How a moose got into the cabin, I do not know. We’d been down to Rosa’s café for a hot bowl of chili verde on a cool night, and I could’ve sworn I closed the door on our way out. A sparrow hawk had gotten in a while back and knocked Cheryl’s favorite vase off the mantle. I was complicit for wanting some fresh air in the living room, so I had tried to be extra diligent about closing-up ever since. But there it was, great snout and antlers blocking the threshold of our safe home.
“At least it’s not a raptor this time,” I said.
“Funny man,” said Cheryl. “What the hell. Leave the door open. It’s bound to want out.” We went around back, climbed in through the bedroom window, and got ready for bed. What else could we do?
I thought Cheryl was acting surprisingly casual about the moose. Maybe it was the margaritas at dinner, and she soon took refuge in slumber. I slept fitfully and awoke in one of the wee hours to a shadowy presence through the curtains. It seemed to press against the window, and in a coarse whisper, said, “Hi.” Something crashed in the living room. The shadow disappeared. An owl hoo-hoo-ed. Then all became eerily quiet.
I got up, parted the curtains, and peered out the window. Stars hung like tinsel amongst tangled branches. A high breeze coaxed a shoosh from the forest overstory. It was the kind of night you see witches flying off through the pines and into the clouds that sift past the moon. Not tonight, however. I went back to bed and somehow managed to fall asleep.
In the morning, I padded stealthily down the hall anticipating a rampage, or worse. The moose was nowhere to be seen. And yet, there in the middle of the living room was a little boy in an oversized trench coat, humming a soft little tune to himself.
He said, “Hi.”
I didn’t know what to say, except, “Who are you?”
He answered carefully, “Umm. Jerry.”
We stood there staring across a shared gulf of indecision when Cheryl came into the living room. She was still a bit groggy from sleep, but when she saw the boy, she jumped. “Jimmy!” she cried.
And the boy ran into her arms. “Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy!”
I was confused. “I thought his name was Jerry.”
“No. No. We call him Jimmy, after your dad.”
I was missing something. I mean, we’d always wanted a little boy, but this was awfully sudden. Cheryl made hot chocolate for herself and Jimmy. They sat together on the couch under a quilted blanket while I built a fire.
Jimmy said he had been looking for his elephant. “Can you help find he?”
Cheryl recommended, “Why not have a cup of good hot chocolate first. You can tell us more about your elephant.”
Jimmy said, “He came one night by the fence for lost boys, and the ladies in the black hood dresses say when elephants come, I can follow where he takes me to a nice house, and I can look in to see if I like it.”
Cheryl nodded to Jimmy. “And did you like it?”
Jimmy replied, “Uh huh. Yes. I think this is a very friendly home.”
They finished their hot chocolate and I suggested we could now go out and look for the elephant. “He shouldn’t be all that hard to track and find.” Cheryl gave me a look that said, not funny.
However, we did indeed follow a trail of splintered branches and hoof prints through the woods, where birds flitted in and out of the dew fall, and squirrels clambered from bough to bough. Then we went down to the lake, and Jimmy yelled, “There he is! There’s my elephant!”
I said, “That’s a moose.”
“Yes, my elephant, his big nose and flap ears.”
Cheryl motioned for me to reserve comments. She took my arm, hugged in beside me, and whispered, “He’ll learn in time.” Was it my imagination or had the moose actually smiled and winked at her?
Jimmy said, “See? He’s nice.”
Cheryl knew just what to say. “I think he’s happy there in the lake, don’t you?”
Jimmy agreed, “Yes. He looks content.”
We walked back to the cabin, holding hands with Jimmy. As pleasant as our lives had been to date, living in the country can sometimes feel lonely, so this was what you might call an unexpected blessing. Or, in Cheryl’s words, “Nature’s way.”
As the fire crackled and snapped, Cheryl told stories about elephants having interactions with other animals. I didn’t know that she knew those kinds of stories. Well, she was full of surprises, and I just had to say, “You knew about the moose, didn’t you?”
“Of course not, silly.”
“It’s just that you seem so familiar with this entire situation.”
“No one knows everything about how things can turn out. But think about what we now have.” She nodded in the direction of the lake and enfolded Jimmy in a loving hug. Jimmy beamed. I’d never seen him so happy. She was right. This was certainly something on which to build a future.
First, we needed to straighten up the living room from when the moose had visited. Working together as a family unit, it didn’t take long. There was only one broken chair and some gashes on the door jambs, which was to be expected.
And now here we sit, cozy and comfy in our warming house against the winter chill. There are logs in the fire, a sparrow hawk on the mantle, music from the radio. We have moose rooting around in the orchard, wolves howling in the midnight hours. Then there’s me with my knitting, and Cheryl with her journal, which she insists is private, at least for now. And Jimmy, our sweet Jimmy, he’s on the floor playing with the rabbits, or as he calls them, his “elephants.”
Chris Bruce retired from a career as art museum curator and director in 2017. His exhibitions were seen in museums throughout the U.S. and represented the United States at the Sao Paulo Bienal. His non-fiction writing about art, architecture and rock n roll has been included in numerous publications. It is only in the past two years that he has begun to submit his fiction for publication. His second published story, “The Kindly Grocer,” appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine in January. Chris has a BA in English from San Diego State University, and an MA in Fine Art from San Jose State University. He lives with wife Joanie in Olympia, Washington.