Short Story: Hank Morasutti, Taxidermist

Hank Morasutti, Taxidermist

by Salvatore Difalco

An acquaintance, Peter Polité, whom I knew from a café we used to frequent in Little Italy a few years back, recommended this guy who used to stuff some of the animals his father and his uncles, big outdoorsmen, had hunted. “He did a nice job for my dad with a big lynx and a wolf,” he said, “and he did do a small black bear once for him that started rotting after a few weeks and that my dad had to take to the dumpster.” 

The taxidermist’s name was Hank Morasutti and he lived on the outskirts of town in a log cabin he had built himself. “He’s quite a character,” Peter informed me with a chuckle. “Oh yeah, he is that.” It made sense he would be. I mean, who decides to become a taxidermist? What is the psychological profile of such a person? Is a taxidermist more like a mortician, or a veterinarian? 

I wasn’t an outdoorsman or a hunter, but I needed Mr. Morasutti’s services. Hear me out. My German shepherd Dino had recently passed away. He was twelve years old and his kidneys had given out without warning. I loved that dog. And he loved me. And it seemed our bond had been broken prematurely. If not for the kidneys, he would have certainly lived a few more years. He was still playful and had plenty of energy and seemed as sharp and vocal as ever. But the kidneys gave out and he went quickly, poor guy. So I know it sounds morbid, or perhaps perverse or even ridiculous—and I know a lot of you out there will give me a big thumbs down as some of my closest friends did when I proposed it to them—but I decided to get Dino expertly preserved and put him in my living room beside the green corduroy sofa-chair I’d occupy in the evenings when we’d watch Wheel of Fortune and then Jeopardy immediately after. Dino loved those programs and would lie by the sofa chair with his head resting on his crossed paws, watching intently. I knew I wasn’t the only one to have thought of this. There were many accounts online of people memorializing their pets in any number of ways, including taxidermy. It wasn’t that weird. What’s weird these days? What isn’t weird, for fuck sake? 

I drove out to Hank Morasutti’s log cabin at the edge of the woods. He didn’t like to discuss business over the phone and insisted on meeting his clients face to face. He greeted me in a white silk bathrobe tied with a gold rope belt, hairless chest exposed, and a pink cocktail in his hand. His hairless stick legs abruptly concluded in a pair of bear-paw slippers. 

“How are ya?” he said drolly, his flaccid face crushed under a low thick forehead and a black slab of hair. When he smiled it was like opening a refrigerator door in the middle of the night. “What can I do you for?” he asked, gesturing for me to enter the cabin. 

A smell of chicken soup and formaldehyde permeated the close, duskily-lit quarters. I experienced severe cognitive dissonance in trying to put together the man—who appeared that would have eased comfortably into a hot tub with Hugh Hefner and several bimbos—and the cabin. I expected more of Paul Bunyan or Courier de Boise type. 

“Can I get you a drink?” he offered. “I’m drinking a pink vodka lemonade cocktail fyi. I have a pitcher already mixed.” 

I said I couldn’t drink alcohol as I was driving and had no tolerance for it at all, but a glass of water would be great. He seemed disappointed and walked over to a roughly appointed wooden bar on one side of the cabin, sweeping his bathrobe behind him and muttering to himself. It was only at that moment I noticed all the cats in the cabin, that is to say, stuffed cats. At least I think they were all stuffed. Not one moved a muscle the whole time I was there. I counted about thirty of them, stationed in every corner of the place, and in every position, from lying down or curled up to sitting on haunches. All of them had very realistic-looking eyes, unclouded and glossy. It was a little uncanny. And of course, I wondered if these were pet cats he had kept in the past, or cats offered by strangers, or, under their rigid domesticity, they concealed a darker truth. I saw calicos and orange tabbies, Persian cats and a Siamese or two, a sinewy Tibetan cat, and even a Bengal cat that looked like a miniature leopard. It was fucked up any way you looked at it. But I don’t know what I expected with a taxidermist. I saw no other stuffed animals. Hank returned with a plastic bottle of water for me. His cocktail looked refreshed. 

“So what’ll it be, boyo,?” he said. “You shot a deer or a bear or something? Or do you have a pet you’d like to preserve? Dog, cat, gerbil? You see the work I’ve done with cats. I consider them a specialty of mine, cats. They are easy to mess up, easy to distort and make ludicrous. I think I did a superb job with my kitties, don’t you think?” 

