by Sarah Blake
Every day, the fox came to the yard. Sometimes Edie saw it early in the morning.
Sometimes in the evening, underneath the dogwood. Its fur was red and its tail was full and Edie liked to think about being a fox herself.
This morning, she watched it through the large dining room window as she sipped her coffee. And when it caught sight of her, the fox slid towards the house, the overgrown forsythia, and Edie lost sight of it.
Harel came in and signed, “Do you want to try?”
She nodded her fist as she took a final drink of her coffee and placed the mug on the table.
They went upstairs and had sex. When he went to pee, she lay on the bed with her knees held against her chest. It was their fourth month trying. They weren’t supposed to complain yet. Or tell a doctor.
She was taking her temperature every day. She was putting test strips in her morning pee. She was using a phone app. And when these things said she was ovulating, her and Harel started having sex every other day.
As planned as it was, the sex was still good.
What was not good was when she finally went to pee after sex, and she felt the semen drop out of her vagina. And then she had to wait two weeks to know if enough of the sperm got their shit together and got up to the egg.
Harel left the house for work and Edie went to her computer to work on a piece she didn’t feel like working on. There was the piece criticizing how so many of the contemporary and jazz pieces on So You Think You Can Dance are depictions of heterosexual couples fighting. There was the piece about why The Shape of Water was a piece of trash movie, focusing especially on the ableist-bullshit scene where the main character imagines herself singing because for some reason she can’t express herself the way she always has.
There was even a piece on Beat Bobby Flay and the white chefs that came on with signature dishes from other cultures and the backstories they shared to explain the connection they felt to those cuisines, but how there was never a discussion of how dangerous and injurious the appropriation of American cuisine is and has been, or a discussion of what these chefs were doing to make way and hold up non-white chefs, if they were. And for one paragraph Edie had even fallen into her obsession over the language they used to describe and hide otherness when they were talking about flavor.
Edie had turned into the type of freelance entertainment writer that editors hated— pitching things and never finishing them. And Harel didn’t know anything was wrong because she kept telling him about the pitches that were accepted. And sometimes it took a long time for a piece to be run. To see any money from them. They’d already budgeted for that.
That evening the fox came into their yard and took a shit. It looked like a dog taking a shit. Edie filmed it on her phone.
“What are you doing?” Harel signed.
She put the phone back in her pocket and signed, “I’ve never seen a fox shit, have you?”
“I need some things at the market,” she signed. “You?” He went to the refrigerator and opened it.
She followed him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Text me,” she signed.
On the drive to the market, she saw shadow men walking on the side of the road. She’d seen them before, in college, during finals. They appeared in times of stress. They were dependent on certain conditions. It had to be dusk or dark. She had to be going a certain speed, so there was motion in the light in her peripheral vision.
But the name is misleading. She only ever saw one shadow man at a time. She turned to look at him and he was gone. She turned back to the road and he appeared in the periphery again.
Twice more, she turned to look at him, before she said to herself, Don’t look.
There’s nothing there. And she let him continue to walk along the road, always towards her, against traffic. She passed him and a new shadow man took his place.
In the store, she got what they needed. She smiled at people that might have spoken to her. The staff smiled at her and didn’t speak to her, because they knew her. She hoped they never hired anyone new again.
She put the bags in the back of her car and drove home. She’d already forgotten about the shadow men but there he was again. She tried to observe him without turning her head. He was tall and thin, but not skinny. His pants were wide, like he was wearing cargo pants. And he was wearing a baseball cap, too. He was dressed like the boys at her high school in the 90s.
She imagined a group of shadow men at her home, waiting for her, eating pizza and drinking PBR. They’d ask her how her day was and she’d sign that it was fine. She’d complain about a driver on the road. They’d sign, Maybe they were in a rush. Maybe it was important. Because they were kind. She’d blow them off. They’d sign, Maybe their mother had fallen and they were off to save her.
