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The Inside is Always Entrails

Aries: There is always an end to a ball of yarn, no matter how infinite the thread might seem. Don’t worry if the bindoffs look ugly. In sewing, the inside is always entrails.

The daily horoscope has amber-colored stains where the newspaper met the humidity of dead skin. You stare at the blurry letters, thinking how pathetic it must be to read about your zodiac sign, whether it is because you were conditioned or used to it, in the same pages rolled around your father’s cold body, now exposed in its nakedness on the granite table top by your side. It’s even more pathetic that you hoped to find some comfort in it.

He loved Sunday editions. He used to say that he started to buy them solely because he needed some to pack the animals to put them in the freezer before working on them, but you know it’s a lie. Every week, you two drove to town inside the beat-up Brasília once owned by your grandfather, to do groceries and bring the damn newspaper. Sometimes, you stopped by the highway shoulder to inspect some roadkill that was run over by a car or by life. You always returned with a new treasure: a claw, a fang, the molted skin of a rattlesnake. The memory brings a sad smile to your face.

It was only the two of you, father and daughter living in the little house by the forest, somewhat lost to the rest of the world, but fulfilled by the silent belief that they were above those who lacked an existence, and were dependent on the smoke and jobs of a big city. On the way home, you read the horoscope out loud for him.

You started to love nature with your dad, all the animals and plants and rocks and sounds. Blood and bones too, because life does not deprive itself of ugliness, and it does not care about anyone’s sensibilities, which is beautiful on its own. Out of everything, in your life with your father, you only struggled to love death.

Taxidermy, he used to explain, is a way of preserving what is beautiful and loved. It’s one of the only ways of stopping time.

The word sounds too formal for something as poetic as that, but you helped him anyway, observing and learning, displaying stuffed pieces by the roadside every weekend for curious tourists, garnering hunter trophies, accepting dogs and cats wrapped in blankets.

There is something special about growing up as a girl with your father in a house full of death and vitreous eyes. He becomes your reference, your hero. Someone you would never question. You only want to be half the person that man was, you only wish to see in his eyes that you are worthy of that legacy, that you deserve it whenever someone says how similar you two are becoming.

He is your purpose and your goal.

And that’s why you put him on the table. That’s why you brought the toolbox. Because it feels wrong to keep going without that compass. Taxidermy is a way of preserving what is beautiful and loved, and you think he’s perfect. And, perhaps, when you finally work side by side with death, she will allow you to keep a piece to yourself.

Taurus: Remember that sometimes you will have to allow them to see how avid you are, how the light befalls your teeth when your mouth waters.

The first step is measuring. You take a deep breath, pressing the clipboard and the tape against your chest, and you approach the table. You observe the rigid features of the man in front of you.

I still didn’t cry for you, dad, because you taught me that those who are truly strong know how to keep their tears from falling, and I’d never forgive myself if I acted weak in front of you. No. You had to prove that you were ready, that you were well-trained to withstand all of this. It’s the reason you woke up every day without a single complaint, taking care of him while the illness consumed him, pretending you were not afraid.

The first thing you notice is how little of your father remains there. The numbers you write down don’t lie, even when you measure him twice to believe you’re not doing anything wrong. His arms, capable of pushing an entire car when the Brasília got stuck in the rain, are now thinner than yours. His bony knees are wider than his thighs, the same ones that walked for countless miles in the tall grass in the back of our house. His skin is thin, blemished.

You don’t know why you’re so surprised. Of course you noticed. You just pretended not to because you didn’t want him to know, because you thought it would hurt him if he realized how badly he had decayed. It would be better to spare him. So you were always one step ahead, positioning his belongings in more easily accessible places, leveling and cleaning the path where your father usually walked, turning off the oven whenever he forgot to, without saying anything.

The measurements in the clipboard don’t lie: your father was fallible. And you knew that.

Gemini: You will throw yourself against the flame like a moth attracted by the light. It’s hard to resist it, I know. But choose a fire worth burning yourself for, one worth getting consumed by.

