The Mating Habits of Foxes

by | Dec 7, 2021 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Four

     The man and the woman sitting on the rocks are at odds with one another, I can sense it in their body language. Perched on the jagged embankment overlooking the lake, the small space between them is as big as the forest. Her back is hunched low, head buried under her arms, a tangle of dark hair spilling over her lap. His spine is straight, large hands resting on top of his shorn head as he stares into the distance. I’ve been watching them for months now, as they come and go separately from their home by the water, on the edge of these beautiful woods.

   Inside our den, we are warm and comfortable. The kits nestle around their mother, or tousle in the dirt and leaves. She looks at up me, her amber eyes soft pools of reflection. I must leave them to hunt whenever I can. I prowl the outskirts of a grove of maple trees, where a lost rabbit is hiding under the rotting leaves, his fear a beacon wafting on the breeze. I bury my kill underneath our burrow to keep us from starving in the lean days of winter.

     The man leaves every morning before the sun comes up in a big, black car, two lights like giant owl eyes gliding off in the predawn. The woman remains inside until midday, then she wanders around the yard plucking weeds from the ground. Once she spotted me near the rails of the wooden fence and crouched down low the better to watch me. I became still, my heartbeat vibrating through my limbs as I looked at her frail fingers reaching for me. I fled.

     Last year the woman’s stomach grew big and round, but I never saw a baby. What I did see was the woman getting into a strange vehicle and being carried away. Returning in the evening, right before the man. Then, very late, I heard her crying, guttural wails that made my body tense and freeze. The man stepped outside to suck on burning embers and blow smoke from his mouth, and to gaze up at the billions of stars in the sky.

     Sometimes when the woman is gone out the man brings a different woman along. He walks very close to this one and trails a finger through her hair, rests his palm on her backbone. They laugh and smile and fill the air with their scent, sickly sweet and heavy with anticipation. They vanish inside the house and shut the door behind them. Their time together is short; in the hour it takes me to stalk a woodpecker and pounce, to break its neck and carry it to my vixen, they finish their ritual and drive away in the big black car.

     My family sleeps nestled together, warm red coats glinting under stray beams of moonlight that sneak in through our narrow entry. I stand guard and watch the flicks of our pup’s tails. The low, sleepy growls as they fight against coyotes and wolves in their dreams. Their mother stretches her hindlegs and rolls over, lifts her head to check that they are safe. She sees that I am here and then rests her head back down on a delicate paw. I would die for them.

     A great tumult crashes through the air, the sounds of danger. I am outside in a blink, but there is nothing out of the ordinary in the woods. The scurry of mice, the cry of a loon on the water. The noise is coming from the humans. I creep slowly toward the cottage where lights are blazing from every window though the night is waning. Bits of colorful fabric spot the grass, and a heavy object smashes through glass. The man is raging, pacing back and forth with a large weapon in his hands while the woman screams at him from inside.

     He sees me. I pause in mid step and our eyes lock. I smell the aggression pulsing from him in waves, and I hesitate. He raises the shining, violent thing, aims it straight at me. Everything becomes stunningly silent, and I know he wants to kill me not because he fears I am a threat, but to prove that he is dominant. The shot is clear and true, piercing the darkness with great force. I yelp in pain as I scramble into the bushes, slick with blood and struggling to breathe.

     I will not return to the den. My vixen will search out a new partner to protect the little ones. They will learn to hunt, to kill their prey quickly and with mercy, and only in order to survive. Their chances of seeing more than two seasons of snow are slim. The man and the woman will make amends one more time, and sleep in their bed side by side. They will wake in the morning believing that they are civilized.

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