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June, 2011

The Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy, mounted on a broad oak shield and initially valued at $3,350, sat stoically above the mantel of the fireplace, surveying with eyes like burned-out stars the flow of people in and out of the house's spacious living room—and supposedly had been doing so diligently for almost three decades.  Legend (if the curt conversations that Eli overheard between Mr. and Mrs. Lewis could be deemed worthy of such an appellation) had it that the moose head appeared in the house shortly after the death of Great Uncle Bernard, packed into a cavernous cardboard box along with enough Styrofoam packing peanuts to choke a whale and a small note in neat, lawyerly handwriting that simply stated:


17. b) MOOSE


This was the kind of mystery that Mrs. Lewis could never abide, and so within a week of its arrival the moose head and its four-and-a-half foot antlers were laid gingerly in the back seat of her silver minivan and driven fourteen miles to the closest place where anyone might know anything about such an item: Allensworth's Antique Appraising and Antiquity Apprising.

Adam Allensworth, owner and sole operator of Allensworth's Antique Appraising and Antiquity Apprising, was a tall, thin man with a pencil mustache the color of dead herring.  He wore a permanently supercilious sneer along with one of a seemingly endless supply of tweed suits.  Despite the doctoral degree in Classics framed proudly and hung prominently behind his desk, in twenty-four years of antique appraising no one had yet asked Adam Allensworth to be apprised of antiquity—anything about antiquity, frankly, because at this point Adam Allensworth wasn't picky and above all was worried no one understood his pun—and he was beginning to wonder if that woman who enjoyed Ovid's poetry as much as he did was ever going to walk through his glass doors asking about the ring her grandmother had left her or even, hell, if he had change for the parking meter because she had to run into the grocery store across the street and had left all of her cash in her other purse.  No, Adam Allensworth was a classicist with a mortgage to pay, and so he spent his days telling stories about other people's possessions.  Who, he thought, would want to spend that life with him?

He had greeted the Lewises, their young daughter, and their moose with a sneer and a little nod, and watched as they hefted the head onto his table.  Adam Allensworth had then taken out his bifocals and his flashlight and set to work inspecting the creature, prodding and examining it for almost ten minutes before finally announcing that yes, it was a taxidermy moose head, probably a hunting trophy, definitely Canadian—you can tell from the breadth of the antlers that it's Alces alces andersoni, and a fine specimen at that—and if he had to put a value on it, that it would probably be in the range of, oh, $3,500, but the small scratches on the bottom of the shield are going to drop that to, well, let's say $3,350.

"This hunk of fur is worth what?"  Mrs. Lewis coughed.

Adam Allensworth took off his bifocals.  "Three thousand, three hundred, and fifty dollars.  And it's really more formaldehyde than fur."  He folded the glasses and placed them in his breast pocket.  "If you'd like to sell it, I take a ten percent commission but I'm sure that—"

"Sell it?  Are you crazy?  When it's worth that much?"  Mrs. Lewis looked like the appraiser had suggested she might as well set the moose on fire and dance naked around it.  "I don't think so."

And so the Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy was carefully loaded back into the minivan and found its way again into the Lewises' home.  Mrs. Lewis wanted it in the house, but Mr. Lewis wanted it in the dumpster, and after some spirited verbal back and forth (the Lewises' own words), a compromise was struck and it was hung on a wall in the garage above the workbench.  Six hours later, the garage's thin drywall collapsed under the moose head's weight, sending the trophy crashing into Mr. Lewis' power tools, chipping both the left antler and a cordless eighteen volt right angle drill, and ensuring the movement of the moose head to a more permanent location above the fireplace in the Lewis' otherwise quite thoroughly contemporary home, a large and rather furry contrast to the sleek black lines of the marble mantelpiece.

So the legend went.


