Fox in the Henhouse

a project from way back in Seattle, the prototype for other stories (same names, different universe), working out how to write sans gender markers.


…I’m walking out to the edge of the farm property (which farm, where? Don’t ask, it’s a dream…though I know it’s mine. Ours.) with four eggs I’ve gathered, still warm in my hand, an apple in my pocket – from the tree by the kitchen, a bit wormy – and two kale leaves gleaned as I walked through the garden towards the fence. I open the gate and step through it, set everything down on the grass, scan the ground for and nab an acorn cap. Setting my thumbs just so, I blow a screech that carries far and clear. I pick up three of the eggs, step back through the gate and sit, hunching up with my shoulder against the coarse, sun-warmed beams, my vision of the forest a thin line between the slats of the fence. I wait, wishing I’d picked an apple for myself, but I wouldn’t have had time to finish three bites before I catch a spark of red, white tipped, sail over a fallen log and plunge back into the green. He never disappoints. Not that it hasn’t taken me a while to convince him I was to be trusted. But really, a fresh egg every couple days is a pretty good offering, a good bargaining tool to keep the chicken coop free of unwanted visits every other week. But to be trusted to share space and time with a wild thing even 10 ft away with a fence between us…listen to me: “to be trusted.” What about me trusting him? Heh. I don’t think to worry anymore.
He is resting a proprietary paw lightly on the egg and sniffing for me while inspecting the greens. That nose twitch is so dignified. I have no idea how old he is, but the white at his throat always looks a bit distinguished, like a cravat. I get a whiff of Oscar Wilde about him sometimes and I wonder if I believe that strongly in reincarnation. (Oscar is the name of my homeless friend who sells newspapers near where I work. In the city, where I live. Lived? Live. What am I doing on this farm?)
He looks up from licking the last of the yolk out of the eggshell as I flinch at the foreignness of my surroundings. Up until this moment it felt right, natural. But I’ve never been on a farm with chickens. Ever. And yet, if he could speak the question in those clear eyes “what are you doing here?” I would answer with conviction: “I am home.”
He pauses halfway through a kale leaf and takes a step back, ready to bound off. He is looking past me at something. I turn around slowly and see a two year old, who looks remarkably like my ex-lover did as a child, toddling through the kitchen door, reaching for the hand of my bandmate, Wren, who is following close behind. I shade my eyes with my hand and can see my housemate, Jay, through the window behind them, washing breakfast dishes and aiming a jokey parting shot after them out the still open door. I look back at my feral friend and he is halfway to the trees, looking back, the apple between his sharp teeth. A momentary farewell pause to which I nod in acknowledgment. He twitches one gracefully large ear and lopes off. I don’t even know if he has a family he brings his spoils home to…
I watch the forest swallow him up, wait a few heartbeats, then turn to my little cub tromping between the rows of vegetables with a half-eaten bean in each hand. Wren has a hand on the top of the little bobbing brown mop of hair under which big clear blue eyes are trained on my face with a half sheepish, half triumphant smile. (and this is everything. This is real. I live for this.)
“There’s my little sweetpea.” The round face beams, then clouds over and regards the full hands with a contemplative look. A decision is made, and one fist gets pulled close as the other is stretched out to me, the face a portrait of understanding fairness. I chuckle and squint up to the adult silhouette before me. There is a characteristic cock of the head going on that shares with me the humor in this beautiful offering, which I accept on hands and knees and as a horse would, lips tickling the flat little palm for a butter bean resting on it. I then hook my fingers into the tiny belt loops that have just stepped close enough to reach. “Thank you, darlin, but I meant this one.” And I proceed to nibble at the nape of a sun-warmed neck, provoking squeals and protestations from this small, trusting creature I can’t believe I have the luck to cherish. Thoughts of trust and ownership shape-shift once again this morning as I hear a gruff voice coming from above our little scuffle. “Leave some for me,” and the little one’s body gets lifted out of my grasp over the foreshortened head above, emanating the sun’s orange light. A loud raspberry lands directly on an exposed belly amidst shrieks and laughter and then my little Robin ends this assisted flight from me perched on Wren’s shoulders. I stand and realize how out of place my friend looks in tight hipster black in the middle of our vegetable patch.
“Watchya doin back here?” Wren asks, wincing from the pain that little hands cause when tugging hair.
“Nothin, assuring the safety of the chickens.” I glance back toward the forest knowing I won’t see anything.
“Am I chickens?” Comes the call from above our heads.
“Well, kinda, honey bear.” I reply to the top of the top-heavy being before me.
“You are for sure a bird, lil bit.” Wren’s powerful hands, clasping bitty ankles, suddenly pull the legs upwards and cause a spreading of wings above a faux-hawked head.
“Yer a fake bird, Wren.” I say, reaching for the falling forelock that gets flicked away from my fingers.
“Um, kinda the opposite.” Wren’s eyebrow arches at me and a slow smile catches one side of both our mouths. “Come inside and I’ll show you how I shake my tail feathers.” I find myself watching Wren’s mouth as these words are spoken.
“Oh, no! Fox in the hen house!” Robin exclaims, arms raised above head, and I spin around expecting to see feathers flying, then look back at Wren whose startled expression mirrors my own. After a moment we both burst into raucous laughter at the little one’s brilliance and naivete.
“Oh, um…yeah. That’s the name of the dance we made up yesterday.” Wren’s sheepish grin is sweet enough to make me look away.
“Heh. How perfect.” I say, a bit flattered, a bit disconcerted. “Okay, kids. Lead the way. Fly quick, here’s a Fox following close.” They turn towards the house, Robin still with a bird’s eye view. I turn back to pick up my eggs and half-see a flash of red against the far-off green. I pause, sniff the air, and stalk towards the house.

