Her father’s workshop smelled like formaldehyde. That was what Maggie first noticed when she opened the door to his workshop. Not the dead animals with their empty gazes or the tools that littered his desk, just the smell.
It was Maggie’s first time seeing the workshop since she left for college. Maggie and her father hadn’t always got along, so sometimes it was better that they were apart. The workshop was nested in a large barn on her father’s six acre Montana property.
She plucked a large ram head off the wall. Its fur was prickly against her fingertips, and its weight nearly knocked her down. Maggie wondered where her father found this one. The Grand Canyon? Or Southern California? She sat down on his worn chair, scratched and dirty from years of use, and plopped the ram on her lap staring into its fake black eyes. The ram was once a beautiful animal, strong and capable, and her father’s craftsmanship made it seem so. She wondered what lengths he went to in order to shoot this animal. Did he pay off a park ranger? Or did he just sneak it? She could tell it was a bighorn ram, her Veterinarian schooling told her that much, and it made her miserable. Bighorn sheep were endangered. And he had only made the problem worse.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?”
Maggie was not in the mood for visitors. She was going to ignore the knocking until a deep male voice responded, “It’s Chase. I heard you were in town this week. I know you don’t want to talk about your dad, but we have to. I’m sorry about his passing. I really am, but you inherited this place, and his debt too, and we need to do something about it—”
She opened the door.“Chase, please. I don’t want to talk.”
“Mags, we have to or else we never will. This is your dad’s place, I get it, and you're having mixed feelings about his passing, about this place,” he gestured to the animal heads on the walls, “but you're in debt. This place is yours now. Your father’s money is yours now. Or rather, lack thereof. I’m sorry but we have to.”
“Listen, Chase, we are not friends. Don’t pretend that we are. You’re my dad’s lawyer and now he’s dead. Don’t try to console me or pretend that you know what I’m going through. We haven’t spoken in years. So, just come in and talk about what I need to do. Just tell me what my options are and then leave. Got it?”
Maggie felt tears welling her eyes.
“Mags, please don’t cry. We’ll get it all sorted—”
She gestured to the chair in the workshop. She was exhausted.“Just stop, Chase. Please, just sit down.”
He put his hands up in defense “Okay, okay, sorry.”
Maggie was pacing the room. “So, what do I need to know Chase?”
“So, as you know, your dad was in debt. You probably need to sell this land and whatever else of his to pay it off. I know you grew up in this place, and that it’s going to be hard, but it’ll be better. And besides, you don’t even like taxidermy, and well, you and your dad didn’t have the best relationship anyways. Just trust me. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay off $200,000 worth of debt. And your dad owed more money too, but not to the bank. I believe it was $15,000. I have to see where we can dig up that money, but we’ll find a place, so don’t worry. Okay? Just sell the land, this shop, and we’ll sort the rest out.”
He looked at her expectantly, but Maggie just felt ill. Hearing this over voicemail was one thing, but now she felt as if she had been hit in the gut, like one of her dad’s trophies. And seeing all these dead animals and their lifeless faces—she shuddered. There was too much to sort out right now, especially with Chase there. “Chase, I just need some time to think.”
“Of course, of course. Take all the time you need.”
As Maggie walked him out, she breathed in the formaldehyde. It smelt like pickles, pickles and her dad and the trophies on the wall. And the ranch. And his lumberjack frame. And her youth. It smelt like her time with Chase, when they used to play cards in the loft of the barn or when they played pretend with the dead deer named Sally and the two giant moose, Mr. and Mrs. Squiggly. It smelled like her father making pancakes for dinner and the time he brought her a pet bird for Christmas, a little yellow canary.
It smelled like the night, the policemen banged on her door, calling for her father’s arrest. That wasn’t the first time, but he always got out. She recalled the time she found out that her father gave bribes to Mr. Ellis, their park ranger friend. She recalled her father’s rich clients. The ones he supplied with elephant heads and beaver furs and pelts to decorate their mansions, so they can say, I’m an animal lover too. I hang their dead heads on the wall, but they are beautiful to look at, aren’t they? And suddenly Chase interrupted Maggie’s thoughts. “Maggie, are you sure you’re okay? Why don’t you stop for dinner at my house? We won’t talk about anything serious. I promise.”
She looked at Charlie with a pained expression. It’s like he doesn’t care. He doesn’t remember or care. All Maggie could do was shake her head.