The Re-Earthing of Mother
by Michael Farfel, 3.24am July 10th 2021
Father found the fox outside, digging. Its feline nose pressed into the dirt, its ringletted tail upward. He tried to shoo it off. Shoo, he said, git. The vixen turned and faced him briefly. Father said, good lord, those damned eyes. And the fox kept digging. Its fore paws and little, wilty face half deep in earth, scattering out mounds of discarded rocks and grubs between its hindquarters. Father got closer, quietlike, sights set. Git, he said, go on. It faced him again. Its eyes, hollow, flat, sunken in things like Mother's. Its whiskers, all mucked up, twitched and then it bore its teeth.
By god, Father said, its teeth. Pearly, human looking chompers. It clicked its canines then kept digging. Body almost fully buried in the backyard now. Father reached out and nudged it with his gun at its farthermost back foot. It turned and nipped and showed its squirrelly little, blood-black tongue. Shoot it, I said. I cried out, shoot the little bastard before he digs her up.
Mother's grave. We'd buried her that day. Buried. Not quite. Threw some dirt. She'd just been withering lately. Withering between living and dying. Between walking round the house at night and wailing. She'd been sick for awfully long. Half dead. Half gone. Always having daytime nightmares and frightening the birds. Always cursing at the curtains and screaming bloody murder at the doorknobs. She laid out in the garden so we tried to bless her, tried to invite her in one last time, but she were gone. Gone as good can get. Gone as gracious. Gone. So we buried her. Just that day. Some hunks of clay. Some soil from the stoop. And now this godforsaken vixen.
Ah, be damned, I said when it got hold of her well-worn red dress. Nothing ceremonial, not at all, just what she was wearing when the time came to shovel. The fox held the fabric in its maw and crawled backward, slowly pulling, slowly revealing that Mother wasn't dead, she were only sleeping. Christ, Father cried. Almighty, I wept. She dusted herself off and held the little beast to her breast. Her eyes and its flocked together, side to side, disapproving of us, saying without saying, how could you? She turned toward our small house—barefoot, caked in burial bits—and pointed out all her belongings to the fox. Her long diminishing palm and fingers outstretched, my tree, she said, my axe, my garden trowel. The fox mewed and milled against her warmth.
That night we sat round the table, her and the fox cuddled at the fore and Mother told us of a dream she had—after you two had forsook me in the garden plot I dreamt of a glooming winter a long and dastardly coldening up from the mire I dreamt that others felt its burden but not you two men you two evil doers who’da left me out in that swarling swirling snow up up up from the mire just below. Her and her new pet cackled, its squirmy little visage pressed against her nooks and still dirt belumbered hair. Mother’s pallored, viney skin was shadowed from the shadow of the lamp. Her veins all purpley, pulsed under her sunken eyes, her chapped lips still muddied formed a fungally smile. Won’t yuh wash up? Father asked and she spat out a half eaten brussel sprout which the vermin gobbled up.
We buried her next winter with the fox head as monument. She’d wrung its neck one night in one of her awful frights, in one of her full bemoaning moaning full moon cataclysmic states, she shook the poor dumb creature till it was unhooked, unhinged. It were as easy as if it weren’t a thing at all. After killing her pet, Mother crawled right into the snow, hand and foot and toe, and closed her eyes one last time and said one last curse and we shoveled one last heap and she were quiet, quit of the earth, as dead as death, as gone as soot. When spring came next we feared the worst, but snow melt revealed only her garments and some gnawed over bone.