By Thursday I had yet to hear from a certain person, despite the picture of a rat’s head I had sent him, so then I sent a concerned message asking if he minded the picture of the rat’s head, since he had decided to become a vegan. Nor, it now occurred to me, had I yet heard from my Mother, so I rang her myself.
“Hello, Mother,” I said, and she said, “Hello-?” I told her about the rat’s head, and how in fact it had annoyed me beyond belief when the boy decided to become vegan. I became very smarmy about vegans. “Once I went to the zoo, and there was a group of vegans in hessian pants out the front looking out for things to protest, and one of the girls had taken a whole clipboardfull of notes before she had even gone through the gate and seen how spectacularly the animals were mistreated and abused.”
“They don’t like to see animals in cages,” said Mother, who had lain about slinkily on bear rugs in enough glamour photos to understand the real tragedy implicit in keeping a bear behind bars for a lifetime, til it got so old it lost all of the colour and gloss from its fur.
“They’d rather see them extinct in the wild, I suppose.”
“You weren’t really upset he went vegan,” said Mother suddenly. “You were just upset he didn’t ask you first.”
“Well that’s probably true,” said I. “I love a nature lecture. And the poor fool can’t be trusted to make important decisions on his own.”
“You are condescending and a bully.”
“Well this has been a delightful short chat,” said Mother. “Now I have to…”
“Mother, mother – it’s my birthday,” said I.
“Oh,” said Mother, “It’s your birthday?”
“Did you forget my birthday, Mother?”
“Did you remember mine?”
“You mean last year? When I was in Texas? I tried to ring. But you didn’t pick up. Awash with bourbon, in Texas, I couldn’t say exactly what I did to celebrate. I could have fired a pistol into the ceiling, but it would have disturbed the couple in bed on the floor above.”
“What about the year before?”
“Does it matter, Mother? The particulars? I’m sure I marked the occasion with a fitting tribute.”
“Well you’d probably find it easier to remember if the tribute wasn’t so cheap.”
“Wait. Didn’t I get you that painting?” (“Woman Walking In An Exotic Forest” by Henri Rousseau… dreamy, disquieting, childlike, ‘naive’… She put it above the TV, where most people in the 80’s had a print of one of the illustrations from Animalia).
“It’s the sentiment that I found to be cheap,” said Mother. Suddenly, despite the connection, her pronunciation, her round tones, the sharp ends and hisses of her s’s and t’s became distinct in frightening thespian fashion. “It has nothing to do with the magnificence, the significance, of that startling thing, you know, a Birth Day… The day on which you were born… Before which, you existed, but had not yet been born… before which time you didn’t exist at all, and it didn’t bother you, which is why I wonder why people worry so much about dying. It is like Roland Barthes said somewhere, Is history not simply that time when we were not born? So your own birthday is really, you know, a division: consciousness from non-consciousness, the separation of the “present” from “history”; it can hardly be adequately summed up with candles and a ditty, and why anyone else should pretend to care or be able to truly grasp the first and last significant moment in your life is beyond me… the beginning of your consciousness is meaningless to them, and anyway they have one of their own that they are still struggling with.”
Mother has a real talent for making me become incredibly cynical. Moreso than usual, I mean. “You’re really just bitter because you hate your life,” I said, psychoanalysing in a strikingly perceptive and emotionally mature way. “I couldn’t be an active participant in your birth, the way you were in mine, so I’m sorry, Mother, if you’ve ever felt I didn’t care enough about you to be there for you in your darkest hour. But believe me it was due to circumstances beyond my control.”
“In that case it’s only fitting that you rang me on your birthday,” said Mother. “In order to thank me for it.”
“But that’s what Mother’s Day is for!” I protested valiantly, but in vain.
“But I am your mother every day,” said Mother. “Not once a year.”