•    •  •  •    •


The Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy, mounted on a broad oak shield and valued at $2,900 due to a missing tine on the lower half of the left antler, seemed to be staring at Eli.  As if meeting Becca's parents for the first time wasn't nerve-wracking enough, he now had this thing—this creature—looking at him, like he was some exhibit in a backwards zoo.  The muffled voices of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis percolated through the kitchen door—they sounded angry about something, and Eli hoped that thing wasn't the twenty-two year old being scrutinized by a moose as he sat in their living room.  "Relax," said Becca, squeezing his thigh.  "I've only told them good things about you.  They'll love you."

Eli smiled, and then thought better of it and clamped the corners of his mouth shut.  "It's just… it's almost graduation.  They're going to ask about after graduation.  What do I tell them?"

"You tell them the truth."

"No one takes the truth seriously."

The strangled gurgle of the Lewis' coffee machine was hard to hear now over the swelling conversation in the kitchen, the two voices rising in a crescendo that threatened to pierce the walls and burst out into the living room, upwards and upwards and higher and larger until finally there was a loud noise like a thunderclap, and then silence.  The coffee machine beeped once.

Eli looked at Becca, eyes pleading for reassurance, but Becca was absent-mindedly staring at the moose, unfazed.  A second later, the kitchen door opened and Mrs. Lewis walked out, Mr. Lewis following, each holding a mug of coffee.  Becca pushed Eli and he stood unsteadily, smiled unconvincingly, and shook hands with the Lewises.  Mrs. Lewis was a short, angular woman.  She was pretty when she smiled, but there was something strange about it, like her skin was being pulled too tightly over her skull, and she had a tendency to use words like "fabulous" and "terrific" a little too often.  Her husband was the opposite: tall and terse, with the hinted beginnings of sagging jowls.  His thick mustache was jet black, but he was graying at more than just the temples.  Eli knew that Becca's father was some kind of engineer, and designed some tiny computer component Becca could never adequately explain—and he feared he couldn't adequately understand even if she could.  Maybe because of that knowledge, the image he had built up in his mind was very different than the man who now stood across from him in the living room.  Less mustache, definitely, and shorter, maybe even slight, with delicate hands.  But Mr. Lewis was downright imposing.  Eli swallowed and sat back down next to Becca, while Mr. and Mrs. Lewis took seats opposite them.

"So Rebecca says you met at school?" asked Mrs. Lewis.

"Yeah," Eli said, "in math section."

"Well that's just fabulous.  I was always telling my classes to practice their times tables, you know."

Eli half-listened, but mostly tried to avoid looking at the moose.  Yet as Mrs. Lewis talked about the fourth grade class she used to teach and the importance of multiplication, he found his eyes drifting every few seconds towards the space above the fireplace where the moose hung to see if it had moved since his last furtive glance.  Becca noticed, and after Eli's eyes' third or fourth journey to the moose, she reached over slowly and pinched Eli on the upper arm.

"Ow!" Eli said, and his eyes immediately widened in horror.

"I don't know how."  Mrs. Lewis didn't seem to notice Eli wasn't asking, and just continued on.  "But when a ten year old comes to you with a popsicle stick glued to his head you don't really wonder how, you just think about the letter you're going to send home to his mom with a clump of his hair in the envelope."

Mrs. Lewis sat back, looking pleased with her story, and Eli finally started to relax.  Then, for the first time since telling Eli his name, Mr. Lewis opened his mouth.

"What are you doing after graduation, Eli?"

And there it was.  Eli sat, petrified.  He hated that question.  Not because he didn't know what he was doing (he did) and not because he wasn't excited about it (he was) but because he hated explaining it to people, justifying it.  Everyone's first response was always the same question: "why?"

"I, uh, have a year-long post-bac fellowship."

"Well, that sounds terrific!" said Mrs. Lewis.  "To prepare for med school?"

"I didn't know you were premed," Mr. Lewis said, shifting his gaze towards Becca.

"Not... exactly," said Eli.  "But it's in biology."

"Like a clinic?" asked Mrs. Lewis.

"Not quite."

"Public health research?" asked Mr. Lewis.

"No, umm."  Eli took a breath.  "It's in ornithology."