Kind, kind shadow men, sipping their beers and listening to Blink-182.
At home, Harel was watching television in the living room. He sprung up to help when the car lights hit the house. They carried in the groceries together and put them away.
“You feeling ok?” he signed. “A little stressed,” she signed. “Anything I can do?”
“No,” she closed her fingers on her thumb.
“Want to make a plan for this weekend?” he signed. “Go to the beach?”
“Ok,” she signed. They hadn’t tried that yet. Maybe it would relax her. By then they’d be done their scheduled sex and be thick into the waiting again. And she wanted to be one of those people that thought there was something magical about ocean air. She was more the kind of person who thought crabs would swarm the beach like a sign from God and she’d be able to say, I was there that day. And then a few weeks later scientists would explain it and she’d be momentarily jealous of science writers. And then she’d go home and write about The Proposal.
And because Harel knew her well, he signed, “Don’t overthink it.”
The morning they were going to the beach, the fox was back, but it had a patch of mange on its body. Otherwise it seemed to be behaving normally. Healthy even. Is it the same fox? she wondered. She couldn’t believe she didn’t know the fox intimately enough to know.
On the ride down, Edie watched a stand up routine she’d downloaded on Netflix.
Kevin Hart. She plugged it into the car and Harel listened to it as he drove. They laughed at the same jokes. Edie liked how much he worked for his act, sweating through it. Harel liked that he got to focus on the jokes removed from Hart’s body, his physical presence, any comedian’s. Edie had once signed, “But they’re acting it out. It’s so good.”
“Doesn’t matter to me,” he signed.
And it was true. Sometimes they watched comedy together and nothing landed for him when he was distracted by the body. Edie wondered what their relationship would be like if he wasn’t always watching her hands. Would he laugh more? she thought. Would I like that?
At the beach, they laid out a bed sheet and weighted the corners behind them with a book and her purse. Harel immediately started reading a book on his phone while Edie watched the waves. Then she lay back and closed her eyes.
Soon Harel lay down beside her. She opened her eyes and watched the seagulls swoop so close to them. She wondered if they could take food off her stomach without her feeling it. But she knew that even if one could, that seagull would be followed by twenty more, gathering on and around their bed sheet, waiting to be fed.
Better to appear foodless.
She got up to go to the bathroom. Where there was usually someone sitting, maintaining the bathroom, there was no one. In the stall, Edie pulled her bathing suit down to her knees and peed. She was naked, like she was peeing at home, but the light of the day was pouring into the bathroom, through the doors near the sinks. She pulled her suit back up over her shoulders and was somehow considered fully dressed again. She washed her hands. In the mirror, she saw a girl come in, looking sick. In the stall, the girl’s feet faced the toilet.
Edie peeked outside and the attendant was still gone. She walked quickly back to the bed sheet and grabbed her notebook and pen.
“Everything ok?” Harel signed.
She nodded and signed, “Fine, fine.” As she walked back, she wrote on the notepad:
Are you ok? Can I get anyone for you? (I’m deaf).
In the bathroom, the girl was still there, on her knees now at the toilet. Edie put the notebook and pen on the floor and pushed it near the girl’s knee.
The girl wrote, My mom.
What’s she wearing? Edie wrote.
A black bathing suit. Straw sunhat. Our umbrella is green. Our towels have pink stripes.
Be right back, Edie wrote.
Edie went back to Harel and explained what had happened. Together, they found the mother, sitting in a small, foldout chair. She was drunk. Harel told her about her daughter.
“Should we go with her to help?” Edie signed.
Edie read the mother’s lips as she said, “Don’t judge me, you deaf bitch.”
“Hey,” Harel said, getting between Edie and the woman. Edie couldn’t tell what he said next.
The mother went off towards the bathroom. “What’d you say?” Edie asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” he signed. “Thank you,” Edie signed.
“She was an asshole.”