After the measuring and the weighting, mammals must be skinned, and one must choose where to cut to preserve the tissue. You’re sweating with the scalpel in hand. Damaging your father’s figure sounds unthinkable. But you’re going to do it, for him.

His skin is cold and dry. The blade slides, and you feel the smell of the flesh underneath, so similar to any of the animals that have been on that taxidermy table before. Your father doesn’t react when you push the scalpel slowly back and forth, splitting muscles from tendons, trying to keep the density of the hide uniform, but you feel each incision. You’re not very good at it. There’s a freezing pain running through your spine, and your cuts are imperfect. Little by little, however, you lift layers of skin like you’re peeling a fruit. Underneath those layers, you only find a red mess of bulging eyes and crooked teeth, the stuff of nightmares. You know you will never forget that sight. It’s the kind of thing that scars someone irreparably, for life. You know you had to kill something inside yourself to perform the task, something you used to like. But it’s your duty. Everything for your father. It’s only fair to hurt yourself in his place, out of loyalty for him. It’s somewhat of a debt between the two of you.

Trying not to think of what you have in your hands, you place your father’s vessel in a bucket and prepare yourself to transfer what is left of his body.

Around you, dozens of glass eyes observe your movements.

Cancer: Find a small rock the next time you leave the house. Pay attention to the shape, texture, color and the way it becomes hot under the sun, imparting all its warmth to your hand like a living thing. You will feel better.

To you, the existence of a zodiac sign with the name of a disease always felt like a terrible thing. Now that you’re so familiar with it, the feeling has only grown. With a piece of coal, you follow the skinned lines of the man who used to be your whole life, registering him somehow on the carbon paper. Now that your father is nothing but a humid bundle gleaming under the big yellow bulb in the shed’s ceiling, it’s devastating to realize that he is just a mortal man like any other. Cancer left many of his organs with black stains, and everything looks frail, like a gear strained beyond its limits. You remember the day your father taught you to estimate the age of a dead animal, such an amazing skill, true art. One day, he brought an extremely old opossum that had lost all of its canines. You can almost see how exhausted the flesh is inside, do you understand what I mean?

You do. You see it now.

Slowly, each part of him is piled inside a huge plastic box.

Leo: You always looked at the mirror expecting to feel pride, but now you’re afraid of lifting your eyes and seeing something other than yourself in the reflection. Look. It is there, it is terrible, and you have to know what it is.

The stained page with the horoscope column looks at you again, pinned to the kitchen wall. Judging how long you’re taking. You told yourself you needed a break to rest and eat a snack, but who would eat in the middle of this? Actually, you came to the kitchen to escape the smell, to breathe far from the watch of the dead animals in every wall. Because you’re a coward and you’re starting to feel sorry for yourself, overwhelmed by the horror of it all.

That moment strikes your wounded pride, deep inside. Your father would never waver in the same scenario, so you won’t budge, not even a bit.

Grinding your teeth, you return to the shed, you clean the surface of the table with a series of methodical gestures, and you stretch his skin across the granite. You can still see him there, the hair, eyelashes and scars are the same ones you know so well, but withered like that, with empty holes where his eyes sockets and mouth used to be, malleable like rubber, it looks more like a costume waiting to be worn. Or a ghost of what it once was. You imagine what it would be like to wear your father’s skin, and you feel disgusted at yourself.

You have to turn around the skin to apply some of the countless solutions able to preserve the hide. Slowly, the flayed skin releases its impurities, things you would have never believed to be part of his martyred body. No, not him. Not the perfect man. He could not have been dirty.

With a sad smile, you think that, as you move your father through your fingers, it might be the first time you look at him with sincerity. He was never perfect.

Virgo: Today is one of those days where you want to cut your own roots, kick away the dirt and extirpate everything that is rotten beneath the earth. It’s revenge day, reparation day. But you need to work.

Someone knocks on the front door unexpectedly. You wear your best face like an armor.

