3 Short Stories by Leah Moser




Proof I Exist written in cement

It’s right in front of the gymnasium.  Three steps before the double blue doors that have P R A I R I E   E L E M E N T A R Y stenciled on them in white, the tops of the E’s peeling off.  After we dawdled at the pool last Friday and missed the student bus to the exhibition game (day late and a dollar short, as my mother says), we sat here sneaking cigarettes and wondering why only the E’s?  Over the weekend they put yellow tape around the sidewalk all the way from the parking lot to the blue doors and they poured new cement.  And while it was wet, somebody scratched my name in it. 

“Did you do it?”  I call Tracy when she gets home from the pool. 

I bicycle to Gabby’s house.  “Did you do it?”  We call Addie.  “Did you?”  We cut through the neighbor’s backyard to Mel’s.  “Did you?”

At home, my brother is in his bedroom with his earphones clamped over his ears, making sounds that force me to remember Libby the Irish Setter after the car did not swerve.  I holler, “Heeeeyyyyy.”   He didn’t do it.  He only cares about field hockey and the Beatles.

He flips me the bird and yells “Number Nine Dream!” closes his eyes and goes back to the dying animal noises he calls singing.  

I meet Tracy at the Pop Shop and we buy jumbo jawbreakers and licorice coins.  We ride to the soccer field.  Tracy is vehement and leaves three red welts on my arm where she pinches me, but I walk up to Eddie Wahler and Sean Capp and their Gang of Losers anyway.  “Did you do it?”

“You probably put it there yourself, you freak!” yells Eddie. 

“Isn’t even your real name!” shrieks Sean.

“Your parents find you in a garbage-can?  Garbage-can Girl, Garbage-can Girl,” Eddie and Sean sing-song and the Gang of Losers howl with laughter.

When I get back to my bike, Tracy’s face is the shape it becomes whenever anyone calls me ‘Garbage-can Girl.’  The name started after Sean Capp overheard “no, no, I know for a fact – adopted!!” from his mother to Evie Laten at the Christmas bake sale.  The name doesn’t even bother me.  What I really hate is the face she makes after.

“Wankers!!” she yells over her shoulder.

We pedal the hill standing up and we stay that way when we whoosh! down the other side.  Past the library, past Myer’s Seven-Day Groceries, past Mrs. Nathan and the twins who stuff their pockets with gum while Mr. Myer is staring at Mrs. Nathan’s chest, past the post office.  The wind stings water into our eyes and a licorice coin flies out of my mouth and sticks in my hair.

We leave our bikes in the grass next to the sidewalk.  When she sees it, Tracy squeals “Oh my gaaawwwd!”  and pinches me hard. 

There it is.  The four letters that stand for me.  Big.  ALL CAPS.  Three steps in front of the two blue doors.  Summer break is over next week and everyone will see it.

“Oh. my. god.  If that was my name right there, I would liquefy. I swear to god. Who did it?” 

And why just the E’s? 


*      *      *

When my mother was still around, she sewed us matching outfits.  We would wear them to church on Sunday and Mrs. Oliver would beam, “don’t you look like two peas in a tree.”

For a long time, I fantasized about turning a corner and coming face to face with a second me.  Rummaging through my mother’s grey metal box of Important after she was gone, I found a document.  Not the phony blue thing they give you later, but the one that the doctor wrote on.  There it is.  In the upper right corner in uneven handwriting.  34 weeks.  I’d already looked it up.  The average gestation period for twins. 

At a clairvoyant who works in the back of a candle shop on North Lincoln, between the coin-op laundry and Cool Threads vintage wear, I ask.  Am I?  Decidedly.  Yes.  My pulse is in my ears.  She says not literally.

There is a dream I have that makes me need to get up and make toast and turn on lights.  I walk into a hospital room.  There is a curtain dividing the room, and on the other side of the curtain my real mother is in the bed.  I walk toward it, knowing that when I pull it back, a woman who looks like me will say, “__________, you’re here!”  I pull the curtain back, but there is only a nurse folding up sheets.  She shrugs, “Day late, dollar short.” 