“Do you think her daughter is drunk?” “Maybe.”
“When I’m a mother can I be a drunk asshole at the beach?”
He laughed. “As long as you don’t get our daughter drunk, too.” She crossed her heart.
Back at the bed sheet, Harel closed his eyes again. Edie angled herself slightly toward the green umbrella and pink towels. And soon Edie watched as the mother walked the girl back to their spot. The girl lay down on the towel and curled up like her stomach was still cramping. The mother sat in her little chair, hung her head back, and placed her hat over her face.
They found a crappy restaurant with picnic tables out in front that weren’t packed. Edie told Harel her order and when the waiter came over, Harel ordered for both of them.
“Maybe we should adopt,” Edie signed.
“Getting pregnant could take up to a year. Everyone says that,” Harel signed. “We don’t have to think about that yet.”
“I’m not sure I can make it a year.” Harel took a drink of his water.
“I don’t think I can make it six months.” “Why? I don’t understand.”
“I don’t like it.”
“All the sex?” Harel joked.
“Don’t joke. I’m serious.”
“Sorry,” he signed, rubbing his chest.
“I don’t like all the anticipation, up up up up, and then not just down, like oh, that thing you were looking forward to, it didn’t happen, but also, you were a failure. Your body failed.”
“You’re not a failure.”
“I know that. You know I know that.” “I know,” he signed.
“I can’t control how it all makes me feel. And I’m sure that’s not helping us get pregnant.”
“I never thought about adopting.”
“Yes, you did,” Edie signed. “We did that whole DNA kit for Tay-Sachs.”
“But there’s a lot of generations in my family, a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins, and no Tay-Sachs. I was pretty sure.”
“What about that doctor that said we should think about adopting because of my deafness?”
“Fuck that doctor. We walked out on that doctor.” “But you didn’t think about it?” Edie signed. “No, I didn’t think about it,” he signed.
“Seeing that girl today, there’s a lot of kids who need parents, good parents.” “Jesus, Edie, you can’t see a sick kid and negligent mother on a beach and decide you want to adopt.”
He looked at his water.
“Why not?” she signed again. “I don’t know!”
“I thought it had to come from deep down. I had a teacher who adopted her daughter and she told us she’d wanted to adopt her whole life. Her whole life!”
“So that’s one way to get there! Why not, seeing a kid on the beach, and having the same feeling I get when I see a baby? I want to be a mother. I don’t like trying to get pregnant. I want to adopt.”
Harel didn’t say anything. Edie watched a napkin fly off of the table behind him, watched it blow across the cement and into the sand.
“I love you,” he signed. “I wanted a little Edie.” She nodded.
“Do you not feel that way about me?” he signed.
Edie started to cry. “I do,” she signed. “But I don’t need that.”
He shook his head to stop himself from crying. “It’s expensive,” he signed. “I think there’s a tax credit.”
“How do you know that if you just realized all this?” he asked.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about it. When I was young, I used to think about it, a lot sometimes.”
He took another drink of his water. “A credit means we’d still need the money up front.”
“We could refinance the house.”
“Rates are low right now.”
“Who are you? Where’s my wife?” She waited again.
“Just think about it,” she signed. “Ok,” he signed.
The food came out. Grilled cheeses with sliced tomato inside. A basket of onion rings. Neither of them touched the food.
“Adoptions take a long time,” he signed. “I know.”
“I’m ready now. I got ready. I’m ready,” he signed. She started to cry again.
“You might be pregnant right now,” he signed.
“That’s true,” she signed, but she felt sure that it wasn’t true.
Back at home, Monday morning, the fox looked worse. The mange was on its tail now, and it was a sad, skinny thing, surprisingly long. The revealed tail made it look more cat than dog. Its pointed ears seemed to take on new cat-like meaning. She wondered if she’d really noticed them before, really seen them. It was as if the fox were shifting, not unlike the shadow men, not entirely of one form.