Then, tersely, twisting the phone cord round and round my lovely fingers, til they went red. “I’m aware of that. In fact the fact weighs heavily on my mind, Mother. But I was only born once, Mother, ”(crisply). “I, your only daughter, was once of woman born (misquoting)… Once… Once, Mother… on the 28th of February (‘Février’ en Français),” (close to tears) “And the anniversary of that spectacular event was on Tuesday, TUESDAY – of all days, in the entire year, the day before the day I rang you, however fantastic the coincidence may seem!”
[ Obviously this conversation took place some months ago. ]
“Of course,” said Mother slowly. “February is the cruellest month,” (misquoting). “The twenty eighth of February…” (in the same tone in which monarchists would say, “Bastille Day”) “X amount of years ago.”
“Do you even know how old I am, Mother?”
“No. The last few decades have all been a blur. I blame the Scotch. [aside] Or is it gin? Or do I simply not care enough to remember precisely? [loud again] That’s what Motherhood will do to you,” said Mother, in the tone she adopted when she felt warm and inspired to give maternal advice, woman-to-woman. It communicated itself down the telephone line with a cat-like vibrato. “It gives you an aversion to small children. And it’s no coincidence that I was married to your father around the same time I had you and took up drinking. Tho’ which came first in the chain of events is unclear, as I said before.”
So I said, “Mother, I hate you,” and hung up.
Later that day I went to the museum to see a little eagle get taxidermied. It was a beautiful white bird with really beautiful big black eyes that I saw the man pop out before he stuffed the sockets with cotton wool. First he put the bird on its back and made a cut on its soft stomach longways down the middle. Then it was a matter of gently working its skin and feathers off pushing with his bare fingers while he kept adding a white powder (Borax I think) to soak up any “moisture”. He told us the eagle had been road kill, and that it had been donated, for science, he told us, to pacify the vegans protesting, like they always do, because their diet makes them tetchy, because the vegans had misunderstood the wording of “live dissection” and taken it to mean (because they would rather believe, because it fits in with their world schema) that the “live dissection” would be performed on a live animal, rather than that the dissection would be performed, live, meaning unrecorded, on a dead animal; idiots.
All that time he was working around the wings etc., the bird on its back, jiggling slightly, gazed at me upside-down with those beautiful eyes and the same, absolutely unconcerned and shameless stare of babies with their legs in the air when they are having their bums wiped. I mean you grow up, discover shame, then have to go on living thirty, forty, even fifty years before you rediscover that absolutely pure state, shamelessness, at the other end, when you’re mental in the old folks home: it’s there, in the garden of Eden, the pre-lapsarian state of grace, when you’re a baby and haven’t lived long enough to care what people think; then again when you are old and have lived too long to go on caring. And, coincidentally, it’s somewhere in those middle years when you do care what people think (to greater or lesser degrees) that all of the worst things seem to happen (and you become concerned with clothes).
Occasionally the taxidermist had to use something to clip around the tricky bits like the legs, where there were more ligaments or whatever, then the constant gaze disappeared and the bird’s next got turned inside-out like a sock, whereupon the taxidermist used a bone cutter, which makes the most horrible crunch, a crunch beyond description, to cut the skull away from the neck. In birds you have to keep the skull because of the beak, but that necessitates scraping the brains out – horrific crunch again – this bird “had undergone some trauma” and so the brain was just mush, which could have dribbled out. Then he threw some more powder in, followed by more cotton wool (I’ve seen boys shove white powder, followed by tissues, up their nose in a similar fashion to prevent blood dripping on their Law Exams) and turned the neck the right way back. Then it was just flat and formless like empty clothes. The rest of the eagle, lying on the table a startling, indecent distance from its skin and feathers (comparable to a whore when she kicks her knickers off) looked just as pink and edible as your traditional Friday basted poultry dish.
