All I want is to see a moose. It’s Elizabeth Bishop’s fault. I read Patrick her lines in the rental car, though I’m shit at pronouncing parentheses, so I have to stop and tell him they’re there:
Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?
“You like this lady because she’s a lesbian?”
He says “lesbian” like one might say “indigestion” or “traffic court.”
My brother played basketball at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. A born contrarian, he confronted their septum piercings and pipeline protests with a crew cut and a career as a fireman. And still, I know he has a book of Audre Lorde’s essays between his mattress and the bedspring like a Playboy. I know his resentment of my queerness is not political but personal– a threat to his selfhood in a cobwebbed vacuum.
“No, I like her because she’s a genius.”
“You know, they’re like squirrels here. A dime a dozen.”
A river delta ceiling forms above his Adam’s apple as he tenses. I’ve always been immune to his rage. Part of me wonders if I betrayed him as an experiment.
“What if you’ve never seen a squirrel?”
He nods his head from side to side. It’s mannerism left over from our childhood that signals: You’re a dick, but you’re right.
We call it Moose Patrol. Whoever isn’t driving stares out the passenger window. This way, the silence has a purpose. If you’re talking, you’re not looking hard enough.
Patrick and I take a hiking trip together every spring. We go this year because we’re stubborn. Because to break anything– even a tradition– would be to fail. I once cried in a professor’s office over an A minus, watching myself with raw loathing. Patrick won the NCAA tournament with a broken back. He didn’t tell anyone he had to sleep sitting up until after they cut down the nets. The team trainer took one look at the x-rays and wept.
Our mom double-booked us at her laundry machine– an incestuous blind date from hell. We are twenty-somethings living in mildewed apartments and lacking quarters. Plus, it’s winter, and the machines are a hike across our complexes. So I showed up, and there my brother was, digging for dryer sheets in the back of the cupboard because God forbid his briefs suffer from static cling. He was wearing gym shorts and calf socks, and the combination made him look like a kid, if you ignored his calf muscles. He used to pull white tube socks up to his knees every morning before school. At the bus stop, he leaned down to yank them higher with such force that I heard seams popping. I thought he was so fucking cool.
He looked casually weary when he turned around, like I was at the back of the line at the DMV.
“What are you doing here?”
“Mom set this up.”
“Look, I’m sorry.”
“Would you be sorry if I hadn’t found out?”
“Easy for you to say now.”
“I thought we were friends. I know we’re siblings—we can’t help that—but I thought we were friends.”
“Friends betray each other.”
“Shit friends betray each other.”
“Then we’re shit friends.”
“Why’d you do it?”
And that was the thing. I didn’t know why I did it. I knew my brother’s girlfriend had red hair like mine and wide hips like mine and an appreciation for horror movies like mine. I knew no one mentioned these similarities. I knew I wanted to crawl out my skin when they looked at each other. I knew I was jealous and that my jealousy was complicated and that it had only one acceptable object. I had acted on the feeling so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore, and here I was thinking about it while the dryer started on its own, which it had done since we were kids– sometimes, it went off like an intruder in the night, turning a ghost load around and around with no zippers to keep time.
Patrick pressed the stop button, opened the door, and loaded his wet jeans and socks and sweaters inside. I put my dry jeans and socks and sweaters in the washer beside him. He handed me the beads to pour on top. He wasn’t going to make me answer. I wasn’t going to explain unless I had no other choice, though the monologue bubbled at the back of my throat like reflux. I could feel the shape of it without knowing a single word I would say.
While the machines ran, we sat at the kitchen table and bought tickets to Alaska. Patrick had a bad knee, but we figured we’d just drive around and take in the scenery. It was cold, anyway, and I was scared of grizzlies. Our mom cut the tops off of some strawberries and placed them in a bowl between us while we scrolled through flights. It startled me when Patrick sat us beside one another– two blue squares turned to green in the exit row. I must’ve looked at him because he entered my middle name– not hesitating over a single vowel of “Saoirse”– then stopped.
“Extra leg room,” he explained.
On the first night, we stay at an Airbnb in Anchorage. It’s a cute place in a rough neighborhood.
From the front walk, I see an open window on the second floor and a handprint in the dust. I grab Patrick by the shoulder and point.
He says, “Stay here.”