"With the Smithsonian!" Becca added quickly.

"Ornithology?"  Mr. Lewis asked.  "You mean bird watching?"

"Well, birds, yeah.  Kind of."  Eli could feel his face flushing.

Mrs. Lewis' face scrunched up.  "Why?"

Eli sighed, and mentally queued up the explanatory speech he had given to what seemed like every person he ran into in the last month and a half, but Mr. Lewis cut in before he could start.

"Sylvia.  The boy obviously enjoys it, that's why."

"Well, he just has so much potential," she said.  "Education like that.  Didn't you ever want to be a doctor?"

Eli started to answer.  "Well, you see—"

"Not everyone wants to be a doctor," said Mr. Lewis.  His voice sounded suddenly like ice.  Eli was surprised that Mr. Lewis appeared to be defending him—he had a hard enough time convincing people who weren't his girlfriend's father that he was going to enjoy tagging birds and looking at slides of pressed feathers for a year.

"People have to do what they love doing," Mr. Lewis continued.  The words tumbled out slowly, deliberately, each an iceberg that fell to the floor of the room and floated there in the shag carpet.

"Ronald.  Do not start this again.  Not now."  Mrs. Lewis' head moved, almost imperceptibly, in Eli's direction.  She was smiling, even larger than before.  Her skin looked ready to peel away from her skull.

"Daaad," Becca said.  Something in her tone made the hair on Eli's arms stand up.

"I'm just saying that people have distinct interests, and once they discover them it's—"

"Stop it," Mrs. Lewis hissed.

"Once they discover them it is their duty to indulge those interests."  Mr. Lewis sounded rehearsed, like this was a monologue he'd practiced, the diction specific and the delivery metered and timed.

"I can't believe—after all he did for you!"  Mrs. Lewis flung her arm out in the direction of the moose head behind Mr. Lewis.  "You're just going to leave that all behind, is that it?"

"It's my duty to indulge—"

"You have a great job!  What about your job?  Your career?"

Eli had never really had cause to describe anyone as livid before, but Mrs. Lewis was rapidly approaching the adjective.

"Mrs. Lewis, I just think he means people should have jobs they enjoy waking up to go to every day."  His voice sounded meek, and trite.  Shit.  His high school debate coach would have killed him.

Both Lewises glared at Eli.  He backtracked.

"I mean—that is... we could leave... or something."  He motioned to Becca.

"No, no, it's fine," Becca said.  "Everything's fine.  Right, Dad?"

Mrs. Lewis barreled on.  "Do you remember your first job?" she asked her husband.  "The first one, before the sports car and the jewelry and the house?  You were putting together televisions for my uncle.  You used that money to take me on our first date, Ron.  Who's going to take me on dates now?  Who's going to buy the fucking food now?  You and your 'novel'?  Fabulous!"

And with a shriek that bubbled up from somewhere deep within her, Mrs. Lewis hurled her coffee mug at the wall behind Mr. Lewis.  Eli watched the mug hurtle like a ceramic comet through the air, tail of Colombia brew streaming out behind it, and time and clocks and even the pulse of Eli and Becca and the Lewises seemed to slow to a halt as the mug impacted against the far wall with a crash and echo that sounded of love rent in two, showering the lower half of the moose head with dark brown liquid.

The clock behind Eli ticked.  Steam rose in faint curls from the splattered wall and the fur of the moose, diaphanous memories rising out of the coffee and disappearing before they reached the ceiling.  Mr. and Mrs. Lewis were silent.  Eli was too scared to move, eyes fixed on the steaming moose head.

Eternity passed in the space between the Lewises, and just as the moose seemed about ready to complain, Becca leaned over and whispered in Eli's ear.

"You're upset.  Let's go."

"I'm upset?" he whispered back, but followed when she stood and offered him her hand.

Becca turned to her parents.  "Bye, Mom.  Bye, Dad."

"Nice to, uh, meet you," Eli said.

