I firmly believe that the man I knew as Martin Brons never, really never, had the intention to appear in my living room as a moose. A moose happens to be a powerful and especially large animal, and it would not fit into my living room. Martin Brons - or whomever was responsible for this appearance - had taken this into account, because the moose was a smaller version of itself. By which I mean: it was a mid-sized moose but nevertheless clearly an adult specimen.
I have just now returned from the therapist, a consultation that was planned three months ago, long in advance of Martin's visit as a moose. I reported the incident to the therapist, because I felt that I should not just let this pass.
The therapist, with a slow and deliberate gesture, deposited her glasses and fountain pen beside her notebook and looked at me, not in the least surprised. Perhaps mentioning a moose was, to her, like a kind of code, or a symptom indicating a serious mental deviation.
"Moose," she said.
I assumed I could skip the physical description of the animal. People these days know what even the most exotic animals look like, thanks to Google.
"Is this significant?" I inquired.
"What color did that moose have?" she asked.
I could not recall the color of the beast. And I surely wasn't going to tell her the moose was actually Martin Brons. Such a statement would have sounded highly suspicious on my part.
And who the hell is Martin Brons anyway?
There's the catch. Brons is dead. He has been dead for over ten years. He just died, very unspectacularly, of a heart failure. There was no indication he would ever, voluntarily or not, return as a moose. But apparently it does not stop him from appearing in my house, neither invited nor expected.
And what was he doing there, in my living room? Nothing, actually. Moose have that indifferent gaze, that indifferent attitude, probably because they have no natural enemies. They live in northern areas, where there are bears and lynxes, and people, but a moose is such a powerful animal that it does not care about predators.
"You have a moose in your living room?" the girl next door asks. She makes it sound like a rhetorical question. She is fifteen and very clever, like most fifteen-year-olds. Sometimes she brings along a book and asks me questions. Never a book from school, but probably one from her father's library.
"I just happened to look straight into your living room through the main window. Is it a real, living moose?"
Which I can only confirm. She is deeply impressed. No one in the neighborhood has a moose. A cat, a dog or a hamster. But not a moose. I am special. In her eyes I am also an older man, because I am her senior by twenty years. Under normal circumstances we hardly would converse. We have nothing in common.
Now, there's the moose.
"What are you feeding him?" She's a practical girl. I did not give him anything to eat. He does not seem hungry. But I really don't know. I do not even know if he's there all the time. Maybe he is only there when I am around.
She is worried about my ignorance. "Do you let him walk free in your garden?"
"He doesn't do anything in particular. It's as if he's always lost in thoughts."
"I don't know. Maybe about who and what he is."
"He is a moose," she says.
I don't share with her the inescapable fact he's also Martin Brons. She's fifteen. She probably has plenty of imagination. But how about the concept of a moose that is also Martin Brons?
"Do you have a cigarette?" she asks.
"No. You should not smoke. Not at your age."
"I do, secretly. I have a place where I keep cigarettes and a lighter. My parents don't know."
"It is an addiction."
"I like the taste of cigarettes. And it helps me to relax." She turns her head towards me. "Is it like that with the moose?"
"It helps you to relax?"
The therapist does not judge. She tries to find anomalies. She tries to avoid traumas. "You are not married," she says. "You have never been married. Do you have someone significant in your life?"
"I am all alone," I say. But that is not the right answer to her question. "I don't feel like I need someone in my life."
"This is becoming more common," she says. "People in their twenties and thirties who do not have a relationship and don't want one."
I am not interested in social phenomena. There's the moose. And now there's the girl next door. My world is sufficiently full as it is now.
The girl next door says: "I followed your advice and threw the cigarettes away. Why do you not invite me into your living room? I want to see your moose up close."
"It's not my moose," I tell her. "He belongs to nobody. Just like people do not belong to other people."
"But he's in your house."
"Are you the property of your parents? You live in their house."
"Maybe we are the only ones who can see the moose," she says. Then she looks at me again. "Just you and I."
"Maybe. But it's not very likely."
"Has anyone else seen that moose?"
"I suspect not, no."
"Do people visit you?"
"Almost never, no."
The therapist has found out about the girl next door. She finds this an interesting development. She inquires if the girl has a pet.
"Like a moose?" I ask.
Cat, dog, hamster, she specifies. Or maybe a goldfish?
"Not as far as I know. I do not know much about her. She has parents. I assume she's an only child. Does it matter?"
"There are correlations that we have to keep in mind," she says.
"Would you agree the moose exists only in your imagination?"
