Johnny America


The 7th Day


One Wednes­day morn­ing, I was walk­ing home from work, play­ing my “Oh My Dar­ling, Clemen­tine” on my har­mon­i­ca. It was about 7:00, and traf­fic was start­ing to pick up on the busier streets. Prepar­ing to cross Ken­tucky Street on 13th, I no­ticed a rather large road-kill corpse on the op­po­site side of the cor­ner. I want­ed to pay my re­spects to the dead, so I ap­proached it. Sus­pect­ing a mem­ber of the ca­nine fam­i­ly, I was shocked to see that it was, in fact, a beaver. I saw a beaver once two sum­mers ago for half a sec­ond as he splashed back in­to the Kaw and swam away in the opaque wa­ters. Up close, the beast was amaz­ing. The tail, oh the tail, and those weird webbed feet that kind of re­mind­ed me of my ex-boyfriend’s toes. I knew that this was my big break. I had to have that beaver. I walked the block to my house schem­ing bril­liant schemes, all of them seem­ing­ly fea­si­ble. I need­ed a wag­on, or at least a piece of ply­wood big enough to use as a travois. But first, I need­ed the dish­wash­ing gloves from un­der the sink. I would have been damned rather than to pick it up with my bare hands.

Re­turn­ing to the beaver, I re­al­ized in a sud­den epiphany what need­ed to be done. I would mum­mi­fy this beaver us­ing tra­di­tion­al an­cient Egypt­ian meth­ods, record the process pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly, make a sar­coph­a­gus to hold the re­mains, then write an aca­d­e­m­ic ar­ti­cle about the en­tire mum­mi­fi­ca­tion procedure.

Then I came up­on the Dil­lons shop­ping cart, the an­swer to my mum­bled prayers, aban­doned in the back al­ley. I wheeled it down the street to the sup­posed kill site, gin­ger­ly heaved the fifty pound beaver in­to the cart, and cruised down the side­walk to­ward home.

When I reached my house, it oc­curred to me that I couldn’t just leave a dead beaver in a shop­ping cart in the front yard. So I rolled her up in some car­pet padding from the dump­ster, then phoned my old sculp­ture pro­fes­sor for a quick mum­mi­fi­ca­tion con­sul­ta­tion. I had worked with dead an­i­mals be­fore, but they were all self-des­ic­cat­ing ones, like birds, bats, crus­taceans, and in­sects. My for­mer pro­fes­sor in­sist­ed up­on re­mov­ing all the or­gans and sug­gest­ed pack­ing the body in di­atoma­ceous earth. I need­ed a quick fix, so I went to Dil­lons for salt and bak­ing so­da, in which I coat­ed the an­i­mal on both sides be­fore re-wrap­ping her. This is very sim­i­lar to the na­tron so­lu­tion used by An­cient Egyp­tians to dry corpses af­ter the re­moval of vi­tal organs.

On Sun­day af­ter­noon, my vet­eri­nar­i­an sis­ter, Amy, came in­to town to as­sist with the anatom­i­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. An­drew, my per­ma­nent part­ner in crime and free-lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er, record­ed the bloody event with his Nikon cam­era. My room­mate, Rani, as­sist­ed with moral sup­port and held her nose. We had pre­pared a con­coc­tion of herbs with which to fill the ab­dom­i­nal cav­i­ty af­ter re­mov­ing the liv­er, stom­ach, in­testines, and lungs. The brain, heart, and kid­neys would re­main in the body ac­cord­ing to old­er dy­nas­tic tra­di­tion, as they were thought to be of lit­tle spir­i­tu­al value.

Cut­ting open the ab­domen was not as gut-wrench­ing as I had an­tic­i­pat­ed, and pulling out and iden­ti­fy­ing the or­gans was ac­tu­al­ly very in­ter­est­ing; I hadn’t dis­sect­ed any­thing mam­malian be­fore, on­ly a starfish, a craw­dad, and a frog. Giv­en my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, the or­gans, al­though re­mark­ably in­tact, were much big­ger than the make-shift canopic jars I was go­ing to use. There­fore, the or­gans were re­gret­ful­ly discarded.

To­ward the end of the pro­ce­dure, Amy an­nounced, “Oh, great, it looks like we have an au­di­ence.” I turned around, bloody steak knife in hand, and saw the al­ley neigh­bors star­ing out of their win­dow with pale, sick­ened faces. I replied to Amy, “It’s their choice if they want to watch. This isn’t il­le­gal is it?” We laughed at sense­less Amer­i­can legalities.

The rit­u­al was al­most over. Nor­mal­ly, the cav­i­ty would be cleansed with wine to kill any re­main­ing bac­te­ria, but it was Sun­day in Kansas, so I had to by­pass that step. We dumped in the herbs, lack­ing frank­in­cense and myhrr as well. Some­times the in­ci­sion would be closed with wax in An­cient Egypt, but we left it open to has­ten drain­ing, thus al­low­ing the ca­dav­er to dry more ef­fi­cient­ly. How­ev­er, it would still take sev­en­ty days for the corpse to be dry enough to per­form the fi­nal ex­te­ri­or cleans­ing of blood and na­tron, then wrap the body in linen and place it in the sar­coph­a­gus with any earth­ly trea­sures to as­sist and pro­tect the soul in the af­ter­life. The ka would then be able to choose be­tween her earth­ly body or a va­ri­ety of stat­ues placed next to the sar­coph­a­gus if she chose to re-in­hab­it a three-di­men­sion­al form.

