The hole in the fence seems to pulsate in the dark of the back yard, but I don’t move from the deck chair. It’s almost midnight, and I’m sipping a coffee and listening to the radio, which always helps me relax.
Now there is a balloon of fur protruding from the hole like a bubble on the surface of a swamp. It twists and turns, and a dark shape plops into the grass. I have to squint to make out what it is: a fox.
My mother always told me she would come back as a fox.
Of course, I wait to see what it does. She gave me a list of signs when I asked how I’d know it was her. “There are a lot of foxes in Kentucky,” I had said. “I don’t want to get my hopes up every time I see one.”
“It will have my eyes,” she had told me. It’s far too dark to tell if the fox has her blue eyes.
“When you approach me, I won’t puff up my tail. I’ll try to stand on my hind legs if I remember how. And I’ll let you pet me.”
I’ve never seen a fox in our backyard before. It’s sitting up against the fence, near the hole it emerged from. I decide to leave the radio on. I have it on our favorite classic rock station. The Kinks are on and Ray Davies’s voice blends in with the sound of crickets. As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset, I am in paradise.
The animal doesn’t run as I approach it; it doesn’t move at all. I think back to when I was a child and I saw a raccoon circling the tree in our front yard in the middle of the day. I had run, excited, to my mom to tell her. “Don’t get near it,” she’d said. “It has rabies. I’ll call the animal men to pick it up.”
I think about this as I look down at the fox. I still can’t tell the color of its eyes. They are tiny pits of black that glimmer from the light on the deck. Its tail is relaxed, resting in the grass that will be covered with dew in a few short hours. “Hello, Mom,” I say as I reach out to stroke the fox’s head. Its lips shoot back on one side, exposing wet gums in a pink flash. It lunges and bites my hand. Then, it’s gone, back through the hole in the fence, and I’m left alone, bleeding in the yard.
Inside, I find my sewing kit and sterilize the needle over a flame on the stove. There’s a tear in the web between my index finger and thumb, and I sew it closed with a length of black thread.
In the shower, I’m careful not to get shampoo in the wound as I wash my hair. There is a tickle in the back of my throat, but I ignore it. Eventually it starts to burn, and I cough something dark down near the drain. As I bend to wash my feet, the nails seeming sharper than I remember, I notice it’s a mat of fur. I guide it down the drain with my foot.
The following morning, I notice the wound is healing nicely. I flip on the drip coffee machine in the kitchen and notice there are still drops of blood leading in from the back door to the closet, and then back to the table. They’re dark now and dry. When the coffee is ready, I pour myself a mug, and head back outside to see how I should go about patching the fence.
There’s an indention in the grass where I remember the fox sitting, but there is no hole in the fence. I walk up and down the length of it, wondering if I had remembered the wrong spot, but the fence looks as nice as the day I’d put it up. There are no holes.
I take my coffee back to the deck to start my day the way I always start and end it. My mother had never made any sense in life; why would I expect her to in death? I flip on the radio and wait for The Kinks. It’s only a matter of time.