We’re to have lunch on Saturday. The plan is I’ll meet you at Union Station and we’ll find a funky bistro, maybe one with purple-fringed lampshades and peacock drawings on the walls. You know a good used bookshop. Then, who knows? Maybe a stroll around the monuments or a tour of a museum.
Plans change, things come up–it’s the way of the world. You email me on Friday: the strangest thing has happened! This morning you awoke to find that you’re a fox, a 15-pound Vulpes vulpes named Apricot, and this really pisses you off, because you are for sure still male–you checked–and what sort of name is Apricot for a creature as virile and handsome as you? It almost ends badly when Tabasco doesn’t recognize you and you have to squirt yourself under the couch. She paws at you, her haunches in the air, barks, presents her wet black nose, pressed sideways. You flex your brand-new claws and consider thwacking her, just to silence the yapping. But she stops. She must have smelled you, she must have figured it out. She’s a cocker spaniel–she’s smart. Later, the two of you go for a walk.
I’m home when I get your email, my foot propped on my desk. I’ve just finished watering my snake plant, and I’m about to polish my toenails. Interstellar, the color is called, and when I’m done, my nails will shimmer blue and green and purple. As beautiful as the Aurora Borealis, or something like that. Come anyway, I email back.
Saturday morning I find you outside Union Station. The rain has stopped, and you’re crouched behind a brick wall, watching a gray pigeon peck at the wet seams between the sidewalk pavers. Your tail swishes back and forth, back and forth. I pull a pair of work gloves from my knapsack. You’re not going to like this, I know, but it’s the only way. I’m surprised at how strong you are, how defiant. Even with the gloves, you manage to bite me, you puncture the meat between my thumb and my forefinger. In the end, though, I get the harness around you. I clip on the leash.
The hostess at the Irish pub scowls, so I shift you in my arms, letting her read the words on your harness: Support Animal. She rolls her eyes and leads us to a table in the back, where we can still see the rugby game on TV. Everyone else is clustered at the bar. They wear purple and green jerseys and they periodically scream and throw their fists in the air. I order a Bloody Mary and some avocado toast with salmon. A man with a tweed hat taps his way across the room, his white cane sweeping the floor like the antennae of an insect. I feed you bits of salmon from my finger. You seem happy. I order another Bloody Mary, and I’m happy enough.
In the bookstore I find a copy of Mrs. Caliban and let you jump to the floor. You’re on the leash; you won’t get far. I thumb through the yellowed pages. You rub your head against my calf and swish your bushy tail across the floor, like a broom.
It’s warm when we get to the park, and I peel off my sweater. A little girl with tangled red hair runs across the cobblestones, stomping earthworms with her rain boots. We stand by the fountain and I try to tell you stories about the Wind and the Sea and the Stars. But you’re a fox now–you’re not interested in metaphor–and you corkscrew out of my arms. I drag you away from the fountain. I pull you past the perimeter of park benches, beyond the black chain fence and the ring of red and yellow tulips. I find a place for us to sit on the spongy grass, and I pull out a zip-lock bag of almonds and freeze-dried crickets. Nice Apricot, I say, Nice Apricot. I curl around you and comb my fingers through your dusty fur. You start to whine, and I bury my face in your stomach. It’s musky there, and warm, and I begin to vibrate. The flesh between my thumb and forefinger throbs.
Laura Huey Chamberlain lives, works, and writes in Alexandria, Virginia. Her fiction has appeared in jmww, MoonPark Review, and Crack the Spine, and she was a finalist for the Glimmer Train Award for New Writers.
Lead image: “Fox” (via Flickr user Cindy Funk)