The woman standing outside with crossed arms is your aunt. Not your real aunt, she’s not your blood, but she owns the gas station nearby, where your father left you playing when you were a child and he needed to solve some adult business. Folks from the same area also get their mail in the station, since the postal service does not deliver items to the woods: the dirt road is too harsh for their yellow vans.

The woman smiles and asks how your father is, since it’s been weeks he doesn’t go to the gas station. You say he’s still bedridden. The woman is sorry to hear that, and your aunt’s eyes look truly sad when she hands you a bunch of envelopes. You thank her for her kindness, and close the door.

In other moments, you would have given the envelopes to your father, and forgotten about their existence. Life used to be simple, and your father had everything under control. But now you cannot count on anyone. Maybe you could count on your aunt, but you prefer to solve things by yourself: you’re already an adult, after all, and your father prepared you to depend on no one but him. You can do it.

The envelopes are more of the same. Light bills, the renewal of his driver’s license, an advertisement promoting credit cards for rural citizens. You take a bored look at those papers that seem to tell you that the world keeps existing outside the house, even if you want to scream at every living being that your father is dead.

But one of the envelopes is different. Big, white, your father’s name protected by a plastic square, a bank’s logo behind. Inside there is a surprising amount of pages.

You read and reread it, murmuring out loud the most critical bits: loan . . . impossible to renegotiate the due date . . . client with a grave disease . . . denied . . . remaining sum . . . freeze assets.

The amount of money gives you a headache. You run to his old bedroom, where all his belongings are in the same place, and you comb through the drawer where your father used to keep financial documents. You rummage through the files, leaf through the little notebook registering the expenses. A random page has annotations you never heard of, heavy in your heart like a grim secret. Your father was broke, he owed money. You have no idea how he managed to let everything slip like that. When you redo the math, you realize your father didn’t have any plan, and he kept going month after month, as long as it was possible, believing too much in the idea that the laws of nature would be enough in a man’s world. The kindest word you can use to describe him is “careless.”

Discovering the debt hurts less than discovering, once again, that he wasn’t perfect. Worse—discovering that he didn’t even consider talking to you when he was still alive, even knowing you would be left to solve those things. Even knowing you should be going to college, not to a taxidermy shed.

It might be the first time in many years that you’re angry at him, that you consider the possibility that your father thought of himself before thinking of you. That your father could be ashamed to admit his failure. A warm tear runs down your cheek, but you wipe it away quickly, like a heresy.

It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow you’ll go to the gas station, and you’ll talk to the bank. On your own.

Libra: Choose your worst demon. Invite him for a dance. You’re a horrible dancer. But the demon doesn’t care, as long as you don’t turn your face away.

One day, you were playing in the creek located in the plot next to your house. You were alone and in panic when you realized you would have no help. Your wrist limped oddly, and the pain made you see tiny stars in the corners of your eyes. About to pass out, you staggered back with all the strength you had, praying, begging to reach your father before you passed out. You may notice that you didn’t exactly fear the broken arm, the dangers of the forest, or the act of fainting. You only feared you wouldn’t be able to reach him in time, since everything would be fine as soon as you were in his arms. You still remember how peaceful you felt when he turned around and your eyes met his. The absolute and relieved certainty that you were now safe. On that day, you calmly lost consciousness, knowing you would wake up in a better place than the one you were in before. And, in fact, you ended up laughing with him: your weekly horoscope said it was time for a great adventure.

You distance yourself somewhat, while you remember everything, setting aside the tools to assemble the skeleton of the stuffed piece. Wire, thread, and straw and cotton for the stuffing, to simulate the volume of the body. Taxidermy has its artistic charms, too bad you’re not very talented at it.

First, you must decide which position he will be in. Maybe standing, admiring the starry sky with his hands around his eyes? Or maybe with open legs and a kind expression, extending a hand to help you find your footing in the slippery parts of the path?

None of your attempts work out. The structure always seems too stiff, unnatural, or without balance. It looks more like a store mannequin than a human being.

