“If you find a really nice roadkill on the highway, grab it and I’ll tell you how to stuff it,” my brother-in-law (one of many) said to me a few decades ago. I was interested in any form of art at the time, although roadkill wasn’t high on my list. Shortly thereafter I did come upon an owl who had been nicked—you wonder how—and I pulled over and jumped between cars to retrieve him. He was in perfect condition. He might have dropped from a heart attack.
I took him home and put him in my mother’s freezer, where he stayed for seven years. Before she started calling him Rachel (we sometimes called him her), I borrowed the necessary materials, mainly borax powder, from my brother-in-law who told me to go to a taxidermy shop and ask for eyes for an eagle. “Don’t mention an owl,” he said. “They’re protected.” I took him to my grandmother’s, where I intended to spend the weekend in my act of preservation. It was Thanksgiving and everyone was asking me what I was going to do.
“Stuff an owl,” I said.
“Stuff an owl!” There was real shock. Eventually I realized they were seeing him go into the oven full of herbs and mushrooms and bread crumbs.
He lasted a long time and then one day he fluttered a feather down on me and I looked in his eyes a long time, wondering about the nature of mercy.