For Sale: Death and Coyote Jaws
I woke up on a Friday morning hungover, and walked, blue Gatorade in hand, toward Andersonville. Today, on purpose, I would step into Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities for the first time. I had been in pursuit of finding myself again. My therapist recommended that I go somewhere, do something that scared me but did not put me in danger. I remember being troubled by the exterior of the shop even before my assault. I think my therapist wanted me to feel capable of conquering something.
The mile walk was hot and my thighs stuck together with sweat as I got closer to the shop. A man on a bike stopped on the street next to me and stared me up and down.
“Hey baby,” he said. I looked at the ground and walked ahead.
It was difficult to walk anywhere alone since last Fall.
“Honey,” he said, pedaling to stay at my pace. “Sweetheart, don’t ignore me.” The heat of the day was coming and I felt it in my gut. The man biked away.
“Safe,” I thought.
I had planned it so I’d arrive at noon, right when they opened, but at Clark and Foster my heart had begun to beat out of my chest. I stopped at the intersection and held myself for a whole minute before walking into Woolly Mammoth.
The sign on the door read CLOSED, but the door was open. The lights were out and no one was inside. No living things. Only dead. An eight-legged baby pig in a jar filled with formaldehyde. A “real two-headed cow” named Brussel Sprouts.
I’ve always been fascinated by death. When my great uncle Andy died, I was nine years old and my mother hates when I bring it up, but I touched his face in the casket. I remember the aunts gasping. My mother yanked me up and took me quickly out of the church, passing amused cousins in the back. My excuse was that I was grabbing his nose like he always grabbed mine, but I knew better. I wanted to feel the face of a man who was no longer inside his body.
I surprised myself by whispering, “Hello?” inside the shop. No one answered. I half expected the two-faced cow to moo at me, half expected the piglet to squeal. I took out my phone and snapped a picture of Brussel Sprouts. He looked sad. Or they did? Did the cow have one brain or two? And is it the heart or the brain that makes us singular? Where does the soul sit?
A man’s voice said, “No pictures,” and I looked to the back of the shop. He had a receding hairline and a thin voice. I apologized and watched as he turned the lights on, illuminating more of the once living. He walked to the front of the store and, half-closing the door, flipped the sign to OPEN. I thought in that moment that he was shutting the door, that he would punish me for taking pictures of the creatures that didn’t have a voice. I looked around for a weapon. I am always looking around for weapons. “Just in case,” I tell myself. Just in case.
In front of me, behind glass, sat a “REAL SHRUNKEN HEAD” named Lenny. Lenny sat just above a bin full of coyote jaw bones. I thought I’d smash my hand through the glass, grab Lenny, and chuck it at the man if he tried anything. I saw that the man wasn’t shutting the door, wasn’t going to hurt me, and so I was temporarily safe. I took one of the coyote jaws in my hand and felt the weight of it.
I have temporomandibular joint disorder. My jaw locks. It started six years ago and is made worse by stress. I haven’t been able to make my jaw stop clicking when I speak, eat, breath, since my assault and I wondered if the coyote who once lived with the jaw in my hand had ever experienced fear as great as being held to a bed and told to take it or die. This coyote died.
I turned around to the man staring at me and decided to ask him how he’d acquired these items.
“I go everywhere for them,” he said.
Sometimes when I feel unsafe in the presence of a man, I feel the need to talk to him, to
reveal my human-like qualities, to make him realize that there is someone inside my body. The man smiled with half of his mouth.
I walked over toward the register and noticed more little bins of oddities: “Real human teeth” for $10, “Dentures” for $15 or two for $28, and “Lucky Raccoon Penis Bones” for $14 each. The penis bones were curved, thin, long. I didn’t want to touch them, didn’t want to look at them. Nowadays, anything phallic makes me feel dirty, makes me remember having to throw away my blood-stained comforter. I couldn’t shower for a long time after getting home from the hospital. I couldn’t touch myself. I pulled out my phone to check the time and the man touched my shoulder.
“No pictures,” he said again, this time hitting the end of “pictures” harder, brasher. It made me want to cry. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t going to take a picture, that I was just checking for the time, that I was trying to feel anything but death and the fear of it around me, but I didn’t. I turned around and walked out of the shop feeling his hand on my shoulder the entire walk back to my apartment.
Laura Manardo is an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago for Creative Writing/Fiction in her second year of coursework. She received her BA at Kalamazoo College in 2015. She primarily writes stories that border the strange about love and people’s quest to find it. This is her first non-fiction publication.