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The Taxidermist and the Baker

The baker’s skin, burnished from the heat of very hot ovens, is soft but taut. The taxidermist likes to pretend when she’s fondling the baker that she’s fondling an hourglass. The hourglass. What determines the duration of all activities, provides a semblance of order and congruity and meaning. God’s hourglass.

“You smell like sugar,” the taxidermist says, nuzzling the baker’s neck.

“You smell like death,” the baker says.

The baker’s secret is this: she loves this smell. Sometimes, when the taxidermist isn’t paying attention, she scrapes her fingernail—lightly, lightly—underneath the taxidermist’s fingernail. What she finds there she keeps in a small tin originally intended for cigarettes embossed with a cheeky pinup girl. When the taxidermist is gone, the baker takes the tin from her apron and brings it to her face and breathes. Only then can she really see the taxidermist, in a way she can’t when the taxidermist is right in front of her. The claw and snout of her, the blood-tongue-sweat of her.  

“Here,” the taxidermist says, her mouth to the baker’s ear, “you taste like salted caramel.”

The taxidermist’s secret is this: her mother is dying. Brain tumor. The doctors say she has at most five weeks to live. She doesn’t tell the baker because she doesn’t want their moments to be corrupted. She needs this, these God moments, these sacred sands of the hourglass, in order to deal with the other moments. Her mother transformed into a bloated and incoherent version of herself. When she grips the taxidermist without understanding who she is. That kind of love: without recognition, a blind animal reaching—terrible, terrible.

“I made you something,” the baker says. She uncovers a small yellow cake. Delicate curls of toasted coconut atop snow-white frosting. So perfect and pretty the taxidermist wants to cry.

“I made you something too,” the taxidermist says. She unzips her backpack and pulls out a bundle, unwraps an immortal European starling. Iridescence licks the speckled oily wing. Beak angled to suggest wisdom and romance. It makes the baker salivate.  

“Shall we begin?” the baker asks. The taxidermist nods.

And they do. They begin and begin and begin, turning the hourglass end over end, finding a new way to create and destroy, consume and be consumed, their mouths, their ravenous mouths, full of sugar and feathers and flesh—the only plausible way into love.  

Molly Reid’s debut collection of stories, The Rapture Index: A Suburban Bestiary, won the seventh annual BOA Short Fiction Prize and was published by BOA in May of 2019. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming on NPR and in the journals TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Gulf Coast, Witness, and Florida Review, among others. She recently received her Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati and is currently the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.

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