The dirty work done, Amy went home, Rani went to the bar, and An­drew and I went to see the Span­ish fla­men­co dancers at Lib­er­ty Hall. We were head­ing down the al­ley, when I spot­ted two cops in­ter­ro­gat­ing the spies who had been eaves­drop­ping ear­li­er. I tip-toed past, but it was too late. Now it was our turn for interrogation.

“Hey, is that your beaver?”

“That one? Yes, why?”

“Do you have a fur-har­vest­ing license?”

“No, should I?”

There were muf­fled chuck­les and kid­dish glances be­tween the slight­ly be­wil­dered of­fi­cers. It seems I had bro­ken the law af­ter all. They could have ar­rest­ed me for dis­or­der­ly con­duct based on the ac­count told by the ter­ri­fied Peep­ing Toms. “Every­one has their lim­its as to what they find of­fen­sive,” the fe­male cop explained.

I protest­ed, “They didn’t have to stand there star­ing out the window!”

Af­ter hear­ing all my plans for the beaver, they agreed that I am not a wor­ship­per of the Dev­il, just an artist with a flare for the macabre. “This isn’t re­al­ly our area of ex­per­tise,” the male of­fi­cer said, “so we’re go­ing to have to turn your case over to the Kansas Fish and Wildlife De­part­ment.” He gave me his busi­ness card with the name and num­ber of the lo­cal con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer scrawled on the back. Nev­er once was there any ex­pressed con­cern for risks to my health af­ter deal­ings with a dead an­i­mal of undis­closed fate, nor was there any in­ter­est in the stolen shop­ping cart.

First thing Mon­day, I called Justin Koehn, the con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer, and left a mes­sage de­clar­ing my plea of for­give­ness. A few hours lat­er, I called again, of­fer­ing to ob­tain a fur-har­vest­ing li­cense if I could keep the beaver. He fi­nal­ly re­turned my call, and af­ter hear­ing the sto­ry in its en­tire­ty, said that he want­ed to just let me keep the ca­dav­er, in the name of art. How­ev­er, he had to treat every­one equal­ly, so he would dis­cuss it with his col­leagues and get back­up opinions.

Wednes­day, one week af­ter the orig­i­nal en­counter, the con­ser­va­tion­ist ar­rived at my doorstep, and I showed him the kill spot, which, af­ter dis­cussing the im­prob­a­bil­i­ty of the beaver ac­tu­al­ly be­ing road-kill, I de­cid­ed to agree with An­drew, whose the­o­ry was that she had fall­en off the back of a poacher’s truck. The on­ly in­jury I could see was an abra­sion on the back of her neck, which I had orig­i­nal­ly at­trib­uted to tire tracks but was most like­ly where a steel trap had snapped her neck. Hope­ful­ly it was a quick and pain­less death be­cause she was such a good sport, ca­vort­ing around in that shop­ping cart.

I plead­ed again with him to al­low me to ob­tain the li­cense and pro­ceed as planned. How­ev­er, the of­fi­cer ex­plained, the li­cense still would not al­low me to mum­mi­fy a fur-bear­ing an­i­mal; it would on­ly al­low me to skin her and sell the hide. Alas, Justin had made up his mind. He wrote me a warn­ing tick­et for pos­ses­sion “of beaver in off-sea­son with­out hav­ing 2005 fur-har­vest­ing li­cense,” and he took her away in a trans­par­ent plas­tic sack, toss­ing her in the back of his pick-up truck. I did cry a lit­tle, maybe a lot. I want­ed so bad­ly to say, “How can it be right to treat every­one the same when every cir­cum­stance, every sit­u­a­tion, every way in which the law is bro­ken is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent? Would it not be more eth­i­cal to as­sess every case along with the giv­en set of mo­tives and ra­tio­nale as well as the even­tu­al out­come?” But he was gone, and he took his con­science and my beaver with him.

Lugubri­ous­ly, I col­lect­ed the na­tron so­lu­tion with bits of blood and tis­sue in­to four lit­tle glass canopic bot­tles. I’ll be damned if I’ll let a man take my beaver away from me with­out pick­ing up the pieces and mov­ing on ahead. Isis knows, I’ve done it before.

Filed under Non-Fiction on October 19th, 2005

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Reader Comments

Jum wrote:

that is one damn har­row­ing tale about a girl and her beaver. Leave it the law­men to in­ter­fere with your life. What a girl does to her beaver should not reg­u­lat­ed by some tight-ass whiteys in suits. I am sor­ry for your loss and hope you get your hands on an­oth­er beaver re­al soon.

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