But who are you trying to fool? How long since you don’t see him in any of those heroic poses?

In a rare moment of anesthetized honesty, you decided you must see the man that existed under the layers of your idolatry. Following your instincts, you twist every piece of wire in the position you used to see them in, and suddenly your father’s skeleton is sitting on a chair, his spine slightly hunched, his right hand massaging his thigh, the left one supporting his head, his fingers running through the little hair he had left.

Stepping back, you assess the result. His pose looks pretty sad, but it also feels correct.

Scorpio: Tear a page off your favorite book. Memorize the words written on it. You will have to remember them. You will need to, because later you will have to burn the page in the oven, smiling at the ashes. Those words belong to you and you alone.

You return to his bedroom to choose a change of clothes, shoes, everything he would wear in a normal day. You imagine that it would be nice to add a special item to your work, like a family heirloom or the watch he kept since his school days, and you start rummaging through the drawers of his wardrobe.

You didn’t expect to find a box full of notebooks and crumpled letters, never sent, where your father deposited fragments of himself, and then hid away. You sit on the floor and spend hours with his calligraphy. Song lyrics, poems, confessions, apologies, and drawings of the dead parts of roadkills.

Your father was full of regrets, full of absences and insecurities. He blamed himself for your mother’s death, he believes you’re one step away from realizing he’s a fraud, he drowns his insecurities drinking in the gas station whenever you have to sleep in town for a school test. Most of all, he fears dying alone. He pretends he’s not afraid so he won’t look weak in front of his daughter.

Finally, you allow yourself to cry, painful tears that overflow in uncontrollable waves, because, at the end, you were lying to one another. At the end, you wished you could have simply hugged your father and told him that yes, you were panicking, and yes, you needed help to take care of everything.

Since he’s no longer here, you hug the letters.

Sagittarius: It hurts. I know. You keep reopening that wound. It hurts. But it’s so beautiful to see the color of blood sprouting under it, so red, so rich. You love the feeling of life.

The sun is setting when you return to the shed under the first bats, flying low above your head. You look terrible, your nose is runny. You already feel the exhaustion in your body, like you’re about to get sick.

As soon as you open the door that leads to the taxidermy room, the smell and the buzzing of flies scare you. Something’s wrong. You run to the other side of the table and you find out you forgot to cover the plastic box where you placed your father’s organs. The torsalos are having a feast. Yelling “no! no!”, you try to scare the insects away, shaking the box, opening a window. It’s no use. You’re so tired, and it’s such a repulsive scene to look that, that you can only think of throwing everything away and forgetting your own history. You feel selfish and ungrateful, but suddenly you wish you didn’t love your father as much as you do. It would be so much easier. The flies buzz in your ear. You fall to your knees with the box on your lap, and you cry again, because it’s extremely unfair that this day keeps adding stain after stain on your father’s sanctified body and memory.

I want him to be perfect again, you whisper to your own knees.

But that’s impossible.

Capricorn: Take your shoes off, just for today. The tide must lick your feet so you understand the beauty that exists in the constancy of an infinitely mutable thing. Again and again.

Dressing the model made of wire and hay with your father’s skin is harder than you thought. For a moment, you forget the symbolism of what you’re doing and focus on the mundane effort of lifting all that skin and trying to stretch it over the stands.

Your father was a natural in taxidermy, it’s undeniable (and no one’s going to take that from you). He would be able to stuff an elephant in that low-ceiling shed. You won’t ever be as good as him. Truth to be said, you don’t even know if you like it, because now you curse and cuss at every step, incapable of keeping your focus on such a meticulous task. Maybe you never liked taxidermy in the first place, you just like to see your father at work. At a certain moment, you fall on your ass while trying to fix his hip, and you end up laughing. There’s nothing funny in such a morbid scene, but crying has lost its spark. You discovered that laughter is the fifth stage of despair.

In the future, you will learn that thinking of yourself as another pathetic person trying to live their life is, in fact, one of the keys to achieve peace of mind.