This took about 35 minutes… I had, at about 28 minutes, begun to feel a little nauseous, but that was due to the smell of the little eagle more than anything, it was actually bloodless, and I’ve only been doting over the details here in order to make a certain vegan chuck. But it was close there, and getting hot, with nerds pressing in on either side of me, so the smell was not pleasant. This was on a special evening when the youth had been enticed to the museum with drinks and sexy nature lectures, so it was really packed. But then I felt assailed by the grating, excited cackle-comments of the self-aware, B.Sci@UniMelb type; you know, they always have a slight fuzz on their faces, which impresses you with dirtiness rather than masculinity; they wear brown trousers, which impresses you with dirtiness more than anything; $5 (plastic, fuzz-covered) grey-or-brown checked, narrow brimmed trilbies, which impresses you with dirtiness and dandruff and cheapness and an actually offensive lack of discernment, because they believe their Ye Olde headwear is a genuine port-hole-like link to the sophistication of a sexier age, whether gangster, noir, a dive bar, Chicago, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney; the fifties, jazz played under six leagues of cigarette smoke, pork-pie hat sitting on the back of the head; or the rakish trilby of the well dressed gents of Jermyn St, Cork St, the Burlington Arcade, Saville Row, in the thirties, in co-respondents, swinging a cane; Kafka? (If you go to UniMelb it always comes back to Kafka, they’ll always find a way to drop in a Kafka, even in vet sciences.) I don’t think even the stinking nerds know what look it is they’re referencing, and why the narrow brims, which make the hats actually useless in the sun, why? This annoys me. Scientists, all, with a genuinely bizarre, irrational and utterly devotional misplaced belief in the stylishness of basically brimless hats and the Lynx effect [Spray for the Perceptibly Unwashed & Genetically Poor] which, they feel, allows them to sweat all night into their Batman pyjama bottoms and then dress and go to work the next day without showering in the morn… They love either Bob Dylan or decks and beatz. Such people have taken a gorgeous thing, sported by the best of men, and turned it into wank.
Besides the violently dirty & be-hatted nerds there was a spectacular number of hipsters in that place, the girls leaving hyper-red quarter moon imprints on their wine glasses… real fucking hipsters, who are, in contrast to the Dylan fans, always clean; too clean, in fact; it is like the way you can tell a vampire because it has no reflection, a real hipster is inhumanly clean. The basically ugly, ironically dowdy hipster-nerd girls had round bright cheeks and precise red-orangey lips and wore housewifey dresses in an attempt to disguise their plainness and dullness with sickening, cutesy fashions. Quaint. You know the type: they admire the childishly whispery voiced like Julia Stone (ugh, fuck); the fallaciously sweet like Regina Spektor (‘isn’t she gorgeous’: vomit); they would stick plasticine on their faces and consider it “arty” rather than retarded, like Sia. Now if you’re a bit confused and trying to discern precisely how or where I’ve drawn the line between the nerds and the real hipsters, who, you might like to point out can dress similarly, and share the same tastes, in fact, you say, gathering steam, a lot of hipsters would identify as nerds and a lot of nerds would indulge in the utterly mendacious belief that they are not really nerds, but, in fact, smart-cool, hipsters. I admit there is some cross-over; it has nothing to do with brains. It is just what I said before: “nerds” are perceptibly dirty, and “real hipsters” are unsettlingly clean, they’re so cool they can not sweat, and your endurable “indie” types belong somewhere in the middle of the hygiene spectrum.
There were a few punks there (love), gay punks (even better: fifteen times the number of piercings) and I’m sure, statistics would suggest, at least one comely chap, but all in all no really comforting faces were to be spotted among the quaint ones that had been painted on, in that place full of dinosaur bones, under which a man who looked like Harry Potter gave a talk; “The Utterly Depressing, (but strictly Scientific), Mating Habits of Bugs, Spiders, Fish, Giant Squid, etc., etc., etc., etc.” It was a nice way of being made to feel unloved, loveless, sexless and therefore lifeless on your birthday. And so, dear reader, I looked back at that dear little eagle with its eyes gone and its pinkness all out, and, like a vegan, I wept.