He was a baby. She. I didn’t know a thing about its sex, about moose. It had come in along the power lines into the development. Bewildered, it paused between the only two sunflowers left in someone’s garden, chicken fence wrapped on its titanic hind leg.
From the car, my second-uncle Robert stared at it like it was the rarest thing he’d ever seen. It was the same look he aimed on his yellow Corvette in the garage that morning. The look he used when he pointed out the pale line of a mountain range over in Idaho with his face pulling into his mouth because he hadn’t put his teeth in yet, and his milky left eye had vanished in the smoke of the day’s first cigarette, both of ours.
“She’s done it this time,” he said.
“It’s a girl?”
“How can you tell?”
“Look how small she is.”
We both looked.
“I’m going to set you up with Trina,” he told me. “She’s a sweet girl. And beautiful!”
I was only passing through on my move to Seattle from back East. None of the family had seen Robert in ten years and I was making up for everyone. The last time was at his sister Paige’s funeral, when he got down next to the casket and dipped his arms in to hold her. Afterwards we all went to a big pub and nobody wanted to eat. Robert ordered jalapeno poppers, Buffalo wings, corn fritters and cheese fries. “Have some! These are good,” he said, blocking his mouth to cough and pointing with the other hand at the poppers.
A girl named Trina worked the concession stand at the Corvette show he went to every week, where Robert got his weenies and snow cones, and had taken me earlier that morning, I in my new Vietnam Veteran’s hat, he in his old. Whenever he wore his way through a box of hats he called a number and three days later a new box arrived at his door. “Except one time it took four days,” he told me.
The moose moved off the lawn down into the power lines again. “For crying out loud,” Robert yelled, starting to drive again, “she’s only going to get herself more lost in there.” He sighed and there was real worry in it. “Listen,” he said, searching fervently between the neat new homes, “Trina’s single, you’re single. She could meet us for breakfast tomorrow.”
I smiled apologetically. “I have to hit the road in the morning.”
“Not on an empty stomach.”
“But I’ll be leaving.”
“So you don’t want to meet her?”
“I’m driving to Seattle.”
My tone wasn’t perfect and I saw a certain hurt and healing-over happen in his face.”No problemo,” he said, his fingers bopping the steering wheel. “I won’t force you to do anything then. You don’t want to meet her.”
“It’s not that,” I said, planning my words, “I’m sure she’s great, but I can’t get involved. I’m leaving.”
I knew he didn’t want me to go. His health was bad. He was alone. He might be dead before anyone came to visit again.
I changed the subject with a sudden eagerness to spot the moose between houses.
“There,” I said. I saw her for an instant, just its oblong head moving fast. The street terminated in a grassy cul de sac as of yet undeveloped. Stacks of boards lay where the houses would grow. The power lines dipped and rose out to where the sky bulged down to greet the piney earth with its enormous waterlogged stomach. Robert steered the vette perpendicular to the power lines and we got out. He lit a Pall Mall orange, the air smelling of generic seltzer. The moose shot into view, following in the channel gouged into the ground, and stopped. It cocked its chocolate face to the side. I looked at Robert across the hood and he was crying. I went over to him and could see the flesh on his arms shaking, his taut shirt crimping across the belly. When I touched him I could feel the power of his sadness. There was a machine inside him designed for this kind of sorrow, which made me cry too. I didn’t know what to say.
“What’s wrong?” I asked us.