Edie thought about ways she could capture the fox and take it to a vet or a wildlife center. Maybe a coyote trap. She found one online for $150. Under Related Products was Collarum Canine Bait. That was another $22. She put both in her cart and then closed the tab.
She’d keep an eye on him, she thought.
She opened her article on So You Think You Can Dance. She wondered if she could work in a critique of La La Land being a piece of trash movie when discussing Mandy Moore, even though she didn’t mind Moore’s choreography in La La Land at all. It was just that she choreographed for both and Edie was still sore that people thought La La Land was a good movie. Edie closed the document again.
She wrote a pitch for a new article about Marlee Matlin on Quantico and how she’s proven, over decades of movie and television, that there should be more roles for deaf actors. And how Edie would like to see more deaf actors of color, especially. And how everyone should go watch Children of a Lesser God right now if they haven’t seen it. And most millennials haven’t.
She sent it off to an editor she had a good relationship with, one that she’d built up over years.
That evening the fox was back again. This time it was eating a meal under the dogwood, a large rat maybe. The fox ate like it was choking on its food, choking it back out and then trying again. It was revolting.
She filmed it.
For almost a week the shadow men did not appear. Edie was feeling settled in her decision to adopt. But then it was time to start thinking about taking a pregnancy test again.
Harel didn’t say anything but she knew he wanted to ask her which day it was that she should take it. He kept asking her how she was feeling. And she always felt fine.
Edie checked the drawer by the toilet and they didn’t have any tests left. Driving to the store to get them, that’s when the shadow men came back. She imagined them walking into the store with her. The old woman in the first aisle—she fainted seeing them. In the next aisle, a mother covered her child’s eyes at the sight of Edie, her body moving through the store in the cloud of the shadow men’s bodies.
When she went to buy the tests, it was someone she didn’t know. The woman tried to say something to her. Edie pointed to her mouth and then her ear. The woman kept trying.
“I’m deaf,” Edie said, using her voice. She couldn’t hear it, but she knew she sounded like a deaf person. She’d been told that. And more often, she’d seen friends of hers being told how they didn’t sound like they were deaf. Seen them nearly applauded for their passing voice.
The woman finished ringing Edie up and Edie tried very hard to smile at her, but honestly she didn’t feel like doing the work tonight of making sure that woman went home feeling less bad. Edie was already carrying around enough bad.
Edie imagined the shadow men in her house again. She imagined walking in on them rating shadow women they knew on a scale from 1-10. It was objectifying and gross. Were these the same shadow men that thought she shouldn’t judge the driver too harshly? They were. Had they assumed the driver was a man? No. No. They could be kind and unkind. They had depth, these shadow men. Or they were only repeating behaviors they had seen. They’re young, she remembered. High school boys. They had a lot of growing up to do.
In the morning, she told Harel she was going to pee on the stick. He timed the five seconds she had to hold it in her pee stream. Then he left the phone on the counter with a three-minute timer. They tried not to look at it.
“I’m taking the day off,” she signed.
“Good,” he signed. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” she signed. “But if I’m not going to be home before you, I’ll text.” “Ok,” he signed.
They looked at it and while it seemed like something was moving across the screen, no second pink line was forming.
“It might be a few days early,” Edie signed.
He nodded. He kissed her on the cheek and left the bathroom.
Edie got in the car without a plan and quickly ended up at the strip mall with the Target. She walked through their aisles of office supplies, picking up folders and binder clips. She walked through their aisles of toys and bounced balls straight down and back up into her own hands. She played a race in Mario Kart with remotes on long cords attached to the display.
Then she walked down the aisles of baby things. She used to do it for fun. She used to do it to plan her baby registry. She already knew her favorite looking bottles and pacifiers even if she didn’t know what her child would actually like. She wondered if she could wait the two to three years it might take to adopt. Nine months had already seemed like a long time, but she’d consoled herself with the idea of how busy she would be in all her bodily changes. But maybe busy doesn’t make the waiting easier. Just swells your feet.