"Very nice to meet you, too, dear," Mrs. Lewis said in a voice that dripped like treacle.  Her mouth smiled but the rest of her face stayed still.

"Quite," said Mr. Lewis, face impassive.  Neither stood as Eli and Becca walked out of the living room.


•    •  •  •    •


The Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy, mounted on a broad oak shield and valued at $2,175 due to significant discoloration of the fur of its lower jaw and right cheek, as well as a missing tine on the lower half of the left antler, was wearing a party hat.  It was one of the cheap, conical cardboard kind that someone at the reception had managed to stretch around the moose's bulbous snout and which now sat at what could only be considered a jaunty angle on top of the moose's head.  Above the party hat was a banner hanging from the ceiling, white with little rose insignias, that read "CONGRATULATIONS REBECCA & ELI" in large, filigreed letters.

The party was, by any measure, a roaring success.  Becca looked radiant in white, and floated from group to group smiling and beaming.  Eli had rented—no, what the hell, you only get married once, hopefully, so he had bought—a sleek tuxedo, and sat in the corner with his college roommates as relatives old and new walked over to congratulate him.  The crowd itself was literally roaring: with laughter, with the din of conversation, with the frivolity only an open bar can provide.  The moose, for his part, seemed to be enjoying the party as well.

A peal of silver on glass rang out over the crowd in the Lewises' home, three chimes followed by a tinkling crack and profanity mumbled into the carpet.  Mrs. Lewis set the knife and broken champagne glass on a table, walked cross-legged over to the front of the room by the moose, and addressed the crowd.

"Thank you all... so much for coming."  Mrs. Lewis looked unsteady on her feet.

Becca excused herself from the group of Eli's cousins she had been talking to, and wound her way through the crowd towards Eli's corner.

"It was... so terrific of you all to make it out."  Mrs. Lewis' words sloshed back and forth like a boat caught in a typhoon.

"She's drunk," Becca whispered to Eli.  And she was, of course.  The kind of stark, raving drunk only twenty-year-old men in fraternities are supposed to experience.

"I couldn't tell," Eli said.  Becca slung arrows at him with her eyes.  "What do you want me to do?" Eli hissed.  "Tackle her?"

"Even you, Laura, you managed to roll out of bed, you fat whore."  Mrs. Lewis squinted her eyes and peered across the room at one of her nieces, chuckling like she expected the crowd to join in with her.

Becca looked at Eli.  "Yeah, maybe."

Eli sighed and resigned himself to playing middleman again, but before he could move Mr. Lewis appeared by his wife and started trying to guide her away from the front of the room.

"No!" she said.  "No, don't you touch me.  Don't touch me!  He never... touches... Listen, I have something I want to say!"  The crowd was starting to talk.  "No, listen!  Laura.  Laura, I'm sorry.  You're not fat."  Mr. Lewis moved again to try to dislodge his wife from the crowd's attention, but she shook him off and refused to budge.

"But really," she said, "thank you all so much for coming.  For coming and being happy and smiles and eating the food that I bought, and drinking the champagne that I bought, and dirtying my carpets with your feet and shoes.  Because they're mine now.  You know, not all of you know this"—Mr. Lewis made a final, frantic attempt to move his wife, but she pushed him off of her, and he stood instead behind her and to the left, rocking nervously on the balls of his feet—"not all of you know this, but Ron left his job with Novatron almost four years ago.  Vice President of Engineering, and he just walks away."  She hiccupped loudly.

"Okay, Sylvie, okay," one of Mrs. Lewis' friends had risen from her table and walked to the front of the room.  She took Mrs. Lewis' elbow.  "Let's go talk about it in the bedroom."

"No, I want to talk about it here.  Because these people are drinking my champagne.  I went back to work, you know."  Mrs. Lewis pointed accusingly at no one in particular, and Eli noticed for the first time that there was a band of light skin on the ring finger of her left hand where her wedding ring used to sit.  "I went back to work with those little snots.  God, I hate fourth graders.  And the salary.  You know how long it's been since I went to the spa?  I haven't bought myself a dress in four years.  All because of this!"