I tell the man who lives with me about it, and he speaks phrases like generous sacrifice and a better life in the way that rich people say money isn’t everything.


*      *      *

Three feet away from the bus stop on Belmont Avenue, where Ashland, Belmont and North Lincoln converge, and about two inches from the curb, there is a piece of the sidewalk into which somebody carved “Proof I Exist.”

I saw it while waiting for the #77 east-bound, at that time when a slipping-down feeling inside you mirrors the light slipping down between buildings and you try not to fall into the gap in the day.

I imagine the person who wrote it returning at quiet hours, the in-out of breaths now easier, able to consider Thai for dinner?

Last night I dreamed that I woke and rolled over in bed to find that my body had broken into little pieces.  Sharp and hard, like the shards of a shattered Christmas ornament, they lay strewn across the mattress.  With an invisible hand, I tried to scoop them into a pile, but as I touched them they became liquid.  They dripped off the bed and soaked the carpet up to the wall.  They dribbled against gravity up the pane of the window and seeped out through the crack between the metal frame and the glass.  I dripped little by little, mingling with falling rain, onto the ground and sunk into the sidewalk.  Somewhere in the night, John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” was playing.

The stain I left was the piece of sidewalk by the #77 bus stop on Belmont Avenue, where Ashland, Belmont and North Lincoln converge.


#77 Bus Stop © 2007 by Leah Moser






Falling horses.  I picture an endless row of horses, standing, just standing, waiting, waiting.  And then, Cue!!! and they all fall down.  I did not know such a thing even existed, a professional falling horse, until two years ago when my brother co-created a documentary about stunt horses in the movies.  Horses specially and rigorously trained to fall on cue.  I know about falling down, and it sounds simple enough.  But at 1400 pounds, a fall is an accomplishment of some magnitude and requires special training to prevent injury.  Thoughtful measures are taken.  If a horse is to fall, they dig out a space and pad it with hay and soft loose dirt.

I am mesmerized by the falling horse.  I find it marvelous to be given only one task:  fall!  To have someone invest countless hours of training:  fall!  To become famous for the ability to:  fall!  Brown Johnny was especially famous for always making his mark.  If they marked X, at X he dropped.  A thing I loved that my brother cut and pasted in an email was this:  “Not all can be fallers.  Never should they be forced.”

I could have been a faller.  They would not have had to force me. If they yelled, Here!  X! X is where I would drop. 

I watch his documentary on nights when I am wishing our hands were small.  When my fingers forget the pattern of olive-green fabric on the seats of a 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass.  Sometimes I will call with questions.

            “Soda lived to be thirty-three?  Is that a long time for a stunt horse?”

            “How’s Eric?  Is it Eric?  The one from Connecticut?  Christopher.  No, Christopher was the other one.  Eric.”

            “Thirty-three just seems awfully old, especially after all those falls.”

            “No Thanksgiving in Connecticut?”

            “Trial.  They were having a trial separation.”

            “The spare room is made up.”

This is how it is with my brother and me.  The spare room is always made up.  If I were a falling horse, my brother would be the guy who piled the hay and soft loose dirt in the dug out space.  More than that.  My brother would be soft loose dirt.

            When I hang up, our hands are small again, tracing the grooves of olive-green upholstery as scenery flies past.

My brother shrieking at the top of his lungs, “Bury all your horses!!!!!”

In the car.  For the third day in a row, with windows down, driving the now how close are we? from northwestern Canada to eastern Pennsylvania, where my father’s family still lives.  Every other summer, squirming past Alberta’s oil rigs, grain elevators in Saskatchewan, North Dakota’s Badlands.  Slouching by the blue-grey lakes of the North Star State and the Badger State.  Through the Crossroads of America we wriggle, through the Prairie State, the Buckeye State until we see the smoky Pocono’s in the distance. 

