I was at the dentist when it happened. I kept telling the neighbor to get a camera and document her absurd claims. Photos can be faked, of course, but so can descriptions. Just because they’re delivered over the phone, in a breathless, childlike voice, doesn’t mean they’re true. In her latest call, Grace said, “Your house isn’t that big. You should have found him by now,” and I said, “Him?” and she said, “Yes, him. He had antlers. You must have left the door open again.” Grace lives across the street. She is fifty, balding, indigent. She rents the first floor of a Victorian, as women in her situation often do—I’m talking about middle-aged women recently discharged from charity institutions—and even if all those Victorians directly faced my house, with a clear view of my unadorned front steps, and all those women testified that a moose had entered my house while I was gone, I wouldn’t believe it. This was supposedly five days ago. Where’s the evidence?
My daughter Tabitha writes—to me and one hundred other recipients: “Hey all, if you received an email from me saying that I am in the UK, lost and alone, DELETE and DO NOT REPLY! I am not in the UK.” The main thing that bothers me about the message is that several nuns are listed among the addressees. We’re not Catholic.
I never did receive that bogus email from the UK.
My daughter is messing with me.
“He nibbled a few dogwood branches before walking in,” Grace said, approaching from her un-mowed front yard. “I think he smiled at me. He looked like he was enjoying himself.”
“I can’t find him.”
“I’ll go in with you,” she said. “I’m not afraid.”
I held the door for her. Grace had a built-up beige shoe, which she dragged, audibly, across the threshold.
“Delicious,” she said, sniffing. “I can tell you’ve been burning those Glade apple-cinnamon candles. That’s what I use when something has died in my house. Japanese beetles, for example, when I smash them on the windowsill and the smell gets so bad I want to sneeze. Apple-cinnamon.”
“Nothing has died in my house,” I said.
“The candle aroma may be covering the smell. It’s very effective.”
“What? The smell of a dead moose? Not bloody likely.”
She grabbed an object from a high shelf and tipped it at various angles. “Do you realize what this is?” she asked.
“You’re holding a scholarship medal that my daughter won,” I said. “It’s been a few years, and I would assume there’s an inch of dust on it. My fault. I’ve always wanted to give it to her—”
“You know, they make things out of moose poop. Key-chains, paperweights, doorstops, joke gifts. This one’s from Canada.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you need a tour guide in your own house.” She inflated her cheeks and blew the dust off the souvenir. “This could be a thousand years old.”
“I doubt it.”
“If we look hard enough at the floor, we’ll see the footprints.”
“I don’t think that’s the correct word.”
“You don’t think,” she said.
So my neighbor watches my house while I’m not there. Big deal. If somebody watches your house all day, every day, they’ll eventually see a monkey sitting in the library window, typing a novel.
The next day another email arrived from Tabitha. It had bounced from country to country before reaching me. “I don’t trust my father,” the email began. “I want to come home, but there are so many reasons I can’t. The least of which is that I have no money. I’m stuck in Germany and can’t speak a word of German.” She had majored in German, passed all her courses. But there were possibilities:
1. Amnesia.2. Poor language instruction at the private college she attended. Or, perhaps, Spanish classes had been misleadingly labeled as German classes; or some kind of room-assignment mix-up had occurred, which was never taken care of. Tabitha had a professor who would preemptively cancel classes because of various mild warnings from the college maintenance department—that there might be a slight drop in the building temperature, or the noise of a hammer would emanate from the Old Main basement for several minutes. Instruction, in all subjects, suffered greatly.
3. Laryngitis, or some form of vocal paralysis. Childhood trauma, finally manifesting itself.
4. The sender wasn’t Tabitha.
And then another email, later that day: “Again, my good friends, a person unknown has used my name and my email contacts to send false messages. I’m not in the UK. How many times do I have to say that? DELETE all messages from that person.”
Of course she’s not in the UK.
She was always a “scattered” girl, with a low aptitude for geography, for map-reading. We would get calls from her, back in the days when there were still phone booths every few miles along American highways—tearful explosions, her voice garbled by an incomprehensible grief that her mother and I could not be blamed for. She would elaborate on her money troubles, her boyfriend troubles, her navigational troubles. Like, “I took off in my car after breakfast, turning this way and that, whatever seemed the path of least resistance, and here I am, in a place where they painted over the name of the town on the water tower. Can you believe that?”
Would anybody make up such a detail? Never. Her mother and I would reply, “Of course, we believe that. We believe everything.”
“Well, it’s true.”
And then one of us would say, “Sometimes, Tabitha, when an important word is painted over, the painter doesn’t use a dark enough color, or thick enough, or does sloppy work, and you can still see the word underneath. Why don’t you go take a look?”
“I hate you. I hate both of you.”
Grace was still in my house, holding another souvenir approximately one inch from my nose. It was white, the size of a dinner plate, two inches thick.
“I don’t smell anything,” I said.
“It’s a footprint, which they’ve preserved in plaster of Paris. It’s perfect.”
“I know,” she said. “I used the wrong word again. It’s a hoofprint. I don’t think that’s a proper word either. But it’s genuine, and somebody scratched their initials in the plaster of Paris, and the date. 1999. Isn’t that wonderful? They saw a moose, and they were prepared with all kinds of goopy materials that detectives use, where they pour it on the ground and it gives you the exact shape of the hoof, with all the variations that make each moose unique.”
“You’re telling me this is a genuine moose print?”
“I’m showing, not telling,” Grace said, in that voice of a ten-year-old, much too proud of a fossilized moose poop she had brought to school.
These artifacts brought us closer to my daughter’s room. A chainsaw buzzed in the distance. I had often wondered about that chainsaw, as I lived in a neighborhood in which no man or woman was brave enough or skilled enough to wield one. This was becoming unfamiliar territory. Had I ever looked at the walls? Or had I simply walked through my house, all those years, with my eyes closed? A large yellow diamond, like a legitimate highway sign, hung on the right. Moose Crossing, it said.
“They have those up in Maine,” Grace said.
“Along the highway? Or in tourist shops?”
Beyond the sign, beyond a mysterious brown streak on the floor—and a swarm of avid insects—a fairly gifted artist had charcoal-sketched a series of diminishing moose silhouettes on the faded gray wallpaper—like cave paintings—forming a casual parade that spiraled and dropped suddenly into the keyhole of a diminutive door. A doll door. A sketch of a door that could have appeared in a storybook, with not even a slot into which one could insert a two-dimensional version of a moose. And as much as Grace swore that she had seen a moose enter my house and not come out, I had my doubts.
There were no messages for several weeks. Then an email with only one recipient: “None of those messages are from me. I’m very close, but far. I’ve slipped back into your life, and the water towers all have names painted on them, including yours, with its nightmarish name. So there. When the walls close in—and they have, believe me, they have—”
When the walls close in. I’ve often had trouble with animals trapped in the walls. Mice, especially. After a month, the stink goes away; by midwinter, it just dries out. This thing about the walls closing in, it’s nothing more than a metaphor. This thing about water towers. This thing about a moose entering my house—
© Roger Sheffer