An Invertebrate Mammal

It has been five years since a wolf lodged in the quiet building of the Natural Science Museum of our school. And because it was too big to fit on the shelves of the glass cases among the owls and hares, it was placed on a small table in the middle of the museum. It was immense and shaggy and it seemed it was running with its mouth half-open. The feared carnivore, fatalistically turned into an herbivore by taxidermy, was awaiting the zoology classes – and this time it suits very well – with its tongue out, as the saying goes. As a matter of fact, it was not supposed to wait too much, since we did double zoology once a week and there were no less than three classes in our school doing zoology. So our wolf met the young zoologists every day, except on Sundays when everyone rested. I remember very well that this animal, with the inventory number 1643, had become their pride ever since. At the beginning, the children were caressing its nape and back, then, after they found it was perfectly domesticated, they became more daring. Some of them counted its teeth; others, less brave, tried the solidity of its tail; finally, not a few were eager to closely examine the secrets of taxidermy. A well-handled clasp knife opened the way to its entrails of sea-grass. I could not display the progress made by our curious children day by day, over the years and along the body of the wolf, but some of the papers I have in front of me now show naturally the unusual metamorphosis of the fierce vertebrate. These are several short quizzes on the theme: "Describe item no. 1643 from the Museum of our school." Here they are in chronological order: 1965 (one year after the wolf had been brought to our museum):"This item is a mammal, probably invertebrate, with very little hair on its nape and with no tail. I could not tell what it feeds on. In its stomach we can find some sea-grass, several nails and even a glove. (Is it the same wolf that swallowed Little Red Riding Hood?) In any case, this animal cannot be found in any of the pictures from the textbook." 1966 (another year passed): "Since it has no down, hair or skin, no teeth, two legs and a very well developed thorax on both sides of the dorsal vertebrae, the animal seems to be a bird. There is no label on it. I have not found anything similar in any zoology atlas." 1967… "Taking into consideration its very long backbone – ended with a flattened skull, which cannot belong to a bird, since it has no beak – I believe we have in front of us an unusual breed of snake. I have not seen anything similar in other museums…" 1968… "It is an invertebrate mammal, but it is in no way a mollusk, because it has several cartilages. I believe there is nothing similar in the fauna of our country." 1969… I have no piece of paper from this year. It would not even have been possible. In a possible quiz nobody would write down as they used to do in the past: "It does not exist in our textbook, in any museum or in the fauna of the country." But they would write this only: "It does not exist anymore." Full stop. I read in exchange another piece of paper. It had been written by the new school administrator. It read like this: "…and since the item no. 1643, representing a stuffed wolf according to inventory, has been destroyed by mice most probably, which gnawed it entirely, its label included, we kindly ask you to sent us urgently a team of rat-catchers…" The team came but they found no rodent. There was only one stuffed in the glass case. The administrator grew thoughtful. "So there are no mice in here… then who could destroy a museum item? Who? Please, tell me, since you came in this school before me." The new administrator is still worrying today and has not renounced the thought of calling for another team of rat-catchers. A more skillful one. I am silent because I am ashamed to tell him the truth. Maybe he won't even believe me. And indeed it's difficult to believe it: pupils do not destroy public property. Not even I would believe it, but I have these papers in my hands: 1965, 1966, 1967… O.K., I tear them up… Look! I don't wish to talk about this anymore… it's pathetic and funny at the same time. Just fancy! An invertebrate mammal?! Hm… from The Main Break, Tineretului, 1967

by Mircea Sîntimbreanu (1926-1999)