It’s that fox again, the one with the limp. My dream always begins with it walking away until the setting sun swallows its orange and black fur. I wake up with wet eyes and a thirst deep and rough as a dry well. I probably cried ‘coz I remember desperately calling out to it, but it wouldn’t turn around. I’m sad again. The dream’s broken now and I won’t find out if the fox comes back to me. It really shouldn’t matter. I didn’t grow up on a farm or anywhere near wilderness. The fox isn’t my subconscious mind being nostalgic about my childhood. I’m a city girl. My veins are sewers and subway maps. I google dream interpretations and skim over the results. Foxes are wily, cunning, deceptive, they say. Strangely, I’m offended. The internet doesn’t know my fox. It isn’t any of these words.
All I want is for it to turn around. Just once. Limp towards me. Show me the thorn in its paw, in its heart. It walks like that–like it has a thorn in its heart. Sad. Defeated. Just once I want it to turn around, lean on my chest so I can run my fingers through its soft fur, look into its devilish eyes and while it lies in my lap, hush little baby, don’t say a word…I’ll pull the thorn out. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…when it yelps in pain. After its cries have reduced to marshmallow-soft sobs, I’ll say hush hush little fox, everything’s okay, we’re together now. Nothing else matters. Not the rest of the family who probably told you I am incapable of caring for you. Not even your father, who said in court I was an alcoholic, a terrible person, an unfit mother. That was the old me. You needed so much from me and I wasn’t ready then. I am now.
I was ready the moment I saw you looking at me, through those broken window eyes, one last time while your father drove away with you. Do you know what I did after? I smashed all the whisky and tequila bottles with your father’s baseball bat, even my secret stash in the laundry room, and then I cut my foot with one of the shards. Penance for being…me.
Come back, little fox, please, I want to say. I have changed now, really, how do I make you understand this?
Turn around just once. Show me your limp and I’ll show you mine.
Hema Nataraju is an Indian-American writer based in Singapore. Her work has appeared or will be coming soon in Atlas & Alice, Ellipsis Zine, Moria Online, Spelk Fiction, Sunlight Press, and in print anthologies including Bath Flash Fiction 2020, Best MicroFiction 2020, and National Flash Fiction Day. She tweets about her writing and parenting adventures as m_ixedbag.