Fox Trot

by Alex Pavljuk

I turned down the lights and watched out the window as the snow came down on the slanted and sparse yet lively forest behind the window of my rundown, and snowed in a-frame rental cabin I got in solidarity from the howls of my past and present life.

I also wanted to learn how to cross-country ski.

We were at a foot and climbing of already densely packed snow which coated the ground when I arrived a day and a half earlier. The tall but drooping branches of the mighty pines and lumbering evergreen trees lined the narrow gravel driveway approaching the long under-maintained home that I found while flipping through the back pages of the Lower Hudson Sentinel discount newspaper. It, like other cheap penny-saving rags, laid coffee stained and folded over at the diner two states and three cities away in which my life was soon to be packed up and stagnant.

The rental cabin was no more than a quarter of the bi-weekly check I got for my time spent cleaning the halls of the mortuary on First Ave each weeknight. When I wasn’t mopping the empty halls I was trying my hand at casting calls during the day and working the rooms of the dive bars near Nostrand on weekends in search of other eccentrics who could use my gentle yet bruting look for a job acting as almost anything or anyone.

Behind me, which reflected a dim and orange aura in the corner of the otherwise darkened window, was a wood-burning stove. It kept the open two-floor interior of the a-frame warm. The rental was far from up to code in many, both obvious and subtle ways from the drafty walls, or the razor thin floorboards.

I stood with my nose nearly touching and fogging the glass. When the lights were on it was near impossible to see out into the forest if the sun was even close to setting. The light of day only crept past the tall trees to meet the blanket of white in the early breath of morning on an unclouded and blue sky day.

If I squinted really hard I could make out the falling snow which fell down in isolated flakes but often, if unfocused, would be obscured against the upsloping hill which this side of the home butt up against. In many years, the trees and ivy of summer would likely take hold of the building, wrapping and reclaiming it as a home for the deer who I could hear rubbing its antlers against the bark of a tree in the near distance as I tried to sleep, and the colony of raccoons awaiting spring under the front porch as I entered and exited.

The cold caress of a highball glass I had let sit outside on the cracked windowsill to chill was starting to stick to my palm as I spotted the fox in the distance. Its head popped up just behind the corpse of a freshly fallen, but long dead, tree. Its hollowed body would grow moss and mushrooms as the seasons turned over in three months. It trotted out past the log, its fresh tracks in the snow being filled by the individual flakes turning more so into wet clumps as the storm began to swell and twist through the night.

The fox moved quickly and it moved elegantly. Its full and dashing coat of fur reflected vividly in my eyes as it bounced off of the splitting moonlight that sprawled in the lapsing space between the tree and the dull white nocturnal snow that was freshly falling.

It moved between the brushes of thorns that stuck out of the powder. Its nose and eyes were exposed as the rest of its face was now covered from its burrowing wiggle below low-hanging branches. Its shoulders shook out the clumps of white from its coat before weaving its way laterally across the hill. I kept watching as it moved, my eyes tracking the orange and brown creature as it moved in front of mighty evergreens, behind fallen pines, and over the sinking tracks of young two-point bucks looking for does.

In time, the fox tracked up onto a small but pronounced rock maybe forty feet from the glass of which my nose was fogging. I pressed my open hand against the window and widened my eyes trying to burn this image into my memory. The shuffling sounds of cracked ice moving about my whiskey was the only sound floating about the thick air besides the hissing of the dying, but hotly burning, embers left glowing in the furnace. The fox looked off into the deep and distant forest, its body in a near silhouette against the snow that lay below and fell around it. Then, for a fleeting moment, I looked away to grab something, anything, a camera or a pen, to document this moment of bliss.

The fox squealed and I looked up. The fox was boldly looking in my direction, its amber eyes glowing in line with my tired ones. My mouth fell just agape for a breath and the fox leaned its snout forward slightly, I could see mist drifting up from its nose.

“Hello,” I whispered. I almost expected a response but its stare towards me remained unwavering and silent.

Then, a crack of thundersnow echoed and a brief flash of lightning painted the sky and my attention was drawn upward and away from the fox. For a passing moment, I felt like I could see the whole range of slope-side forest in a more encompassing and ever-enchanting glimmer of which the purity and restraint of man’s burdened vision felt unshackled from its limitations.

The sky dimmed hardly seconds later, and when I looked back to the rock, the fox was gone. I was still alone in the darkened a-frame.

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