Snapshot by Holly Bruns

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December 5, 2015 by northerncardinalreview

All that she has now is a memory which she quietly carries between her two arms, and a snapshot that she likes to touch in the quite of the front foyer.

It is a black and white, eight by ten with a thin white border of cheap plastic. It hangs on the wall in the front foyer over the Upper-Canada pine chest. He loved that photograph. If you look closely you can see that it is slightly blurred, like somehow time and the photographer were not communicating that day.

One of the men sits on the moose’s back and looks into the camera smiling, or grimacing. It is hard to tell. The moose too is looking into the camera, in pose, as though it were the most natural thing in the world to have a grown man riding around on its back like a father and his child. Two of the men stand to the left, watching on, looking unsure and as though they are about to run. He however, stands bold beside the large-antlered beast, his right hand caught in motion as it reaches out to touch the top of the animal’s foreleg. And he looks straight into the camera, wide-eyed and alive.

They must have stood in the bush, covered in the wet of morning air for hours to get the shot. The mosquitoes would have been bad, eating through thin cotton, nibbling eagerly on exposed flesh, and singing in unison their primal high pitch of an operetta that would drive a moose out of the forest and onto the open road.

That photograph was the first thing he had to show her about himself when they began their courtship. He took it off the wall and branded it around like a hero’s medal, this otherwise quiet and conservative man. And she fell in love with the boyish eagerness that shone through him that day.

Back then, when they were young, it seemed their love was enough for him. She spent her time smoothing the sheets and feeding him from her fork; he lit fires and read to her tales of adventure and excitement. But just as their love was beginning to grow into something tangible, a cloudy force was mushrooming deep in his chest. It began with whispers about the bush in his sleep that would keep her awake in the dark of the night. Then he started to spend hours barricaded in the basement armed with scissors and glue and texts on taxidermy. Sometimes he disappeared for hours coming home after dark with pine needles clinging to his hair.

It wasn’t until later, discarding nature’s boundaries, that he started bringing it in to the house. First the matching moose leg lamps; real moose legs that he got down on his knees and severed from the rest of the animal with his own hands. Next came the antlers, and the pelts: beaver, fox, muskrat. They were mounted on the living room walls all askew, different ends up. The bear paws were the first thing she saw every morning, on a pedestal, just outside their bedroom door. Eventually it was the traps themselves that were nailed to the walls, complimentary ornamentation. The place took on a mausoleum quality as though it was a tribute to some ancient god of the northern bush, and she began to feel like a spectator in her own home.

She stood in the foyer looking at the photo and reached a finger to touch the outline of his figure. He looked youthful, his sticking-out ears and childish smile belying all the years gone by. She allowed herself to reminisce about the landscape of his person, all unruly and thick; the close scent of moss; the gentle but rough hands. How could she have known that once it was all gone she would miss it so much?

He was last seen walking into the bush by Fort Nicholson and Ninth Line on a heavy summer’s morning; he just stepped off the highway and onto the rotting forest floor. Clips, the barber, shouted to him as he walked by, but he received no response. Perhaps it was the smell of the air that day and he had to give himself over to it. And perhaps, she thought, he is still walking a straight line through brush and shrub and birch trees, the denseness of it all absorbing him, wide-eyed and alive.

Holly Bruns is a writer who lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. Her short stories have been been published in the 2013 edition of the Ascent Aspirations Anthology, Reader’s Digest, and Near to the Knuckle.  When she’s not writing fiction you can find her at her blog, Wine Out Loud, where she writes about wine and occasionally, food. She is currently working on her first novel.


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