There are moose tracks on the snow outside the Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden. The tracks hold pieces of the animal left behind, a tuft of hide, the strength of the animal here, the shadow of it there.
I’ve seen moose in Idaho but never in Sweden. There is a moose hide in my parents’ Idaho barn. My brother, living in the Alaskan bush, once killed a moose for the winter’s meat.
The way the moose ambles along. The way moose legs look too spindly to carry such an enormous body. The unpredictability of all creatures, especially hoofed ungulates.
My bladder is unpredictable.
I bend over the front desk of the Swedish emergency room, become animal, pant. I see six free hospital beds through the door.
I hold out my credit card. “We don’t take American Express,” says the nurse.
Eventually they will treat me, or I will pass out. The pain says: same, either way.
A day ago, my husband and I were walking along a waterfront pathway in Saltsjöbaden, half an hour from Stockholm. I squatted next to the moose print to pee. It felt strange to push—and have nothing come out. My body failed me.
I imagine telling the nurse about yesterday’s moose imprint. How animals leave a part of themselves behind in every track. How if you hold your hand over the track, you can feel the space where a moose has been.
My abdominal muscles are being stretched outward, and I will soon explode into woman pieces. I stand for three more hours at the counter, hanging onto the shelf, hanging onto myself.
My mum once took a nap in the woods while my dad and I scampered farther up the hill toward Trail 68. It was after surgery, or chemo, or radiation, and Mum was bone tired. When a body goes wrong, bones go tired.
Mum dreamed of fairies. She said they stomped their wispy feet so hard that she woke up just in time to see a moose galloping by, not five feet from her head.
The new nurse on duty does not speak English but immediately puts me on a gurney and wheels me into a back room; together, we speak the language of pee. As I lie on the gurney, I remove my consciousness from my body and put it on the ceiling for safekeeping.
The catheter brings relief: my pee in a bag.
The nurse holds up two fingers and a liter bottle and points at my belly and twice stabs the bottle so that the plastic makes a crinkling sound.
I pass out, or I think I pass out. Same, either way.
I dream of moose and moms. The unpredictability of a moose. My mother is a fairy and tells me the story of that day the moose galloped by her head.
I visited my brother in the Alaskan bush, and he placed the frozen heart of a moose in my hands. Its rhythm still beats strongly in my hands.
When I still lived in the United States, a nurse told me I should be more positive. “Are you not grateful for your life?”
I thought of that dead moose, which fed my brother and his wife all winter.
The last living moose I saw in Idaho was too close for comfort; eyes blinking in the beam of my flashlight. I backed away up my parents’ broken porch steps.
Soon we will learn that I have a tumor growing in my womb tomb, attaching to the smooth muscle walls, larger than the size of any moose print, filling all the spaces where love might have been.
While I’m hospitalized, high on morphine, my parents’ black lab Daisy is kicked and killed by an Idaho moose, just near the barn.
If you asked, “Do you want to go work, Daisy?” she stood up and barked. Back and forth behind the snow blower, in winter, and the rototiller, in summer.
My husband tries to tell me about Daisy, but I keep interrupting, because I am desperate to know if my mother is still alive.
Gratitude did not prevent a tumor from growing in my womb—the space where love might yet live. Gratitude did not prevent cancer from growing in my mother, in her breasts, her bones, her skin, too.
Mum leaves us for the great beyond to dance with moose and fairies. There is love in the space where she now lives—all this life in the great beyond, and a dog named Daisy, too.
Renée E. D’Aoust’s memoir-in-essays is “Body of a Dancer” (Etruscan Press). She teaches online at North Idaho College and Casper College, and she lives in Switzerland with her partner. www.reneedaoust.com
Gwendolyn Mintz is a writer and photographer. She is the author of three chapbooks, Mother Love, Where I’ll Be If I’m Not There, and Colored Girl.