The first step in taxidermying a rat, you learn, is to warm its cold little body with your hands. It arrives frozen, and the combination of textures and temperatures — the silken fur, the firm sack of rapidly thawing innards below, is deeply unfamiliar to a taxidermy novice.
The way the animal’s hide separates neatly from its body is as satisfying as peeling off a stubborn price tag label in one go. The degloving of the tail, not unlike pulling a shrimp clean out of its shell.
But before these little revelations can emerge, your subject has to thaw.
And so, a dozen or so eager students sit in a curtained-off section on first floor of the Atlanta Convention Center, dead rats carefully cradled between their gloved palms.
Around us, the Oddities and Curiosities Expo carries on. It’s a traveling circus of bones and piercings; bloated animal corpses floating in formaldehyde, butterflies pinned to velvet cushions under elegant cloches and stuffed beavers perched jauntily in tiny canoes.
Flyers for the event promise tattoo booths and live human suspension demonstrations, but the real stars of the afternoon aren’t human, and they definitely aren’t living.