To make the tires turn faster we count horses.  When you see one, you holler out, “Horse-horse!”  Sometimes a whole string, and frenzied cries of “Horse-horse!” “Horse-horse!” “Horse-horse!” “Horse-horse!” trail behind the Cutlass like streamers and are carried off by the wind.  Whoever counts the most horses, wins. 

If you’re losing, you look hard for a cemetery.  Whoever sees it first screams “bury all your horses!!” and the other person loses all their horses and has to start over again.  I once asked my father, if cemetery equals start over, isn’t there something that could bring the horses back?  Stand for, say, resurrection?  He said, “two plus two equals four.”  We learned the word “immutable” before our fingers learned shoelaces.

My brother saw it first.  On I-80, on a stretch of road just after the bridge that crosses the Clarion River with a brambled ditch on one side and hills that roll up to the sky on the other.  On the top of the hills are scattered grey stones where, under the maternal limbs of a Scarlet Oak, lie the bones of the dead.

My horses’ bones now lie there too.


*     *     *

He misjudged the curve.  When the guardrail gave way, my brother’s car landed at the bottom of a ravine.  From the voice on the other end of the phone I hear he did not walk away, which was not the voice of my father until today. 

I have not heard my father’s voice in fourteen years, but it did not hold water in it then.  His news is to the point, despite the waves that lap over the words.  Fourteen years ago I packed my desk lamp, two boxes of books and my clothes and stuffed it all in the trunk of my Honda Civic.  I left behind two black moores swimming in a bowl on my desk, and my belief that Jesus Saves.  My father is a minister.  He did not say it, standing there in the driveway, but I did the math and came up with four. 

I ask about the funeral.  When?  I can hang right up and check flights?  There may still be a flight in tonight?  Tomorrow at the latest?  What can I do?

The current in the voice goes still, “It would be better if you don’t come.  Unless you have made things right with Jesus Christ.”

With the body not yet brought up from the ravine?  In a very dark room inside me, a clumsy hand flips a switch and the room goes even darker.  I hang up. 

Baby Boy comes over for dinner.  I tell him about the car.

“When’s the funeral?”  I tell him the rest of it.

He says, “Just because of Jesus?”

We order Crab Rangoon and Pud See Ewe from P.S. Bangkok and he puts on the song “GodLovesUgly.”  For levity, Baby Boy says.  The state of being light and buoyant, especially at inappropriate times.  Especially then.

I will myself to be light.  I concentrate on objects that float and possess a quality of buoyancy.  But there is gravity.  And heavy things fall.  The lyrics of the song waft into my consciousness, and I picture the bird with feathers of cement.  I do not realize I am holding my hands over my heart until Baby Boy places his hands over his.  Heavy things fall.  

Before I go to bed, I find a note Baby Boy has left on my refrigerator door.  It is held down by five letter magnets that spell out “G R A C E.”  These letters are the only prayer I’ve offered since I left the black moores finning in their bowl.  I trace them with my finger every night before bed.

He has a habit of rearranging the letters when he leaves so I end up supplicating

“G A C E R” or “E R G A C.” 

Tonight I will pray “R E C A G.” The piece of notebook paper held fast says:

“Things will pass.  Things will pass.  One more time, things will pass.”

Underneath this paragraph is a picture of a heart with a syringe going through it.

Underneath the picture it says, “Addie is the new symbol for Jesus Christ.”

When I close my eyes in my bed, I dream the picture of Jesus that hung above my bed when I was six.  He clasps the hands of two golden-haired children crossing a rickety bridge over a nightmarish chasm.  His face is dreamy with pink light and his chocolate brown hair melts into the white glow that encircles his head.   He is Neapolitan Ice-Cream Jesus and when he holds out his hand, I hold out mine, but we are too far apart.