He leaves the front door open, like when you’re trying to chase out a fly you don’t want to kill. Vegan type shit. He finds a butcher knife in the kitchen. He’s done this before. He gets easily paranoid. After we saw Scream 4 at the theater, he slept with a baseball bat by his bed for a year. He never would’ve made it as a cop. Firefighters know what they’re getting into.
The guy goes back out the window with a small TV under his arm. We make eye contact, his legs dangling off the roof, ready to jump, my arms resting on my backpack, which I wear on the front because I like the pregnant feeling.
He has beautiful hair– dark and wavy and down to his shoulders. His t-shirt has a logo for a skateboarding company on the front. He’s probably Patrick’s age.
“It’s okay,” I say, because it’s not my house or my TV and this man doesn’t want to hurt me or my brother– who’s still creeping from room to room with the blade tucked close to his ribcage– and because of that hair and those big eyes. I forgot to mention the eyes– almost black and framed by such relentless eyelashes.
The intruder lands in the grass and hops the fence to the neighbor’s yard. I hear his steps down the block—soft and steady like I expected.
Patrick comes out of the house with the knife.
“What the fuck was that?”
He walks back in the house, slamming the door behind him.
The bugs stay in. I stay out.
The next day, we drive to Fairbanks. It rains relentlessly and traffic creeps along because Alaska takes advantage of the few months of warm weather and lasting daylight to repair all its roads at once. Around us, land stretches into infinity in all directions. The governor of Alaska once said she could see Russia from her house. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could see the beginning of time. I tell Patrick they should bring all the climate refugees here. Patrick tells me he sometimes wants to live on a mountain and talk to no one for months on end. I ask Patrick how the pioneers knew where to look for gold. Patrick asks me how the Aleuts stayed warm in the winter. There is a line beyond which we are okay, and I can see it.
“Be honest. What’s the big deal with the moose?”
“It’s a metaphor,” I say.
“A metaphor for what?”
My brother wears a Disney World sweatshirt he’s had since we were kids. It’s the only piece of clothing he’s kept from more than two years ago, only surviving for the sake of irony. His pilled sleeves still sport syrup stains, but he rolls them up, hiding all signs of life.
The Earth turns. The line slips away.
“I gotta pee.”
On the last day, we drive eight hours to Seward. It’s quiet for the first seven and a half.
I suppose I’m satisfied with the results of the experiment. I can, in fact, enjoy the full force of my brother’s animosity and, in doing so, conquer the finitude of his emotional range. A sister can only be so close to her brother. The last frontier, it seems, is fucking his girlfriend.
“Was she any good?” Patrick asks into the silence.
This question is a trap. I am a tissue-paper soldier. My brother is a bomb that will (rarely) explode and (never) kill me. These are all titles to poems I’m too ashamed to write.
“I’m not doing this with you.”
“No, I want to know what you think. Did she give you head? Did you wear a strap-on? Did you fuck her from behind? Was she loud?”
He looks at me instead of the road. If this were a movie, I’d shout at the screen, but it’s real life in Alaska, so I look at the road for him.
“The first time we had sex felt like nothing,” he says. “I thought to myself, I’m using this woman’s body to jerk off. I finished, and she hugged me to her chest like I’d cut myself on the altar of her, and I felt nothing.”
“Jesus, Patrick. I don’t want to hear this.”
There’s something in the road.
“She’s loud for me,” he says. “She moans my name. Did she moan your name?”
There’s something in the road.
There’s something in the road.
“Why’d you do it?” he says.
He uses the same intonation from the laundry room– calm in his exhaustion– only now there are no scented beads or strawberries with the stems cut off. There’s nothing, and then there’s only a dark shape in the road.
We hit the moose head on. I see a piece of tire or maybe a balled-up sweatshirt, then a pair of eyes, then forest, horizon, forest, horizon, forest. Forest. Forest.
Patrick has a cut on his temple, a trail of blood down his neck. My arm hurts. I see a balled-up sweatshirt in the grass, only it’s soft and massive and bleeding.
A rivulet down the double yellow line.
He turns to smile at me. There’s blood in his teeth, forgiveness in his voice.
“Well, you saw one.”
Abby Comey is a high school English teacher from Washington DC. Her work is featured in Honeyguide Magazine, Flora Fiction, Aura Review, and The Arcanist. She's penned essays for The New York Times and The Washington Post.