Laughter and music and reaching for the screen door swiftly shift into rain on the window, kitty weight on my chest and a coffee grinder whirring outside my door. Its Tuesday morning. I’m in the house I moved into at the end of the summer. It’s grey and rainy out. I don’t have to work today. Spent last evening in the local bar celebrating our bassist’s birthday. The big 3-0. I’m almost there myself and only partly employed; trying to make rent, find time to volunteer at the local radio station, and make band practice happen often enough to not feel like I’m lying when I say I’m a musician. I have no current sweetheart. Let alone any way or means of being a parent. I have no idea where this dream came from or why it’s so vivid. Or why it continues every night.

My housemate Jay knocks on the door twice, then twice more. Quick, syncopated. There’s coffee. I unpin myself from the cat-heavy comforter and stumble out my door into the kitchen. I grab the whiskey bottle from the top of the fridge and pour myself a stiff coffee. Jay makes it strong already, but I need a little something extra.
My head is in the fridge when Jay acknowledges my presence.
“We’re out of cream, sorry.” Jay is busy at the stove making our favorite breakfast—egg toasties. That’s Jay’s name for them, I always called them toad in a hole. We have thought of other, more lewd names over the years, but that’s mostly just Wren and I trying to get Jay’s goat.
“Ah, but there’s almond milk. Is one of those for me?”
“Thanks, buddy. I still can’t see straight.”
“No work today?”
“Nope.” The what-am-I-doing-out-of-bed chill hasn’t begun to leave me even with my nose deep in my mug. “Good thing, too. It got a little crazy last night. Wish you would have stayed. Raven was in fine form.” The food lands on the table and as Jay tucks into it, I realize I can’t touch mine yet.
“Heh. I bet that was thanks to the tequila.”
“That and getting laid again, finally…”
I can’t tell if Jay is being judgmental around Raven having a new lover, or thinking about when they used to date each other. Or both.
“So what are you trying to accomplish today with that hangover?”
Hey look, a segue! I’m guessing it was both and now I cant really bring it up.
“Doin some recording.”
“Is Wren coming over?” An overly casual question executed without eye contact.
I smirk into my cup before answering. “After noon. We’ll have dinner ready for you when you get home.” The gleam of appreciation (anticipation?) is not lost on my groggy self.
“Oh, great. It’ll be a long day.”
“It’s cool. Can you pick up some kale at the market on the way home, though?”
“If you text me to remind me.”
“Done and done.”
“Great.” Jay gets up, puts the dishes in the sink and starts the water running over them.
“Leave them, I’ll do ’em all when I finish eating.”
“Thanks, dude. I gotta run. Have a good day.”
“You too. See you tonight.”
I dunno. Am I going crazy? This day was totally foggy and unreal yet it was the exact same kind of day I always have. I was like a zombie—or that pale, dark-haired somnambulist from that old silent horror flick. And it wasn’t from lack of—or too much—coffee. I know my dosage well. No other way to survive the winter in this town…


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