Consider this a love letter. As such, it requires patience.
Settle in. Fold under your legs. Curl your tail around the bean of your body, keep the ashy tip poised over your nose. But be quick about it. It is cold tonight, and my voice will carry.
There are many places to begin. One day I saw a hollow under a rock. I had a hunch. Another time I spotted a rotten tree, the pulp soft and pungent. I could see you there, waiting out the night. You could be there now. No one would wait for you but me.
I used to think you were always hiding, but now I know better. We simply are not worthy of your presence.
Forgive my warm cheeks, this terrible sequence of halting gestures. I don’t know how to tell you this story. Should I leave a screed in branches, a chit in stones at your door? My affections are spelled out in river water and berry juice, in layers of soil. The soft bone-glow of the moon.
If I could I would yap at you, wowwowwow, crack open my face in some approximation of love. But I am not vulpine. I would make a mistake, my teeth would clack out the wrong song. I’m used to the grayer ones, understand. The Western ones, thick bodied and substantial. They could pass as coyotes. You could pass as a cat. You keep all your secrets around you.
I know your stealth – once, the cupreous flicker of your tail at mid-morning, my clumsy presence sending you over the hill – but you aren’t so clever at hiding evidence. Those hastily concealed digs in the leaves, the hind end of a mouse, that bird wing in your scat. The tracks by the lake where your thin legs punched through the dry mud. I don’t mean to be presumptuous. You will, I hope, correct me if I’m wrong. I admire your work. You speak a different language from the wild hysteria of the whitetails, the hang-dog pessimism of the possums.
It’s not as if I understand you. For instance, there is the matter of the turkeys. Three, fat and searching. They come in the yard jerking their heads like diplomats, high stepping with raw feet. I watch them peck the ground, and I call them miracles; I chew my dinner and wonder how it is you haven’t chewed them for dinner. Easy prey for you, no doubt. Surely some nights you pray for such prey. Why have you spared them? Is it your humanity? I’m sorry. See, another stupid mistake. There is no word for what I’m trying to say. Altruism, perhaps, but that has a sheen I don’t intend. Your animality?
Your choices do fascinate. Vulpine. I marvel over your aptitude, over the unpredictable, unswallowable desires that crawl up into your mouth like bile.
I never imagined you’d want that pumpkin, discarded in the street, slammed into pieces by a 14 year old’s baseball bat. Not you. The pregnant, waddling raccoons, maybe, hiding their shame behind dumpsters. The ambitious squirrels, who plan but never consider the big picture. I waited for their teeth marks, a dental x-ray of late night hunger.
But you came instead, boldly standing under the street light, orange strings of pumpkin meat hanging between your teeth. You turned your ears toward me, the threat of me, and listened to my blood, to digestive juices, to the thumping and beating of life. Oh, you. You put your head back down, drooped the tail. A meal in front of you.
You marvelous beast. You sexy, beautiful thing. If they saw you, they’d start a fan club, goddammit. They’d build a religion around the jewel of your heart.
You ate, unafraid of me. You swallowed down that orange flesh, vulnerable under the yellow lights, a mouthful occluding your breath.
I could have killed you then. You could have been seen by others, struck down by machinery, snared and put in a loud block of a truck. There is, always, the threat of death. Do you know what they’d do to you? Rubber and asphalt. Latex gloves, a syringe. Do you run from these things? Do you even know, in all your cleverness, from what you’re running? You just run.
That night, you stayed and ate. A gamble. Warm air from your wet mouth, between bites. Your stomach, I knew, would be full of pumpkin. White seeds. You’d sleep dense bellied. In the morning, I’d find your scat heavy with vegetable instead of bone.
My god, you can’t lie.
I should not be saying this. I am married, and you are a fox. I can’t give you my ring finger to chew on, but I can give you my gratitude. A humble meal to soften your pangs.
Thank you for not running away that night. For running away every other time, for making yourself invisible long enough to exist.
Thank you living in this place we have carved into and ruined, making a life in a crumpled shoebox of wilderness. Thank you for moving each night, stone to stone. There is not room enough for a mate or kin. There is only space enough for you, this day, and perhaps another.
In the winter, I will look for your tracks. Tiny feet on the snow. If you make it that long, I will cry for your endurance. If you do not make it, I will cry for your absence.
How long you have made it, already, all alone in the empty ribs of these woods.