I dream a stretch of road on I-80 that runs across a bridge over the Clarion River.  All the windows down.  Small hands streaming in wind.  I dream an endless row of falling horses.  Tires turning faster and hills that roll up to the sky, with a cemetery on their summit where a Scarlet Oak whispers over the bones of the dead.

I bury all my horses. 


Bury All Your Horses © 2007 by Leah Moser






After Buckley slipped his lead on the path along the river, behind the police station on Roscoe, after the posters she taped to every corner within a ten-mile radius had finally curled up and mingled with dead leaves along curbs, she bought a small blue spiral notebook and in neat, lower case letters she printed a list of things you can lose.




            the mate to the sock.



            my mother’s watch.

            phone numbers.


            what I was going to say.

She carried the notebook on the El train, to lunch in Daley Plaza, to acting lessons, on errands.  Hours, then minutes, birthed new pages.


roof over your head.


            hearts in San Francisco.


            shirt off your back.



            the battle.

            train of thought.

            train schedule.

            the will to.

In Horner Park, she saw the child’s fingers unfold like a flower and in the moment before the kite sailed from sight she breathed, No, stay and the man with her squeezed her pale, dry hand in both of his.

The notebook grew ponderous.  Too many things were un-tethering themselves too quickly.  At night sleep came too slowly, as she lay listening to the sound of things slipping away from earth.

She thought, best to find the humor of a thing.  An encouraging friend supplied a list of the bizarre, compiled by train conductors and hotel staff in the stations and rooms where forgetfulness and haste breed strange, inanimate orphans. 

            wooden leg.

            seven-foot length of snakeskin.

            park bench.

            several dozen sets of false teeth.

            adult toys in varying sizes.

            two human skulls.

            five-foot totem pole.

            green suitcase containing 80 pairs of spectacles with rose-tinted lenses.

            stuffed falcon.

            three prosthetic legs.

            two briefcases crammed with framed photographs of Liberace.

            eight dead mice in yellow plastic container.

            boxed collection of 300 blue butterflies.

“Isn’t that priceless?”  The friend meant well.  But slopes are slippery, and Yes, in response to Have you…your sense of humor?  Yes.

She began to keep the dozens of Have You Seen Me? flyers that came in the mail and at night the faces of children swam in her dreams.

The day her brother wrapped the rope around his hand to help six other men pull the rusted cross from the top of the church, she added: 


On the Sunday afternoon she found the poem by Elizabeth Bishop:


When the man who said she was the kite whose string he would not let go of moved back to Los Angeles, and when Baby Boy died, one event succeeding the other by just two days, she drew a drop of blood from her bottom lip with her teeth while writing:

            the other shoe.

A hiker near Aspen started down the trail with both arms.  When the Twin Towers fell, they searched for over six weeks.  Outside Fourth Presbyterian on Michigan Avenue, the sign around his neck says “in flames for all eternity.”  The blind man on the corner of Diversey calls “Dixie come, come Dixie” over and over.

It began to add up.

On the morning the blue plastic cap to the milk went missing, she said “honest to god,” canceled all her phone numbers, put a wicker hamper stuffed with clothes in the car and drove to Denver.  Miles, cities, scenery, states, time zones flickered and died in the rearview mirror.

In the rented room on the side of St. Mary’s Glacier, she dragged the only chair across the stale brown carpet and placed it in front of the window.  Beyond, the frozen mountain rose up, its top vanishing to meet with a god of its own understanding.  She took a drag from her cigarette, exhaled into darkness and watched the rings of smoke become part of it.

            She made an entry on the last page of the blue spiral notebook.  

            The air turned colder and she slid the window shut.  She watched her reflection in the glass until she had looked long enough that her face erased itself into the space behind it.  She felt a deep yawn open itself in the night and she followed the faces of the children and 300 blue butterflies as they ascended the side of the mountain, toward the barking of a dog, climbing the well-worn path of intent.


            Lost Things © 2007 by Leah Moser


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All opinions expressed by Leah Moser are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


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