by Mike Florian
When his parents argued, twelve-year old Adam would sneak out of the back door of the house and walk the two blocks to the Hickson Memorial Library. There, where for the last six months he hadn’t been able to extricate himself from the ‘A’s, he would leaf through and read all that he could about the subject of Africa.
At his age, in the 1950’s, he read the Snows of Kilimanjaro, Serengeti Shall not Die, The Lions of Tsavo, and the works of Albert Schweitzer. He was a funny little kid, a loner.
Adam also liked the outdoors. Every month, when the magazines with titles like Rod & Gun, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield were published, he would take his allowance and purchase them during the third week of the preceding month.
At home, Adam slept in a tiny bedroom. It was large enough for a child’s bed, a chest of drawers, a desk and chair. The walls of the bedroom were plastered with cutouts from the outdoor magazines. There were photos of every significant animal living in Africa.
Adam also collected photos of the big game animals of North America. Each time a new issue might provide a photograph of a cheetah running in full flight, or a wapiti standing majestically in the Rocky Mountains, he would carefully cut it out and paste it to his walls. The walls were completely covered.
His grandmother, who lived with the family, couldn’t stand the destruction of their walls. “Why are you doing that?” she nagged. Of course, the inevitable day arrived when he came home from school, walked into his room and saw that the entire collection of animal photos had been removed. The walls were painted a somber battleship grey.
Undaunted, Adam began his collection once again. He metamorphosed and found pictures of insects that he pasted on his walls. He had pictures of insects fighting, of oozing colorful South American fluids, of insect eyes, claws and antennae.
His grandmother became more agitated. Now the arguments emanating from the living room, down the hallway, included all of the grown-ups.
“We should take him to a doctor,” said his mother.
“The boy is just a boy,” said his father.
“He should see a psychiatrist, not a doctor,” said his grandmother.
Adam was listening, but what he was really focusing on was a picture he found in a National Geographic magazine of a leopard, allegedly located in the Ngorongoro Crater, pulling down a wildebeeste, with all the trappings of a savannah kill. He cut it out and pasted it on his bed side wall right next to the photo of the dung beetle. The following week his photos were gone and the walls were painted a Chinese-industrial green.
Being the resilient individual that he was, Adam cut the taxidermy advertisement out of one of his magazines. He filled the appropriate boxes and sent two dollars with his application for lesson #1. It arrived within two weeks. It was a detailed booklet with drawings and very didactic explanations of the initial process.
Lesson #1 explained in detail how to place a live hamster into an empty, large mayonnaise jar, how to throw in a swab of cotton soaked in ether, and then tightly replace the lid. Young Adam followed the instructions and was profoundly and visibly shaken when he saw the little animal die.
Nevertheless, he wanted to continue his lessons, and he did so in a careful and methodical manner. At the end of Lesson #1, working away in a small corner of the house basement, Adam produced a stuffed brown hamster. When he brought it upstairs after a few days, his grandmother opened the door to his bedroom, saw the Christ-on-the-cross pose of the rodent, and said “Oy.”
That evening Adam listened to grand sobs and arguments. He left the house for his beloved library. By that time he managed to get out of Africa and over to the Arachnids. Not too soon after, his room took on a familiar décor. This time, spider pictures started off in the inside corner of the wall and worked their way up into view.
Over time, Adam sent for and received Lessons #2 through to #10. The hamster was accompanied by a pigeon; then a sparrow hawk that fell from the sky and into the street; a squirrel he happened to pick up in the park. One day Adam brought home a deer head in a black, plastic bag. It wasn’t freshly killed.
He followed the instructions for a large mammal and used wire and excelsior and borax with skill and experience. The basement corner became a menagerie. The deer head was a thing of beauty. It would have been perfect except that the only glass eyes Adam had in stock were the ones with vertical, oval pupils meant for the sheep family. Adam became skilled with scalpel and tweezers. His thirteenth birthday was coming soon.
The arguments continued upstairs. If it wasn’t about Adam, it was about money, drinking, sleeping too much, not big enough of a television or car. No one ventured downstairs to see how Adam was doing.
The spider pictures stopped where they started. He lost interest in the B’s and C’s of the library aisles. In his little hideaway Adam made shelves for his tools of the trade. He had bottles of ether; cans of salt and borax; glass eyes from minuscule to huge; plastic teeth of all kinds.
One evening, his grandmother quietly opened the makeshift, plywood door that Adam had constructed to keep his privacy. She entered without knocking, saw the Guernica collection of skins, heads and bodies and said “Oy.”
A few evenings later, the arguments continued. Every night was the same. The mother yelled at the father and the father yelled back. Adam was listening to it all. Suddenly, the house went quiet. Adam sat up straight.
“Where’s grandma?” he heard his mother ask his father.
Copyright © 2011 by Mike Florian