By Chris Eno McMahon
My husband, Judd, brings home a taxidermy porcupine and tells me the quills are sharp.
“Did you touch the quills, to be sure?” I ask.
“Jesus Christ, no.” Judd says. “Why would I do that?” He goes upstairs for a nap, and the quills beckon, black and glistening.
There is nothing to worry about. I will not touch the porcupine.
Or if I do, I will have the self-control to let it prick only lightly.
I will not slam my forearm into it.
I absolutely will not accidentally fall over onto the animal, ruining the taxidermy, while spearing myself hundreds of times in the belly.
I will not lie on the floor and submit to the operatic pain.
To distract myself, I whip up a platter of mushroom croquettes.
I look up porcupines in the nature book and learn that their quills penetrate the skin twice as easily as a hypodermic needle. Then tiny barbs prevent the quills from slipping back out. I will not touch the quills, even though they call out to me. Think of the courage it takes to run backward into your enemy, they say, armed only with swords made of your own flesh.
I will not have to pull myself up off the floor and drive to the porcupine store to pick out a replacement before Judd wakes.
There will not be a store owner who sees the porcupine head sticking out from under my jacket like a kangaroo joey and immediately fires up her chainsaw to cut the old porcupine off me and finds me a brand new, matching porcupine to bring home before Judd awakes.
I pass the time by making a beef Wellington.
I read that porcupines don’t strike stealthily, but telegraph their attack—chattering their teeth, rattling their quills, spraying noxious fumes. Their needles, once embedded, do not work their way out, but only edge their way farther in.
I will not touch the quills, even though they call out to me: We are small and slow, they say, but we have brought down grizzlies and lions.
Quills are not ratcheting their way through my veins and soft organs right now.
Even though their quills have an antibiotic property, porcupines sometimes die from impaling themselves. I know this because I read it, not because any quills in my body imbue me with the wisdom of the porcupine.
Judd wakes from his nap just as I pull a chocolate soufflé from the oven. He says, “The long guard hairs aren’t sharp; you can touch those if you want.” I shake my head and decline, my fingertips already smarting from the quills.