‘You have a noticeable bulge in your stomach.’
The old woman looked down at her seated body. At the prominent bulge in her abdomen. Milky eyes, filled with joy. ‘I’m pregnant.’
Claire made a note. ‘Really. Well, congratulations. Looking at your file, I see you’re ninety years old. Is that correct?’
Croaking voice. Smile. Yellow teeth. ‘It is.’
Ralph Robert Moore, who regularly has stories in my alma mater, Black Static magazine, as well as a regular non-fiction column in the same publication, is an unsung hero as far as I’m concerned. His writing has the easy, naturalistic, observational charm of Carver, edging the reader ever so gently into a sense of the downright bizarre without ever succumbing to the crass weapons of the more mainstream proponents of horror. He’ll bring you right up to the dotted line, let you take a peek over, then prod you hard in the back, and you plummet. His unforgettable story ‘Men Wearing Make-Up’ is bone-chilling in a way that the creepy clown of Stephen King’s ‘IT’ can elicit only a disinterested shrug by comparison. ‘Even the Cops…’ begins as a tale about a hapless soul, Claire, a social worker, whose life goes from bad to worse. We don’t know where it’s heading, then – wow, a curve ball. I love stories where the inexplicable borders on the religious, or spiritual (or what we think we understand of the religious or spiritual): in a few spare pages Moore does this, without pushing it a word too far. As often with his tales, you are left wondering if you have been privy to internal madness or whether madness has taken grip of external reality itself.
First published as ‘Learning not to Smile’ in Nightscript 1 2015; collected in Behind You: 18 Stories and Novelettes, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017