I nodded. Yeah, fine. “I’m not a hunter,” I said, “and I’ve never kept cats. But my dog Dino died a few days ago and I’d like to—” 

Hank spluttered in a coughing fit, spraying pink fluid and gob everywhere, his hair bounding up and down, his eyes rolling uglily. “Goddamn,” he said. “Went down the wrong pipe!” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and shook his hair out. “So Dino,” he said. “Where is he now?” 

I told Hank I had put Dino in my basement freezer. 

“That’s good,” he said. “But he’ll have to thaw now for a few days if he’s frozen solid, see. It’s preferable to work on a fresh corpse. But if he was frozen quickly after death, I can work with that, I can.” 

Okay, then, I thought. I had brought five hundred dollars with me in the event he required a down payment. I suspected it would cost around two grand to do Dino—at least that’s what I’d gathered online—depending on the process. “Tell me,” I said, “are you using modern methods or still mounting the pelts using the original skull and leg bones and wood wool?” 

Hank looked at me like I had just birthed a moose from my mouth. 

“Dude,” he said, “I consider myself more of an artist than a technician, see. I use a combination of traditional and cutting-edge methods to achieve my particular brand of pseudo-animate verisimilitude. In fact, I should get that term trademarked. I will. Most people don’t get it. They think I’m strange, kinky—I’ve been called a monster. But people need my services for a multitude of reasons. Do I condone hunting animals down for sport and then having them mummified for the purposes of bragging or bolstering a weak ego, or compensating for a tiny weenie? I do not. On the other hand, I am not one to hector people into sharing my beliefs or my horrors. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and their paths in life. But I do what I do with passionate intensity. Not everyone appreciates my efforts. Clients have complained that my work was too good, too aesthetically and technically perfect, and that it beautified the beast beyond recognition. Haha. Imagine being critiqued for perfection. But don’t worry. It’s all good. It’s all good, see. When I’m done with Dino’s carcass, you’ll think he came back to life.” 

Hank’s words mollified any concerns or fears I harbored. I felt I was in competent hands—glancing at the cats, who could have very well been alive and in various states of repose. I sipped my water with satisfaction. Hank raised his glass and took a gulp. 

“So when should I bring Dino by?” I asked. 

“Today, if possible,” Hank said, his eyes misting over as his mind drifted somewhere personal. A minute or so passed. Hank stood there with his cocktail glass half-raised. 

I wondered if he was suffering some kind of ictus. “Hank,” I whispered. Nothing. “Hank!” 

He blinked his eyes and smiled. “My Lord,” he said, “I was in South Beach for a second there. I should slow down with the pink drinks but I will not haha. I will not because I’m an artist. We artists do whatever the fuck we want. That’s why we’re artists.” 

His eyes were half-closed and his knees buckled. I thought he might keel over, but spreading his arms wide and rocking his shoulders, he kept upright. He shook his head and chuckled. I asked him how much the job would cost and he said we’d worry about that later, he couldn’t deal with numbers at the moment.

“Do you require a down payment?” I asked. 

“Sure,” he said, twisting his lips, “why not? I wanna score some weed later. Buddy has some Cali Kush coming in at thirty percent, bruh! Make your eyes roll back in your head haha. I like to get baked when I’m working, see. Gets the creative juices flowing.” 

I hesitated but handed him over five crisp hundred-dollar bills. He didn’t even look at the money and tossed it onto a pine table in the middle of the cabin massed with unopened mail, flyers, and pamphlets. 

“Okay, then,” I said. 

“Righto,” he said, “and time for you to skedaddle, boss. I might go for a walk in the woods, you know. Hunt for some mushrooms—hey, I am a hunter! How about that! And bring me Dino later today so I can do my magic.” 

I exited his place and sat in the car for a few minutes thinking about what had just gone down. I felt both elated that Dino would be preserved, but also a little freaked out. I guess it was natural to feel that way when conducting this sort of business, and seeing the handiwork of someone who took their bizarre vocation seriously—his results spoke for themselves, after all. The cats looked tremendous and convincing. 

I started the car and let it rev and as I was about to pull away I saw Hank come running out of his house, still in his robe but now wearing tall black Wellingtons. He didn’t acknowledge me and ran into the woods behind his cabin with his arms raised and his head shaking, screaming like he was on fire.

About the Author

Salvatore Difalco has been published by Books & Pieces magazine before. He currently lives in Toronto Canada.