The antlers weigh fifteen to twenty pounds. The museum sign said they provide cooling for the caribou, “nature’s air conditioning.” In the Arctic? As they grow, the antlers are covered with velvet. Females grow antlers too. They keep them until after they give birth—helps protect grazing during pregnancy. Makes sense. The males use them to fight before the rut.

What a way to die. When my sister-in-law’s kids fought she made them sit on the same chair until they could get along. She could have been a marriage counsellor. When I asked Mom why she didn’t divorce Dad, she told me that she didn’t want him ruining another woman’s life.

In their eighties, both Mom and Dad had strokes that snuffed out most of their speech. They ended up in the same stroke ward. Mom glared at everyone, 24/7, her worst stink eye directed at Dad. Then one day, out of the blue, Dad started singing. Looking right at Mom in her wheelchair. A ragged little song. In Gaelic. A kind of lullaby. I guess he got the last word.

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JANNIE EDWARDS

Jannie Edwards is a writer, editor, teacher and mentor from Amiskwaciwâskahikan/Edmonton. Her latest collaboration with visual artist Sydney Lancaster, Learning Their Names: Letters from the Home Place (Collusion Books, Fall 2022), is an evolving ten-year-plus “Slow Art” exploration of colonization, displacement and erasure on a five-acre, off-grid homestead near the historic Victoria Trail.


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