Museum of Natural History

by Tatiana Ryckman
illustration by Kyle Butler

There’s a picture of zebras in my mother’s childhood bedroom. A whole safari landscape littered with striped horses. They’re not horses, I know. But dozens of zebras, all horse-like and glass-eyed, romping through that picture. It’s pasted like wallpaper over the nook where someone would end up sleeping over the holidays when we all drove in to Buffalo from Cleveland. There’s a pervasive and unacknowledged respect for zebras lingering among my sisters and I that I can only attribute to that giant photograph and everything those zebras saw.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized they were dead. Their glassy gazes were really made of glass; they were not just stoic, but stuffed, those two giant beasts in the foreground. Around the time I saw the death in that photo, I noticed that only those two animals in the front were ever real. The parade of mulish stripes behind them were painted on a backdrop, some bizarre photo op or Museum of Natural History display. And while it felt like a betrayal—that things were not only not what they appeared to be, but that they had never been—I had to accept that I’d willfully ignored what was really there.

I had believed in the great transformation of self that was possible under the calm, watchful eyes of the zebras. Until they turned out to be fake. And with that realization each Christmas pretending to believe in Jesus or the Golden Pig, each visit struggling to get used to a break-up or my grandmother’s death became heavy with falsification.

But then, will I ever learn to quit saying the sky is blue when any scientist will tell you it’s everything but?◥


Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the chapbook story collection, Twenty-Something, and assistant editor at sunnyoutside press. Her work appears or is forthcoming on Tin House’s The Open Bar, Keyhole Press, theNewerYork, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and The Boiler Journal. Tatiana was an artist in residence at Yaddo, and leads Creative Writing workshops through The University of Texas at Austin and her local library.

Kyle Butler is an artist from Michigan, currently living in Buffalo, NY. He got his undergraduate degree in art from Central Michigan University and his masters in Visual Studies from the University at Buffalo. He is represented by the Nina Freudenheim Gallery in Buffalo.