With that, she dug into her small purse and pulled out a sleek metal rectangle.

"Becca," Eli hissed, "what is your mom doing?"

"I don't know.  It'll be fine, Charlene will talk to her, she always does.  What is that thing?"

"A cigarette case?  I didn't know your mom smoked."

"She doesn't.  Why would she have one?"

But Mr. Lewis, having spent the first three and a half decades of his career in the computer industry, knew better.  "Is that... a hard drive?  Sylvie, what the hell?  Where is that from?"

Mrs. Lewis smiled at her husband.

"Did you take the hard drive out of my computer?"  He suddenly looked very pale.  "My book!"

He rushed for Mrs. Lewis, with real purpose this time, but Mrs. Lewis threw the hard drive to the ground and stepped down, hard.  Mr. Lewis stumbled, halfway to his wife.  He dropped to his knees, picking at pieces of the disk that had sprayed all over the carpet.  "My book.  My book."

No one at the party spoke.  Mrs. Lewis looked around the room.  "It was crap!" she slurred and staggered into the wall behind her, placing one hand on the side of the moose head for stability.  Eli shook his head back and forth, as if to sweep away the picture in front of his eyes.

"This is my wedding.  This can't be happening."  He looked for Becca, but Becca was approaching her mother slowly.

"Mom.  Mom, let's go talk.  Charlene and I can talk about it with you."

"I can... do it... myself," Mrs. Lewis said, and lurched forward.  The left ear of the moose came off in her hand, crackling and tearing away from the head like dry newspaper.  Mrs. Lewis looked briefly at the ear sitting in her palm, then stumbled off through the stunned crowd.  Becca stood, unmoving, in the front of the room in her radiant white dress, her father at her feet on his hands and knees in a rented tuxedo, rooting through the carpet desperately for the shards of his dreams.


•    •  •  •    •


The Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy, mounted on a broad oak shield and valued at $1,200 due to a large bald patch where the left ear is usually found, as well as significant discoloration in the fur of its lower jaw and right cheek and a missing tine on the lower half of the left antler, hung above Eli as he sat on the fireplace's low ledge.  After more than ten years, he still felt dwarfed by it, and it seemed larger and more unnatural every time he came to the house, this constant reminder that the Lewises' past was still mostly a mystery to him.  Becca never seemed to want to talk about it—not because she was embarrassed by her parents, it seemed to Eli, but rather because their story bored her, something she considered too typical to warrant interest.  Eli thought that very little about Mr. and Mrs. Lewis was typical, but he never felt able to convey that to Becca, and had, for the most part, dropped the subject years ago.  What Eli knew about the Lewises he had pieced together on his own.

A lot of that knowledge had come recently.  Eli had been visiting the Lewises' house five days a week for the last two months now, stopping by on his way home from the museum where he worked.  It was twenty minutes out of his way, but Becca had insisted, so here he was, helping the bedridden Mr. Lewis and the aging Mrs. Lewis, making dinner, paying bills, trying to convince the two of them to invest in a hospice nurse.  "Too expensive," Mrs. Lewis kept saying.  Mr. Lewis just snorted into his oxygen line.

Today had been one of Mr. Lewis' worse days, one of the days where he wouldn't eat or cooperate, when he would yell at Eli for arranging his pills incorrectly on the dinner tray.  Eli had eventually ducked out of the bedroom during a tirade on the merits of color coordination, deciding the moose would probably be better company.  He didn't want to leave the dying man by himself, so he sat under the moose and waited for Mrs. Lewis to get home.  It seemed like the right thing to do, but Eli wasn't really sure if leaving Mr. Lewis alone with his wife was any better than just leaving him alone.  When he had met Becca, the Lewises' fights were explosive, but they were at least punctuated by months of what anyone would consider blissful (or at least near-blissful) marriage.  Now husband and wife seemed to communicate only sporadically and solely by bickering, any substance in the conversations siphoned off after the first two sentences.