Or worse—it hit her hard—makes you more excited. What if, after everything, she miscarried? What would it be like to come down from that? Years ago, a friend of hers had miscarried. Edie had almost forgotten. She’d needed a D&C and the whole thing involved multiple trips to the doctor. You don’t get to miscarry in a day, she remembered. They need to make sure the uterus is clear again. You have to mourn and care for yourself and plan for the future all at the same time. That seemed unreasonable to ask of a person.
Her friend has a baby now and doesn’t talk about it anymore. Edie didn’t think it would be ok to ask her, Could you survive going through that again? Would you?
Edie went to the Lowe’s next and looked at their traps and their canine bait. She was worried that if she put one in her backyard her neighbors’ dogs would each throw a fit, wanting the bait, and then all her neighbors would be mad at her. And it was still too expensive.
She imagined the fox in the cage, growling at her, snarling.
She was glad it was daylight and she couldn’t see the shadow men as she drove to get a pedicure. She knew they were there.
The shadow men followed her inside the salon. They asked the Asian women to put on Beavis and Butthead. They asked them to put on Ren and Stimpy. They asked them to put on Rocko’s Modern Life. Edie was glad it wasn’t the ’90s anymore.
A woman pointed that Edie should pick out a color. She pointed at which chair she should sit in. She held up tools and waited only for Edie to nod or shake her head. Edie liked it here more than any other public space in the world.
She watched The Chew with large subtitles on, across the salon. Between her and the television were two other customers getting manicures. Edie switched between watching the show and watching the Asian women working on the white women’s fingernails. The latter made her feel a little sick. Edie wondered what would happen if every woman who got a mani-pedi had to vow to vote for people who promised a livable minimum wage and universal health care. Otherwise they could bend over and clip their own nails.
Edie switched back to watching The Chew.
Sometimes she didn’t want to write an article, she just wanted to write surveys for millenials and housewives, like, Did the viewers know that Carla got her start on television on a badass season of Top Chef? Or, Did anyone remember how disturbing it was, on another season of Top Chef, when some of the contestants forcibly shaved Marcel’s hair?
The woman filed Edie’s toe too close to her skin and Edie winced and pulled her foot away.
“Ow,” Edie mouthed.
The woman said something and motioned for Edie to give back her foot.
Edie didn’t know if the woman really understood but there was nothing else to do about it. She gave her foot back to the woman, and the woman didn’t hurt her again.
Next she went to get lunch at a sandwich place. She practiced in her head, Turkey on wheat. Turkey on wheat.
When it was her turn, she said it, and the boy taking her order said something back that she didn’t understand.
She signed that she was deaf but he didn’t seem to notice. She wanted to leave, but then a girl tapped her on the back.
Edie looked at her and the girl signed, “Cheese.” “Oh,” Edie said, and she signed, “America.” “American,” the girl said to the boy.
The boy asked the girl something. He hardly moved his lips. The girl signed, “More?”
Edie shook her head, and the boy pointed for her to insert her card and gave her a receipt with a number on it. Edie turned to thank the girl and she was glowing. She was glowing so hard Edie almost didn’t want to thank her. But the girl was young. So young, she thought. Why did this girl know sign language? Her mother was standing nearby and she certainly didn’t know any.
Edie signed, “Thank you.”
The girl nearly melted into the floor.
Edie’s day off hadn’t cured her of anything. The next day she sat down to write again and felt crippled by anxiety. The fox hadn’t shown up that morning and she told herself it was him she was worried about.
She tried to warp her ideas about The Chew into a Where Are They From piece, versus the typical Where Are They Now. She’d do it as a listicle with now and then photos. The whole nine. Carla of course. Ted Allen from Queer Eye to Chopped. Curtis Stone from Take Home Chef to Top Chef Kids. And when she realized she really could only do it with obscure food television celebrities, she pressed control A and then delete.
