After Ma died, the fox appeared. Black-mittened, face and fur scorched in red, the vixen would prowl our neglected hayfield, prey on cottontail rabbits, pounce for moles deep in the dirt; a fountain of fire. She carried off lizards and garter snakes that sunned their scales on hot rocks, sniffed for deer mice in the spaces of our wood pile, chased butterflies until they floated above her open maw. But whenever I tried to get close, the fox would rush into the trees with a flick of her bushy tail; the burn and blur of a sunset.
Nothing was more beautiful. Being wild and free.
When I told Pa, he leaned back in his rocking chair and hoped to God that the bitch didn’t eat our chickens. He took a twist of tobacco and tucked it inside his cheek, teeth already black and broken like the mountains in a twilight sky. I promised she wouldn’t touch our hens; that she stuck to the edge of the woods, absolutely no trouble to us because she was too skittish and scrawny; was probably on the move and long gone by now. Pa guaranteed that she’d come back. Such hunger is never full.
I wondered if he meant the fox or something else.
I didn’t want to believe Pa, but that morning, as sun melted off frosty fog, he was right. I absorbed the cringeworthy carnage: chicken-wire was fractured and frayed, blood bloomed and billowed upon the ground, the air throbbed in a thunder of squawks and thrash of wings; feathers danced like papery snow. Pa was yellowjacket-angry. My heart rose to my throat when he stormed inside the house and returned with a .22 rifle; on the front porch, he sat in his rocking chair and began to polish the piece with gun oil and a dirty rag. Pa swore revenge on the vixen.
To hunt an animal, we must become one.
But I didn’t want to become one. So, I made sure the fox survived. When Pa stayed up to jacklight, I brought him his jug of whiskey, insisted on one more sip until he drank himself into a snoring slumber under the stars. When Pa dug out the leghold-traps, greased the hinges with beeswax and baited them with meat scraps, I deactivated the devices. When Pa decided to smoke her out of her den, I drained the gunpowder out of all firecrackers with Ma’s sowing needle. I laughed at his anger and he shook me hard by the shoulders.
Do you want our hens to die?
No, I didn’t want the birds to die. But I didn’t want the fox to die—I didn’t want Ma to die. I didn’t want anything beautiful to die.
About the author:
Kieron Walquist was born in a barn and raised in a stable home. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in CHEAP POP, Electric Cereal, Fewer Than 500, Gingerbread House, Gone Lawn, The Molotov Cocktail and Purple Pig Lit, among other publications.