Aquarius: Look at the sky and find a bird. Remember how it was when you still thought you could fly. Remember that nests are resistant frailties. Build yours well.

You take a deep breath, slumping your shoulders with the relief of a finished job. Your father is dressed, combed and perfumed, sitting at the kitchen’s table. And you would even like to say that he looks alive, about to move, but the result of your dedication is the parody of a man falling to pieces.

Your sewing is awful, and it’s possible to see the places where the thread pulls the skin, deforming his shape. For not having human replicas, you had to use a pair of goat’s eyes that gave your father the insane and wide-eyed expression of an alien. The wire structure isn’t very well-adjusted, and, looking from afar, you just realize that one of his arms is bigger than the other.

You would never believe that something like this could be your father. You gave your all, all you could give, blood and sweat and tears, and it’s still impossible to preserve him. Face reality: he’s dead. You’re not capable of rebuilding him or taking his place. The only place where taxidermy works is in your memory. Stuffed memories of happier moments, unreachable by time. The only thing you, as his daughter, are able to do, is create a caricature of the man he once was.

You’re starting to understand what needs to be done. Despite the lost time, you don’t regret your effort: it was important to say goodbye and to make peace with yourself

Before you realize, you’re speaking to your father’s corpse. You tell him how much you love him, how resented you are, how much you will miss him. You’re sorry for not breaking that idealized bond you had before, as that would have taken some weight from you both. You apologize for not being able to pursue his dreams, because you understood that would not be fair. With a lump in your throat, you tell him you don’t agree with everything, and that his truths might not work for you as they worked for him. You assure him you will remember the good times, and you swear you will take care.

You keep talking until late, until your voice is as raspy as the hoots of the owls.

Pisces: Tomorrow you will hate. Tomorrow you will ponder about how wrong this situation is, about how much of you was consumed by it, and how suffocated you feel. Tomorrow. Today you will love.

Letting him go might be the greatest act of love you could do for him. The only place your father will remain now is inside yourself. That they will remain, actually, because there are many of him now. The father who helped your broken arm. The head of the family, full of debts. The man devastated by the loss of his love. The elderly man who refused to accept help. In a way, your father can be himself now, a big walking inconsistency, just like you are. Fallible. Human.

You’re better than him in some things, worse in others. This is why it’s time to find your own path.

You close the door of the house and lock it with the key, taking only a backpack. The little amount of money you found in the drawer is inside your left sneaker. Other than the most basic items of your belongings, you’re taking only one ocelot tooth, one feather, and the dry shell of a cicada inside a can. You didn’t have the guts to take the stuffed animals. Let them stay with their owner: they were not your subjects.

The smell of smoke begin to infest the nightly air. When you take the front seat of the Brasília, the land around you is lightened by the red of the flames consuming the shed.

Let it burn.

It’s not like it doesn’t hurt, or that you don’t feel like running to save everything from the fire, including your father’s remains, but that you learned with him to be firm in your decisions. You just had to learn how to decide by yourself.

Let it burn.

You can’t tell what your father would have thought of all of this. If he would have been proud. But you feel lighter without the weight of duty when you start the car, and the old Brasília trembles. Above the tape deck, you place the horoscope’s stained page. It’s the only reminder you decided to have of your father, the one you believed to be more genuine. Love, blood, laughter and futures, printed on paper.

You keep going down the road, the nightly breeze making your hair flutter, and you feel like you’re in charge of your own destiny for the first time, no matter what the stars have to say.

About the Author

Fernanda Castro is a Brazilian writer from Recife. She’s also an editor at Mafagafo, a Brazilian SFF magazine, and a freelance translator and copyeditor. You can find her on Twitter as @fernandaversa.

H. Pueyo (@hachepueyo on Twitter) is an Argentine-Brazilian writer of speculative fiction. She’s an Otherwise Fellow, and her work has appeared before in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Fireside, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, among others. Her bilingual debut collection A Study in Ugliness & Outras Histórias is out by Lethe Press, and can be found at