Then she started a pitch about how Medium, a ten year old show about a woman who helps solve murder cases by talking with the dead, had the best married couple dialogue, and still holds that title, and she’s waiting for the next show that will even come close. But then she remembered how terrible the series finale was of Medium and she deleted that pitch, too.
The next day she didn’t even try. She just watched television. She told herself it was for work. She binged Scott & Bailey. She liked it. A few months ago she could have easily written an article about how a British crime procedural had two women as leads and the world didn’t end. With an obvious nod to TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles, which takes 2nd, except that they didn’t think they could pull it off unless they made them a goofy version of The Odd Couple.
But that was all she wanted to say about it now. She didn’t want to pull quotes or flesh out ideas or speak across genres. She was tired in her unimpregnable body.
The next day was the last day before she would take the next pregnancy test. Harel knew it and she knew it. It might work at 10 days before your period but it definitely will work at 7 days before. That’s what it says. She could hardly sit still. She went for a run and she hated running. She kept stopping and looking up at a tree and walking and then running again. She sprinted. She jogged off the end of the sprint. She stood again. Looked up into a tree. She felt like an idiot.
She imagined the shadow men running with her and then running ahead when she stopped and not coming back.
It was the last pregnancy test she’d ever take. She told herself that and that seemed to help.
She woke up in the morning and got it over with. Harel could tell she was on edge. He held her hand. He signed to her that they didn’t need to keep trying. He signed to her that he would adopt.
The test was negative.
Edie sat down on the floor and cried, because she didn’t know what she wanted. “I’ll do whatever you want,” Harel signed. “I’ll figure this out with you. I’ll force a doctor to work with us before the one-year mark. Or we’ll adopt. I’d love to adopt with you.”
“I don’t want to feel this way about myself.” “Ok,” he signed. “Ok.” He held her.
And they suddenly felt a great heat through the wall of their house.
They stood up and looked out the window and the fox was back, its fur full again, and it was on fire, but not burning. Edie ran down the stairs. Harel banged on the railing so she would feel the vibrations, but she didn’t stop. She went to the back door and flung it open. The heat was tremendous. Harel caught up to her and pulled her a step back.
They watched the fox make a loose figure eight through the yard, just above the grass, in its gentle trot.
“Is it a god?” Edie signed. Harel raised his shoulders.
“What are we supposed to do? Why is it here?” Edie signed. Harel didn’t sign anything.
Edie left the house. Harel weakly tried to stop her.
She tried to sign at the fox but it wouldn’t stop galloping around. She grabbed a stick and threw it at the fox.
The fox stopped and looked at her. “What do you want?” Edie signed. The fox went back to galloping.
Edie threw another stick at the fox. It stopped again.
“I want you to leave,” Edie signed.
And as if they’d caught sight of each other in the morning through the window, the fox-god slinked toward the house, toward the overgrown forsythia. As it passed through the brambles, the bush caught fire, and Edie couldn’t see where the fox went from there. The fire raged quickly through every long strangly branch of the bush. The flames went higher than the dining room windows.
Harel was outside now, too, calling the fire department. Edie sat down in the grass, a good distance away, and waited, and watched. She wondered if the fire would leave a mark on the brick of the house. She wondered if the fox-god would return. She hadn’t thought about her body in minutes. She hadn’t felt so free in her life.
Image by Sarah Horrigan via Flickr (cc)
About the Author:
Sarah Blake is the author of Naamah, a novel that retells the story of Noah’s ark from the perspective of his wife (Riverhead Books). She has also published two books of poetry, Let’s Not Live on Earth, which features the feminist sci-fi epic “The Starship,” and Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West (Wesleyan University Press). Her poetry chapbook Named After Death is available for free online, alongside an interactive workbook (Banango Editions). A past NEA fellow, Blake now lives in the U.K.