Monday, December 12, 2016

Excerpt from "The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following" - Ramona Ausubel

For generous donations in support of their preservation, the animal mummies wish to thank the Institute for Unforbidden Geology, the Society for Extreme Egyptology, the Secret Chambers of the Sanctuary of Thoth Club, and President Hosni Mubarak, who may seem to have been around a long time, though not from a mummy’s point of view. They wish to thank the visitors who make it to this often-skipped corner of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, which bears none of the treasure of King Tut’s tomb. And to the British colonial government, without whom the animal mummies might still be at rest, deep in granite tombs, cool and silent.

They would like to thank Hassan Massri of Cairo, Alistair Trembley of London, and Doris and Herbert Friedberg of Scarsdale, New York, for their support of climate-controlled cases to house the animal mummies for the rest of time. The animal mummies will admit they are somewhat surprised that this is what the afterlife has turned out to be: oak and glass cases, Windexed daily; a small room, tile floor, chipping paint; the smell of dust and old wood. Even for the permanently preserved, the future is full of surprises. ...

The museumgoers wear shorts and hats and T-shirts with names of places on them: Kenya, Paris, Cleveland, as if they are trying to communicate their origin to the dumb natives. We do not care what dirty modern city you sleep in, what sad vacation you once took, the cat mummies think. Where they came from? Where they lived? At the feet of queens; on the banks of the mighty river. The cats were a million gods. In those days, when a cat died, its family shaved their eyebrows in mourning. If a man killed a cat, whether he meant to or not, he was sentenced to death. Those were days of justice.

Last week, when the squat man in a blue suit clomped up the stairs to their dusty little museum tomb and hung a plaque on the wall stating The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following, with a list of donors, the cat mummies thought, Do we? Do we really? Doris and Herbert Friedberg? Next, they figured, they would be told to bow down to a group of ten-year-olds and their imbecilic drawings of pyramids. You’ll have to find a vole to do that, the cat mummies snickered. If the cat mummies must be grateful for one thing, it is that they are forever-cats, and not forever-rodents. The cat mummies can think of nothing so embarrassing as that—the great gift a vole gets is, finally, to die. If he is very lucky, his toothy little life comes to an end at the paw of a stealthy feline.

The cat mummies allow themselves one fantasy: if only there had been no such thing as an archaeologist. To think of the day they were dug up makes the cat mummies sick. Awake for the first time in thousands of years, they peered out, wanting to see, finally, the afterlife. Instead: the inside of a crate, the inside of a canvas tent, and then someone began, with fine tipped tools, to dissect them. If only they had remained entombed in the cool earth with their kings. We were not afraid of eternity, of forever, they think. They would have made the journey to the other side, no matter how long it took. No matter how furiously, how magnificently long. ...

This is an excerpt from
"The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following" which was originally published on The Paris Review blog. Ramona Ausubel is the author of the novel Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty. Image from The Paris Review.

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