"No idea. You tell me." People are troubled by imagination. The only fiction they want to read these days is the stuff that's firmly connected to their own experiences. Literature has to have a direct connection with the here and the now, discussing social and political problems. Not to me. To me it must deal with mysteries, and not even solve them. Literature should be a mystery.
"There are no moose anywhere around here," the therapist says. "Not in this part of the world. Except in the zoo."
"I know," I say. I will not be caught denying the actual world.
"But then there's that girl living next door."
"I am sure she's real. She even talks to me." I am familiar with the phenomenon of imaginary friends. In adults it indicates psychosis. Or is it schizophrenia?
She jots down a few notes. "Does the moose react to your presence? Is there any interaction between you?"
"No," I say. "The girl, on the other hand…"
"I talked to her, a couple of times." I hesitate. "Is the moose there for her, and not for me? Has it made a mistake? Has it chosen the wrong house?"
"That would be absurd," the therapist says absentmindedly. She glances at the clock. "How could that moose be mistaken?"
"It happens to me all the time."
She again takes notes.
The girl next door tells me: "You look excited and sad at the same time, because you know that all sorts of pleasures in life are short-lived."
A fifteen-year-old with so much wisdom to share is like a balm to my soul. I want her to be a major part of my life, while kicking that nasty Martin Brons out of my house.
Reality will be different. She'll run into a boy soon and fall in love with him. He will not understand her intelligence nor the depth of her soul, and at best he will be a boring and hard-working husband. He will imprison her soul without realizing it, out of love. And she will let this happen, also out of love, and then there will be children. Maybe someone might help her avoid this fate. But it won't be me.
"When you are not there, I noticed the moose isn't either," she says. "But I can't see the rest of the house. Maybe he's in the bedroom. Or taking a bath."
"Even at his current size he won't fit into the bath," I say.
She smiles. "Everything about that moose is impossible."
She is right. This is the revenge of Martin Brons. Because of what I once did to him.
"Maybe that moose of yours is really dead," she says. I notice the pale downy hairs on her forearm. "If he is dead, can I have him?"
"What do you want to do with a dead moose?"
"Maybe I want to cut it open, and find out how it works," she says thoughtfully. "I once dissected a mouse in class, and a bird, but those are simple animals."
"We never had those kind of biology lessons," I tell her. Maybe I fainted and can't remember them.
"I had a teacher who liked to open up animals. For some students that was grotesque and so, but I could handle it. The animals were dead, which was actually a bit of a shame, because if things are dead, you cannot see how they function."
She is fifteen. Her ideas are totally weird.
When I get home, the moose is no longer there. Perhaps the universe has decided to put things in order again. Or he heard what fate the girl next door had in store for him.
I make coffee. I sit down in the sofa. I wait. Martin Brons no longer appears. Did he have something else to do? Has he joined another universe? Has he returned to where moose are at home?
I know that none of my questions will be answered.
Actually, I am not interested in answers. I do not even want to know what the therapist thinks of me. Maybe I should stop these sessions. Although I can not, because of that court order.
My doorbell sounds. I open the door. A man of about forty stands on the porch. Jeans, sweater, sneakers: the clothing of the talentless citizen in his spare time. He has not shaved for several days
He looks worried. I have no idea who he is. "I am your next-door neighbor," he informs me. "Have you seen my daughter recently? She is nowhere to be found. We call everyone, her friends, the school, but she is missing. Do you have any idea... ?"
I have plenty of ideas, none of which I will share with him. He is the absent father, who now turns up in an emergency and immediately wants to take matters into his hands, confirm his involvement in the life of his daughter, create order where chaos reigns.
Does he know that his daughter and I have been chatting about dissecting the moose? I am sure he doesn't. He knows very little about his daughter. I see his potential future, as the frustrated father-in-law. But I refrain from telling him about his future. For sure both his daughter and the moose have disappeared from my life, never to return. Maybe some day the moose will return. But not the girl.
Guido Eekhaut has published more than forty books in Belgium and Holland, including half a dozen concerning the imaginary city of Orsenna. He has also written crime novels, which were nominated for major awards and the first of which, Absint, won the Hercule Poirot Award in 2009 (and was published in the US in 2018). His stories have been anthologised many times, and several of them have appeared in Germany, Poland, Denmark, Italy, Argentina and China. He has worked as a freelance journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He also publishes essays on literature, geopolitics, history and philosophy, while working as a futurist. His story "Just Words" appeared in Issue #19 of The Cafe Irreal (as well as in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader); "Time Machine" appeared in Issue #21; "The Unicorn in the Park" in Issue #60; and "The Conspiracy" in Issue #62.