By Mia-Francesca McAuslan
With artwork by Loni Jeffs
Ghost moose are the only white-coated moose. They are covered in parasites. The ticks take so much blood that the creature’s starving body raids its bone marrow, muscles and heart for protein. They get sick, turn white, starve and then die.
On the ninth day of Spring there was still no sun in the sky. It was thirteen degrees and 24 years since the day my love gave his mother pre-eclamspia – the blood poisoning of birth.
He came into the room bleeding, legs shaved, digging at wounds with tweezers, so sure that something was stuck inside. He had gone mad in winter. It was the coldest winter since 1989.
He was saying, I think I’m dying. None of my wounds will heal. I can’t feel my hands and legs. My limbs are numb. I can’t feel the grass beneath my feet.
He responds to cold and anxiety. He is feverish inside corporeal memories of his childhood – dunked into cold baths and forced to take tests for epilepsy. He has compared them to Clockwork Orange – the way the eyelids peeled back.
When he lost his grip on reality he called a doctor to the house. He said, I think it’s my heart, I can’t feel anything, I can’t sit up, my back is gone. The doctor placed his smooth brown hand on the swollen ankle of my love. He said, It’s probably posture related, you just need to stretch.
He went to a different doctor shortly after, to show him a wound in between the line of his hip bones, the red place that wouldn’t go away. The doctor told him to leave it, that nothing bad would come of it. He said, Besides, look at you, you’re fit, you’re fine.
Sick animals stumble when they walk, and then they die.
In the June of 1999 in Maine, Canada there was a surge in moose deaths.
In October 2015 there was a moment where his hunched back was bathed in white light on the bed.
I dreamt of hoofed mammals.
I woke to him choking beside me, caught inside of a bad dream. His breathing quickened and I went to move him, then thought: Isn’t it his own responsibility to stop himself from suffocating?
It is said that anaphylactic shock is nature’s way of extinguishing weakness in the gene pool. In the dark I wondered if the same applies to subconscious self-asphyxiation and it made me sad.
Sometimes in the dreams he is Lemmy, a horse sized dog. Lemmy was a Wolfhound who lived in Footscray and ate grass. In all of the stories, Lemmy thinks he is a cat and tries to crawl into small spaces. This what they have in common, my lover and the dog: they both suffer from a similar kind of dysphoria.
When I tell my friend about the ghost moose she says, Oh my god. That’s horrible.
I forget that not everybody knows this fact about moose.
I guess I have just gotten used to it, I say, the idea of a ghost moose. I think about them all the time. Then I sighed, shook my head and said, They just don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve to turn white and die.
Once I took a picture of him motionless on the floor. Later I found a comic on a scrap of paper in which he had drawn the back of my head in the foreground, and his body in the background. The second panel is a close up of his eyes, the side I couldn’t see. In the comic he wrote about absence, something he didn’t think I understood.
When I write about him I always cast his image in shadows. When he draws me, I am the one casting the shadow.
In these moments, we are less afraid of ghosts, and more afraid of each other.
Mia-Francesca McAuslan is a writer from Melbourne and intern at The Lifted Brow. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in Yowl! RMIT Creative Writing Anthology, The Morning Bell Journal, The Writers Bloc, Kumiho Society and The Quotable: Issue 18. You can find her at @miafrancescamc, and on instagram at mia_mcauslan