Stuffed animal

Stuffed giraffe in the Natural History Museum, London UK © Tanya Clarke 2009

Stuffed giraffe in the Natural History Museum, London UK © Tanya Clarke 2009


The bones of the museum fill the glass cases with their eerie shapes.

Light leaks down from the skylight windows. The animals, once alive, are now dead, stuffed, their eyes replaced with marbles. The well-positioned spots shine pointedly at areas of interest in the display cases. Glass eyes glint with tiny dots of light. A child places his hands up against a case of alligator skeletons. He spreads his fingers, sticky from a jam doughnut, wide apart and pushes his lips and nose against the glass.

“Uhhh. Madam. Please, your son. Please. He can’t touch the case. No touching,” says the security guard. He’s young. New to this. The holidays are always a nightmare.

“Of course, yes. God. Sorry,” says the boy’s mother, “Michael! Get away from there.” She grabs his hand and fishes about in her bag. She retrieves a dried out wet wipe and rubs it roughly over both his hands. The sugar from the doughnut is like sand being rubbed over his skin. He starts to cry. Large fat tears. Thin snot forming bubbles out of his nostrils. An older woman looks over and shakes her head just as Michael’s mother looks up. Her face flushes pink and she picks at her blouse shaking it to make a light breeze. “It’s so hot in here,” she says, taking Michael’s hand.

The young security guard watches them leave. There’s a queue of people waiting to file through Africa. He can just about see the head of the giraffe poking high above the rest of the display. He put a hand on a leg during training two weeks ago. By accident. Nobody saw. The hair felt rough and short under the palm of his hand. The animal’s legs were being pinned to a baseboard. They didn’t move but he was sure he felt something as his weight fell against it. His head skimmed the underbelly just where the fur was softest. This was a particularly tall specimen. He felt a mixture of sadness and magic as he stared up at this stuffed being. He wondered when it might have happened.

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