Isabel heard the truck door slam and peered out the window to see Lloyd scampering up the driveway with a load of dead stuff in his hands, “Oh Lord please don’t bring that shit in the house, Lloyd,” she muttered to herself. But right up the sidewalk to the front door, he ran like a six-year old that just caught his first firefly and couldn’t wait to show mama. He stood at the door looking through the window at her with that big, ole’ shit-eating grin she’d grown to love.
“Open up, sweetie! My hands are full!”
She smiled a little half-smile and opened the door as her fur-ball pussy cat ran to jump on Lloyd’s catch. She looked down to see what he had in his hands and there they were; a dozen soaking wet, dead-ass muskrats. “I had a great day! Look!” He held them closer to her and she quickly took a big step backward.
“Yeah, Lloyd that’s great. Now take those damn things outside, please.”
“Yeah, I will, but this is seventy-two bucks right here! I been watchin’ fur prices and they’re goin’ up. Oh! And you shoulda seen this one. I was checkin’ the trap and he was still alive and just mean!” Lloyd liked to tell her stories about trapping; how sometimes he had to fight with the animals before they’d die. He’d wrinkle up his nose and stick his upper teeth out like a rodent and use his best rodent voice telling her how they screamed, “Incoming! Medic! Man down!”
“I don’t need the details, Lloyd. You know some husbands bring their wives flowers and what do I get? A dozen drowned rats.”
“Not all of ‘em drowned sweetie. See this guy here? I had to shoot him in the head ‘cause he wouldn’t die.”
“Terrific, Lloyd, now please take them back outside.”
Lloyd lowered his head and pouted like he just lost his best rifle and finally took the damn blasted dead rats out of her house.
Well, it wasn’t exactly a house. Lloyd had built a taxidermy shop with his own two hands. They’d been living in a trailer and he’d rented a shop uptown, but he was at that shop constantly and Isabel got lonely. Now they had a little one and Lloyd just couldn’t be gone so much. He ordered a steel building and his brother and father helped him build it with an apartment on the top floor for them to live. At first, Isabel was happy about it. That trailer was old and didn’t have any air conditioning. There was some type of mold growing in the baby’s room and she just wanted out, so she encouraged Lloyd. Having him downstairs working would be a lot better than having him uptown until all hours.
She’d encouraged his taxidermy too. She’d been an animal lover her whole life and didn’t care much for hunting, but in North Dakota, it was just a part of life. She reminded herself that Lloyd wasn’t killing the animals; he was just mounting them for others to display and he did a damn fine job of it. No doubt about it, Lloyd was an artist with a deer hide. He could make them look alive just like they were staring you down in the woods—except for where they were nailed to the wall, of course. He’d also done a lot of bear rugs that sold for a pretty penny and the money he made with taxidermy made up for what they didn’t make at their full time jobs. It wasn’t until about four years into the marriage that they moved into the shop and called it home. Isabel had gotten used to the animals on the wall, in the deep freeze. Heck, she even laughed when she opened the fridge to get a beer and screamed at the bear head that was inside. That’s also when Lloyd began trapping again. It started with beavers as they seemed to be easiest to trap and fetched some pretty high prices at auction. It also led to quite a few amusing conversations.
“Hey, Isabel, where’s Lloyd at tonight?”
“Oh, he’s out trapping beavers.”
“Beavers! Don’t you give him enough at home? But really, what does he want with beaver?”
“Ahahahahaha! Your husband’s out getting him some beaver fur.”
Or heaven forbid he’d be stretching beaver hides. “Lloyd’s out in the garage stretching beavers.”
“You told me Lloyd wasn’t all that big! Ha ha ha.”
Beaver trapping was always good for a laugh and Isabel tried to keep an open mind and accept him. He was the man she married after all and she’d promised to love him for better or worse. The worse was when he’d spend 6 hours fleshing beaver—literally pealing the fat from the skin with a saw—and then he’d undress and throw his filthy, bloody, beaver fat-stained clothes in the washing machine with her work clothes and the baby’s clothes. Nothing stayed clean and no matter how much detergent and fabric softener she used, everything still smelled like beaver. (Ha ha.)
Then, there were the European mounts. She like the way they looked when they were done: the bare skull topped with the antlers, but smelling that flesh boiling off the bone was more than she could take some days and she’d have to leave. He boiled skulls outside in a huge tub. He’d light a fire underneath and throw the deer heads in and let them boil for hours to get the skin off. She remembered when her mother-in-law had suggested he throw an onion in there to at least make it smell like he’s cooking something good and Isabel nearly upchucked all over the carpet.
She’d tried to talk with him about it; about how odd it was living there, but he’d just tell her she knew what she was getting into when they married and that he loved what he did. They couldn’t afford to move and it was a really nice place he’d built for them. She’d ask that he just cut back on the trapping. “But, honey, we need the extra money! And you know that trapping is my favorite thing in the world.”
Yes, she knew. He told her all the time how trapping was his favorite thing; not her, not their son, but killing animals. She knew she needed to stop trying to change him and just be grateful for what she had; a roof over their heads, food on the table. She also had the fur-ball to keep her company while Lloyd was out trapping or working downstairs. She’d had Ginger for 9 years longer than she’d had Lloyd. That feline got Isabel through many a tough time in college with break ups and finals. Ginger always knew when to leave her alone and when to snuggle. When Lloyd was gone and the baby was asleep, that pile of fur would keep her company. Living in a taxidermy shop was a cat’s dream come true. She’d feast when Lloyd was fleshing beaver. Isabel hated it because she’d end up stinking like beaver, but how could she stop a predator from eating flesh?
Lloyd would catch stray cats in his traps every once in a while. He told their boy they were prairie lions, so he wouldn’t realize they were cats just like their pet. Sometimes, he’d laugh talking about all the damn dead cats he had to get rid of. Isabel really hated it when he’d talk like that. His favorite thing was trapping. Her favorite thing after her boy was her cat.
One day when Lloyd was bringing in a fresh batch of beaver, Ginger ran out the door for the last time. Isabel searched everywhere and even put an ad in the paper and offered a reward. Lloyd didn’t seem to care much that the cat had disappeared or that he was the last one to see her. Isabel was suspicious, but went for months without a word. Before long winter came with sub-zero temperatures and blizzards seemed to happen once a week. Her best friend was gone and now it was just Lloyd, their boy, and about 500 dead animals. One evening, she worked up the courage to ask him what she already knew. “Did you do something to my cat? You can tell me, I won’t be mad. I just want to know what happened.”
Lloyd looked at her, squinted, smiled, and said, “Nope. I got no idea what happened to that cat.” She knew he was lying. “You killed her, didn’t you?” There was a long pause before Lloyd cast his eyes toward the floor, shook his head and said, “That damn cat was getting old anyway. Ain’t my fault she’s too stupid to stay outta my trap.”
Her heart sank as she wandered back upstairs repeating to herself, “For better or for worse, Isabel. For better or for worse.”