Short Story – Silver Fox
Fox is not as wily as he once was. His eyesight is deteriorating. He is in bad health. Bipolar often sees him living at the extremes of his emotions, unaware of what he is doing. Upon seeing a homeless person begging on the side of the street recently, he immediately made paw-shapes with his hands, bringing them up to his chest, wanting so much to help. Then he promptly took off all his clothes and gave them to the man whose mouth seemed to freeze in an “o” shape. A round belly is quite an unexpected sight in the middle of winter. High on philanthropy, Fox remained oblivious to the approaching sirens.
Only copious amounts of alcohol can help him forget such embarrassments.
For someone who likes to give away so many of his possessions, it is with surprise one may survey Fox’s den, full of, for want of a better word, ‘stuff’. He has boxes of all sorts, you see: trinkets, junk rescued from bins and scrounged from the river nearby, all carefully piled high covering every available space. You can hardly move without tripping over old newspapers, still-to-be-flattened cardboard boxes and toilet roll castles. On the walls hang his hand-made frames, lovingly stapled and sellotaped together from chattel collected on numerous visits to the skip.
Sitting amongst his wonderful world of stuff, Fox’s wild grin of contentment becomes neutral, and his brow scrunches up. Elation gives way to despair and anxiety. The once light and bouncy air, now heavy. Shaking off the negativity, Fox stirs with pride as he surveys his collection of army trinkets – model-sized planes, flags, tanks, soldiers. He is most proud, however, of his father’s military medal, awarded for ‘meritorious service’. Or ‘gallantry not in the face of the enemy.’ No matter the exact definition, bomb disposal is certainly a brave and appreciated service.
That said, Fox also loves his black bike, and he rides it slowly and as often as he can.
What a sight: a fox on a bike.
Fox sees beauty and value in everyday objects. He is able to give them a new life, a new purpose. But he has misplaced his dad’s medal. He swears he was wearing it before he went to sleep. He didn’t take it off. He is sure he didn’t! He checks his stained tracksuit bottom pockets. Nothing. Did he leave it at the pub? He was boasting about his dad last night, like he always does. Is that where he lost it? The crowd were not interested. They never are. Nevertheless, he passed it around for everyone to see.
He looks around for his bike. Wait a minute. Fox doesn’t even own a bike. He is overweight and unemployed. Why would he? He closes his eyes and indeed sees a big, black bike. Clear as day. Jet black. Orange spokes. A prized possession. His doctor suggested he cycle to get some exercise. He doesn’t lock it outside. He carries it up four flights of stairs and locks it to the balcony railing. It’s all coming back to him now. His black bike. Impossible to remove from the building without some nosy neighbour spotting it. Unless it was a neighbour that took it. A neighbour at the pub, perhaps.
The sun disappears behind puffy clouds. The sky is yellow like sand. The wind howls. It’s not the weather to go outside, but Fox really wants to find his medal.
He is angry now. But he has forgotten what he is angry about. Then he gets angry again for forgetting. He lets out a yelp and clambers across mountains of milk crate tables, seeking a distraction. He switches on the radio and starts cavorting. Mid-dance move he remembers again. He has lost something. Something black.
A hollow stomach sadness causes Fox to twist and turn uncomfortably. An ache, a pain. He is disappointed with himself. He just wants to get a few things right. He just wants to remember a few things. Re-tracing his steps might help. Was he at the pub? Is there a pub? Or was he scavenging by the river? His hands are in his hair, they are on his face. His arms are stretched out, reaching. He is feeling his way around makeshift islands of stuff, trying to find something. Anything to remind him of what he has lost, what has made him so sad.
A mini-needle and thread pack. Exciting. He gently places it into his handmade toolkit. Like a worker’s toolkit fashioned out of a bum bag, hanging lazily around his waist. The thread comes in different colours: pink, brown, blue, black and white.
A glance in the mirror at just the right angle produces a flash of light above Fox’s head. Ever since he was a kid his thin hair shone silver like the moon, frightening whoever lay eyes upon it. He makes up his mind – to sew the brown thread onto half of a deflated football skin he has been saving for such an occasion. He drinks as he sews, taking long sips, snapping his tongue in satisfaction. He works intensely, sewing strands into the football skin. His eyes bulge with excitement. And he grins.
The small piece of thread never ends. Fox sews one strand, cuts it and re-threads the needle to start again. His black eyes dart behind his thick-rimmed glasses, and his pointed nose twitches every now and then. He is quite drunk when he finishes, slips on his wig and admires himself in the mirror.
He passes out on the couch, glasses tumbling onto the jumbled mess on the floor. When he wakes up and squints at his reflection, he perceives not a wig, but big bushy locks of orange-brown hair.
In this dream-like state, Fox is drawn outside to the river. He struggles against the wind, but manages to push on towards the water.
A ladder to the riverbed is visible. And a black bike with orange spokes is revealed. He clambers down the ladder and finds the medal wrapped around the bike’s handlebars.
Mane flowing, chest puffed, Fox gazes across the river and imagines crossing to the other side. Then he climbs onto the bike, sets his feet upon the pedals, and pushes off.
The tide comes in.
Dedicated to Peter Witt.