The pattern of the zebra skin on the wall is achingly beautiful. Hung in the center of the wall, in a small alcove, it looks almost surreal. The pattern of its stripes are laid flat now, and seem for a moment to be an unusual ink blot, but there is something haunting, something very real about this weave of dark brown rivers on creamy white skin. Once it roamed under the African sky, the sun warming the deep brown stripes that gather around the thick thread of spine while the cream white stays cool. Once the grasses brushed along the legs. Once it wrapped round a zebra heart, wild and whinnying.
Renee is drawn to it. She walks up to it and lays her hand upon it, tentative, expectantly. “It’s so soft,” she sings. Fearless now her hands lap up the magic, the softness, the African sun that lingers in the fur. My hands, too, are hungry for this.
We have met my brother at a restaurant to share a midday meal. We are eating in a room that is open to the outside on the Eastern wall. The vibrant hum of Spring’s first waking green fills the air, fills our lungs, fills our spirits. It is good to be here with him.
“Would you ever hang something like that in your house?” he asks me, referring to the zebra skin that still fascinates Renee.
“Without even a second thought,” I answer, then add, “It’s magic, and it has such a voice–can’t you feel it?”
“Yeah, I know what you’re saying….what about a deer head?”
He might be trying to trip me up, he’s such a devil’s advocate, but I don’t mind. “I could do that, too,” I say after a moment of consideration, “but it has to be in the right spirit, it has to be in a way that honors the animal.” Then I remember, “I have a whole bag full of deer heads. Sam–the guy down the road–he gave them to me. They’re not on forms, they’re just the heads, and they’re all inside out–the ears, the noses, everything.”
He looks at me with his eyebrows arched in silent questions. I can see the bag of deer skins now, huddled in a tight herd of heads only, in a bag, on a shelf, their skin flaking off like dust when I shuffle through the bag, their ears sadly turned inwards, hearing lost winds, the bleating of fawns, the chew of green in the mouth. Hearing the throb of blood now spilled to Earth. The eyes are gone, vacant windows. I realize the likelihood of my ever having a deer head hanging anywhere in my house is actually pretty slim. It’s something about the head, the eyes, the frozen posture. But a deer skin, yeah, I could wrap myself up in that. What is it about the skin? What is this zebra-power that pulls my fingers to its hung pattern? Why would I not hesitate to possess something so unpossessable as a zebra?
Renee has moved on to other activities, namely pummeling her uncle with tiny fists, her laughter filling up the room, mingling with the electric green of the air, the blush of my heart, and the weave of zebra stripes smiling from the wall. Even this I can’t hold, even this I can’t own. But I wrap myself in its skin, and I walk around in the love of it all, and its magic is mine. For a moment I possess it, embody it, surrender to the wild dappled beauty of the moment.