It Was A Foxy Day
by Yvette Cowe
(Hamilton, ON, Canada)
To say 'it was a hot day' wouldn't be right. All summer days are hot, aren't they? It wasn't the day that was hot, when we saw the fox. It was everything in the day that was hot. The air itself, standing completely still, sat on us like a wet blanket, making our hair wilt and our skin stick to the bathing suits we decided to wear because it was too hot for clothes. Even the leaves on the Russian olive and apple trees looked hot, drooping on their branches. The bugs seemed lazy, making slow S-shapes in the sticky air as though they were half asleep.
We lived in the country, my sisters, my mom and dad, and me. There were animals around; at night we heard coyotes howling, and in the morning saw big, flattened patches of tall grass where deer had rested, way in the back, near the fields. Our property was "just big enough", my dad always said. He meant that any more land would be too much work. We thought it was just big enough for running, and our rectangular above ground swimming pool, and the volleyball net. Our vegetable garden was happy, with its rows of beets, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes, and the huge patch of strawberry plants, already picked clean by this late in the summer, having been watered by us kids. In bathing suits and sandals, we trudged back and forth from the hose in the garage all the way to the back garden with watering cans, and when we were done we watered ourselves with the hose. Mom and Dad were at work, and it was almost time to start supper, so, dripping wet, we decided to play a game of badminton. You couldn't play badminton outside when it was windy, because the wind blew the little plastic 'birdie' all over the place. So this day was perfect.
Being the oldest, I graciously let my little sisters play together on the other side of the long net with its wooden poles that Dad had put up for us when school was over in June. I was almost fourteen, and my sisters both eleven, so they weren't exactly "little". With three of us, it was always two against one. Doesn't seem fair, does it? I evened the score, though; I was the boss while our parents weren't home, so I got to serve the 'birdie' first. I lobbed it over the net with my racket, and the game was on.
The air was dead-still. It would have been spooky, like that part in the movie when you know something's about to happen. But badminton was not a quiet game when we played it, and our shriek-ish calls of "I got it!" and "Don't hit it so hard!" turned my senses away from that stillness. Birds hopped near the garden hoping for a juicy worm that had been driven from the ground by our attentions with the watering cans, but there was no other movement.
My sister Erin was holding the 'birdie', ready to whack it over the net, when I thought I saw a flash of something sort of orange in the thicket of spruce trees way behind where my sisters stood, holding their rackets. "Hang on," I called, squinting as I tried to look closer. Erin and Marie both turned around to see what I was looking at, and I saw it again. Just a quick movement, bright in the shadows between the trees. My thought then was Fox.
Oh, we knew there were foxes around, of course. We'd heard stories from nearby farmers about them running around, so that the farmers always had to make sure their chickens were safely locked up at night. No one ever saw a fox or a coyote in broad daylight. Always just before sunrise or just after sunset.
Can't be, I thought, knowing all this. But I was the boss, so I had to make sure. My sisters were staring at the spruce trees, at what we all saw moving between them. They grew thickly; in between was deep shadows, but in one spot where a couple of the trees had died there was a bare patch, and that's where we saw it now, walking stiffly, not graceful at all, its head and shoulders hunched, snout pointed down. Its bushy tail stuck straight out like a board, in line with the ground, and it seemed to be looking for something.
Something was wrong.
"That's a fox," Marie said, low, so she didn't scare it.
"Go to the house," I told them, also low. The house seemed very far away. "Don't run."
We started moving, walking faster than normal but not running. Running might make Foxy think it needed to chase us. Our three pairs of eyes stayed glued to that fox, except to glance forward quickly to make sure we didn't walk smack into a tree or the wall of the swimming pool.
The fox didn't seem to know or care that we were even there. It moved out of the trees into the full light. I was scared of it, but I could see it was a beautiful animal. It wasn't very big. Its fur was bright orange, its tail full and bushy. The way it moved was the strangest part. It would stalk forward a few steps, flopping its paws onto the grass as though it wasn't sure where the ground was, exactly, then stop and be still. Then it would move forward again.
"What do we do?" Erin was asking me as I slid the glass patio door closed behind us. Even as I thought Foxes can't open doors, I twisted the lock shut. Better safe than sorry. I wished Mom were there. She'd know what to do. I could call her, at work. She wouldn't be upset.
But I was in charge. I should know what to do. I thought for a minute.
"We call Animal Control," I said. "You guys watch the fox, ok? Keep your eyes on him, tell me where he goes." I went in search of the phone book and looked up the number to dial while my sisters called out updates.
"He's going across the backyard!"
"Now he's going up the side!"
"Wow, he's close! Look how pretty he is! Oh-wait, he disappeared. Looks like he's headed next door."
I stopped. Next door - the property on the other side of the Russian olive bushes - they have a dog, and two little kids. I didn't hear any of them outside earlier, but...
I picked up the phone and dialed their number. As I did, I heard the dog start barking. She was a big dog, easily bigger than the fox. Her choppy barking sliced through the still, heavy air. The phone rang once-twice-three times. No answer. I hung up before their answering machine picked up. Leaving a message wouldn't do any good. I picked up the phone again and called Animal Control.
"Animal Control," a lady answered.
"Hi. Um, there's a fox walking around here. I think he's sick," I said.
"Why do you think he's sick?" she asked.
"Well, it's bright daylight, and he's walking funny. Like it hurts him," I answered.
"Where is he now?" she asked.
"He's next door. They have a dog. She's going crazy, barking and all," I told her.
"What's the address?" she asked.
While I was talking to the Animal Control lady, my sisters had both run to the front of the house and were peeking out the door, where they could see the neighbour's dog. I went to see too. She'd eased off on the chopping bark and was snarling and growling now, straining her chain. The fox just stood there with lowered head, that board-like bushy tail pointed straight up at the sky. Then slowly, so slowly, it turned its head to where we stood, and we couldn't look away. Its eyes were black pools above its pointed snout. I swallowed, and it stared.
Slowly down the road came the white van with bold black letters reading ANIMAL CONTROL. As it pulled into the driveway next door, Foxy paid it no attention, keeping me pinned with its eyes.
We backed into the safety of our front door. Just in case, I twisted the lock shut. We hoped the Animal Control people would take him to a vet where he could get better, and then he would be taken back to wherever he belongs.
Mom would be home soon. It was time to start making supper. I went into the kitchen, while my sisters went back outside to cool off with a water-fight.
The steamy air settled on me again as little beads of sweat glistened on my forehead, and I remembered to breathe again. Foxy had made me forget. I heard my sisters shouting, and I heard the water splashing. I didn't hear that spooky stillness anymore. That was the best part.