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January 16, 2014 | Fiction

Foxes

Joseph Horton

Foxes photo

You are driving home from a place that makes its own beer, where it seemed wrong to order just a few because this is a small business and small businesses, you know, are failing all over the Midwest. You are a good driver and home is not far. Handcrafted is what comes to mind; the brewery lives in the shoulder of an old auto plant and beer is the first assembly crafted by hand, and you are a handcrafted driver. You will, as you have before, craft a safe return with hands at nine and three.

You hit the cat two minutes from home, outside the 24-hour animal hospital. The kind of detail that reminds you again that the joke is at you and not with you. You try to brake, but all this does is center the bump beneath you. You feel like you stomped on the thing yourself, and then there is nothing. No dragging, no scream.

And it was, probably, a cat. It was orange, small, liquid at speed, and at first you are relieved. Surely it has some lives left. You are a dog person, you only have time for love that is unconditional, and you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you hit a dog. But you worry. A cat will belong to someone. In the morning—it is already morning, but in the morning—people will come looking. With your luck it will be a family with young kids. You stopped being lucky years ago. Back then the cat would have belonged to a crazy woman with fifty more who wouldn’t notice one gone. When you were lucky, she might have thanked you: one less mouth to feed, one less to worry about being run over. Now the cat will belong to a family, and the kids will weep, and the parents will find a new one—a few years younger, with a tracking chip from a 24-hour animal hospital—that looks more or less the same, especially as it runs, a stunt double blurred by action. The family will sit down at the table after dinner and talk for the first time about death.

You put on your seatbelt. Hands at nine and three. At thirty miles an hour, you are already gone down the road, the moment a memory. Your turn is ahead, on goes the blinker. By the time it clicks off there is a good chance the fox is fine. Because, really, it was probably a fox.  From the deep woods, where life is primal and loss is quiet, and it knows how to survive. It was only stunned, taught a lesson, made cautious and grateful and tired and old. If it had been a cat, you think as you examine the bumper in your garage, you would have stopped.

You had to drive on. You are in fine shape, anyone could see that, but you can’t tell about people these days. It was not your fault. What good would come of going back? You are a good person. You will continue to do good things.

 

image: Andromeda Veach


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