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"Taxidermy John"---A Short Story

#57... 01/28/04  Taxidermy John

One summer morning in 1990, I got up earlier than normal to buy the Sunday paper at a local 7-11 for my husband, Norman.  I figured on my way back from running practice I’d pick up Bagels and make a big brunch for us.  The day started out very hot and humid.  The sun was a typical July sun in New Jersey.   I drove from my apartment in Haledon to a 7-11 just over the border in Wayne for the paper.  Upon getting out of my car, in front of the store was a cardboard box.   As I approached the front door, I saw a little kitten in the box.  I looked around.  There appeared to be no one in sight.  
    I called into the store from the front door.  The man behind the counter said it wasn’t his.  Actually he seemed a bit annoyed that I asked.  The other two customers were men near the counter.  They looked at me like I was nuts and had no response and no concern.  The kitten was in the worst place. The sun bared down on the little thing right into her eyes.  It appeared she couldn’t open them fully.  She meowed lightly.  I wanted to bring her home, but I didn’t know what Norman’s reaction would be.  I knew we were not allowed pets and we had just moved in to our new apartment.  I sat by the box prayed and waited for a miracle. “God, what am I going to do.”  I mumbled.  
    I’ve felt these feelings of desperation before. Walking home from the temple where I attended first grade classes. I remember a day I was wearing my red leotards and it was very cold out.  I had to go pee.  Every move I made I’d cry. I felt I wouldn’t make it home.  That day I didn’t.  I was not only cold but now embarrassed and wet.  
    Just as I pondered those thoughts and talked to the kitten to comfort her that she would be cared for.  A man drove up in an old blue Ford Maverick.  I’d seen the car before and the man who came out of the car I recognized.  I never knew his name.  He saw me stooping by the box looking up at him. I had just moved the box from the front to the side of the 7-11 where there was shade.  

    He approached, “What do you have here?”  He asked.  

    “Well, I got here about ten to fifteen minutes ago and I found this box with a kitten in it.  It was in the sun.  The cashier was nasty when I approached him on it.  I don’t know what to do.  I live in an apartment, and I can’t have animals.  But I can’t leave her here.  It just wouldn’t be right.  I think she’s blind.”  I shrugged.  

    He replied, “Hey, you’re the lady who runs by Tun Tavern.  I live there.”  

    I responded, “Oh, yeah.  That’s near the ½ mile point of the beginning of many of my runs. What’s your name?”   

    Shaking hands, “I’m John.”  

    I reply, “I’m Jody.”  We look down at the kitten.  

    John states, “She sure is cute.”  

    I ask,   “So what do I do?”  

    John’s wheels are turning, “I can have a cat.  I live on the top floor of the Tavern with my wife.  We got a bird and two cats already.  My wife might kill me if I bring home another pet. Hmmmm.”  

    I hope and pray, still stooping next to John.  We stare at the box.  

    Then John says, “She needs medical attention.”  

    I ask, “You know much about cats?  I’m a dog person.”  

    He replies, “Oh yeah.  She does need a vet.  I’ve seen that in a cat’s eyes before.  The one eye looks bad.  But the other one looks like it would get better with the proper treatment.”  I had hope now.  John continues, “You can’t take her.  Hmmm.” John pauses, then says, “I’ll take her.”  

    I responded excitedly, “Really you will?!  Man, you’re great!   I’ll pay for her food.  Here’s where I live.  You tell me what she needs in vet bills.  I’ll pay for it.”  

    We shook hands.  He took the kitten in the box and put her in the back seat of his car.  We chatted a bit more.  We went in the store.  I was so relieved.  I didn’t see John or his car for about three to four weeks after that.  I wanted to pay him.  I finally saw him and his wife.  The kitten was nearly all better.  They really enjoyed having her.  The vet bill was about one hundred and thirty dollars.  They wouldn’t let me pay.  

    “She’s a great pet.”  They smiled and said.  She got along with the other cats.  