The front door opened, and Eli rose from the fireplace.

"Would you help me with these?" Mrs. Lewis asked.  Eli nodded, and followed Mrs. Lewis out of the house to her car.  He hefted two large paper bags out from the trunk and Mrs. Lewis led him to the kitchen.

"How is he today?" she asked.  Becca asked the same question almost every night.  Eli still didn't know how to answer.

"Oh, he's fine."

Mrs. Lewis arched an eyebrow but said nothing, and began sorting groceries from the bags into her refrigerator and cupboards.

"He told me about your trip to San Diego yesterday," said Eli, mostly to fill the silence.

"He did, did he?" said Mrs. Lewis.  She stopped halfway to the fridge with a bag of broccoli in her hands.

"Yeah.  About eating tacos in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and how he kept trying to order in Spanish for some reason but the guy behind the counter couldn't understand him and you just kept laughing.  And how you snuck onto the beach in the middle of night and drank wine—"

"'Drank wine in the waves,' yeah.  He likes that story."

"It sounds like a great night," said Eli.  Mrs. Lewis placed the broccoli gently into the refrigerator.

"Lovely," she said quietly.

"Hard to believe so much has changed."

Mrs. Lewis straightened up.  "Later that night he made me walk eighteen blocks in four-inch heels because calling a cab was 'too expensive.'  Not that much has changed."

Eli sighed, but didn't say anything.  Mrs. Lewis turned back to the groceries.  The silence grew until it filled the kitchen, a blanket that draped over the room.  "I think it's time for you to go, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Lewis.  Something in her throat muffled the last few words.

Eli said that it was, that he should be getting back home to Becca, and walked out of the kitchen to the living room to grab his jacket.  He was sick of his in-laws' house, of coming here every week, of watching the Lewises' love draw them together and then push them apart, day after day after day.  He twisted his own wedding ring around his ring finger and wondered if Mrs. Lewis still wore hers in the mornings, wondered how long she had worn it for before it was replaced with a tan line, wondered when exactly their marriage had become this hollow version of what it once was.  Eli felt suddenly furious about the Lewises' fighting—it wasn't fair to themselves, to him and Becca—and when he got to the fireplace where his jacket was lying, his hand shot out, almost involuntarily, fist clenched, and he pounded on the wall once.  The moose head shifted, seemed suddenly to sway, and an entire majestic antler wrenched itself out of the moose's skull with a sharp crack and fell onto the marble mantel, lifeless in a way it hadn't been a minute earlier.


•    •  •  •    •


The Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy, mounted on a broad oak shield and initially valued at $3,350 but now valued at an unknown price probably much closer to nothing due to an absent right antler, a large bald patch where the left ear is usually found, significant discoloration in the fur of its lower jaw and right cheek, and a missing tine on the lower half of the left antler, hung limply above the mantel of the fireplace.  Eli and Becca held hands in the middle of the living room and looked into the vacant eyes of the moose.

"We should take it down," Eli said, after a long time.

"Take it down?" Becca said.  "But—but—"

"The lawyers said we should figure out the value of the estate."

"Stop talking like that."

"Becca, I'm just being—"

"Realistic.  I know.  I know."  Becca started sobbing, small stifled cries that caught in her throat and escaped slowly, the dolorous chirrups of a weeping songbird.  She turned to Eli.  "What makes it so much harder this time?"

"Everything.  It's the house you grew up in, the things you grew up with.  It's hard to let that go."

"I miss her, Eli.  I miss them."

"I know," he said.  "I know."

So the moose head was taken off the wall of the increasingly empty house, removed from the spacious living room that had, for six long years, been far too spacious for one person, and laid gingerly in the backseat of Eli's Jeep.  It was then driven fourteen miles to what was still the closest place where anyone might know anything about it: Allensworth's Antique Appraising and Antiquity Apprising.