    I thought, ‘Boy, I hope someone helps him and his wife with something they need.  They’re good people.’  I found out John worked for the Auto Body shop nearly another mile up the road and he also had a Taxidermy business.  Everyday I ran by the Tavern as usual I’d wave to him, his wife, the lady that owned the Tavern or the man who lived in the basement below the Tavern.    There was usually someone out and about when I’d run by.   Years passed.  Nothing changed.  
    One day I was feeling low.  I’d had too much pain, still doing rehab for my limp.  I’d faltered in another race, my right leg would just not get better.  And this time it was my favorite ten thousand kilometer race in Pittsburgh.  One of my favorite cities to run through. I had high hopes that a miracle would occur.  The leg would stop dragging.  And after over four years I would stop limping.   
    It was a Monday morning in late September 1995.  A sunny day.  As I was ready to pass by Tun Tavern I sensed a smell that I was familiar with.  It was not a pleasant smell.  It was a smell of tragedy.   I was so bummed out that had the smell not been so bad.  I would have ran not noticing anything different on my running route.  I picked up my bowed head and as I went to approach Tun Tavern.  I found it was no more.  I stopped in my tracks. Standing on the side walk.  All there was, was black and the outline of a building that once was Tun Tavern.  
    A mattress lay on the sidewalk near the curb.  I knew someone died.  I could smell it.  I started to cry.  ‘Who died?’ I wondered.  I started to run again.  If I saw John’s new truck at the auto body shop.  Maybe it wasn’t him.  I quietly prayed and cried as I ran.  I approached the auto body shop.  There was John’s new truck.  I had little relief at first.  

    Then I ran up to the garage doors that were locked and banged yelling, “John, John Maglio are you in there?”  

    A man with a tan work outfit on answered the side door. “Who are you looking for?”  

    I replied, “The guy that owns that truck.” 

    He continued, “There’s a guy to your left in the next shop.  He might be him in there.”   

    I thanked him.  I ran to the other door and banged, yelling, “John, John are you in there?”  My heart raced.  

    John answered the door, “Jody?!”  

    I couldn’t help myself, I had mixed emotions.  “John, I’m so glad you’re okay.  Who died, John?”  I didn’t want to hear it was his wife.  A second felt like forever.  

    He looked stunned, “The guy who rented the basement.”  He rattled off the Irish surname.  

    I replied, “John I am so sorry.  How’s your wife?  What about the lady who owned the Tavern?”  

    He replied, “My landlord was lucky she’s been ill and was in the hospital.  I wasn’t home.  I went hunting in New York for my taxidermy business.  My wife was home, she’s upset, but she’s okay.  The other couple got out too.  Jody we lost everything.  I only have the truck and the clothes on my back.”  

    I shook my head, “How did this happen?”  

    John began, “The basement tenant was a heavy drinker and smoker.  He went to bed drunk as usual and he fell asleep with a cigarette.  He probably never felt a thing they say.  Had the landlord been home she would’ve been dead too. Since my wife and the other couple were on the top floor they had a couple minutes before it reached them.  Guess who saved my wife and the other couples’ lives?”  

    I shrugged my shoulders shaking my head, “Who?”  

    He continued, “That cat you found and I took in five years ago.”  I looked at him.  Crying I hugged him, “I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m so glad you’re alive.”  

    John solemnly continued, “We can’t find the cat.  We lost the bird.  You’re not going to believe what the cat did.  Something so unlike her. It was very late at night. She ran around meowing real loud.  Clawing the doors.  My wife got up tried to simmer her down and couldn’t.  My wife was baffled. Finally she opened the door and smelled smoke.  She awoke the other tenants.  And two minutes after they got out of the building it was completely engulfed.  That cat saved our lives.  I hope she ran away and comes back.  But I don’t know.”  

   
I asked people for help in finding a place for John and his wife.  Getting clothing for them.  And had people at work say prayers for them.  And we prayed for the cat too.  Days later I saw John’s truck again at the auto body shop.  I stopped by.  They found a new apartment, got some clothes.  But he had some bad news.  The cat had died of smoke inhalation.  She must have waited for life to leave, before she would.—Jody-Lynn Reicher

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