Adam Allensworth was, by now, a tall but stooped man with a pencil mustache the color of fresh snow.  He greeted the Jeep with his customary sneer, but when the back door opened and the moose head was pulled out, his lips curled into a small smile.  This motion made his cheek muscles uncomfortable and he stopped quickly, so that the smile went unnoticed by Becca and Eli, who were busy hefting the moose onto the store's small table.  Adam Allensworth hobbled around to the opposite side of the table, put on his bifocals, and gave the moose head a cursory look before turning to Eli and Becca and announcing that it was, still, a Canadian taxidermy moose head hunting trophy, though barely so.

"I'll give you twenty bucks for it."

"You can't be serious," Becca said.

"Twenty-five."  Adam Allensworth sighed.  Too often he spent his days telling families their prized heirlooms were worthless.  "Look at the antlers—half of them aren't even there.  And it's falling off the shield."

The appraiser pushed the head, lightly, with a wrinkled hand.  There was a sickening splintering noise and the head lolled terribly to the side, half of the oak backing lifting up with it and the other half remaining on the table.

The room was silent.  "See?" said Adam Allensworth.

"'See'?"  Eli leapt out of his seat.  "You killed our moose!"

"Let's be fair, sir," said Adam Allensworth.  "It was already dead.  Sit down.  I'll give you forty."

"Forty dollars?  Look, you can take your change and—"

"It's fine," said Becca.  "Eli, it's fine.  It's all right.  Mr. Allensworth, we don't want to sell it.  We just wanted to know if it was worth anything."

Adam Allensworth shrugged, and the door behind him swung open, a beautiful blonde woman slipping through with a tray of food.

"Biscuits?" she asked.  Eli sat down.

"Ah, hello dear.  Mr. and Mrs. Reese, this is Annalise, my wife," said Adam Allensworth.

"Charmed," she beamed.

"Your... wife?" Eli asked.  The woman couldn't have been half of Allensworth's age.

"Yes, yes.  Came wandering in here asking about the Ars Amatoria five years ago.  Quite exquisite books, you know," said Adam Allensworth.

"I hadn't read them since college, but when I saw Adam's sign, well, I knew I had to come talk to him," said Annalise.  Becca and Eli just stared.

"What'd you bring my Adam today?" she asked, and looked down at the broken moose head.  "What a gorgeous creature!  Do they always hollow them out like this when they're mounted?"

"Hollow?  What do you mean?" said Adam Allensworth, and he leaned down and peered into the neck of the moose, where—sure enough—a large hollow compartment had been carved into the wood frame.  He looked at Becca.  "Where did you say you got this moose from?"

"My great uncle Bernie," she said.  "Came in the mail after he died."

"Curious."  Adam Allensworth plunged his hand into the moose head and resurfaced clutching a small manila envelope.  He held the envelope out to Becca and arched an eyebrow.  "Any idea what this is?"

Becca shook her head and reached slowly for the envelope, but Adam Allensworth pulled his hand back.  He tore the envelope open and turned it upside down over the table.  A single golden ring dropped slowly, like a glittering tear, out of the envelope and clattered onto the wood, rolling in a wide arc before coming to a halt in front of Becca.

Becca blinked.  "That's Mom's wedding ring!" she said.  "I haven’t seen that in—I thought she must have sold it."

"Well, if you're interested," said Adam Allensworth, "that we could get some real money for.  Now, I take a ten percent commission, but—"

"Sell it?" said Becca.  She looked at Adam Allensworth.  "Do you know how much her ring was worth?"

Eli leaned back in his chair and looked around the room, from the elderly antique appraiser to the man's smiling wife to Becca, who sat clutching the ring to her chest.  His eyes settled on the moose head.  The dead glass eyes of the moose seemed to sparkle for a second in the flickering fluorescent light of the antiques shop before the rest of the oak shield splintered and split, sending the head to the floor with a muted thud.

Then the eyes were dull, the sable sunsets of two souls.  Eli stood, thanked Adam Allensworth and Annalise, and he and Becca took the moose and the ring and headed back out to Eli's car.

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