The fox

Paul Gauguin, Πρωινό ξύπνημα, 1891
Paul Gauguin, Πρωινό ξύπνημα, 1891

By Antonia Gounaropoulou
Translated by Panagiotis Tourikis

Whenever she’d come down to the gate along Makedonomahon Street, as when she stood on the balcony, the little girl would be faced by the uphill road. As if that road had never had a name, it always being the “uphill” – even though, were one to ask Gogo and her brothers, they’d straight away rattle out its name, just as she’d do with Makedonomahon Street. Each kid and its own street.

Now night has fallen, dad hasn’t come home yet, and the two kids are settled on their white fer forgé chairs on the balcony with mom sitting beside them. They are busy eating watermelon and figs from the creek, chatting in hushed voices. The neighbourhood before them is lit by a milky white gleam thrown by street lights sporadically installed by the electricity board. The ridge of the uphill glows at its centre – the road having only recently been tarred by the municipality – and that wet luminous shadow rolls erratically down to Makedonomahon Street, bedecked with shadows cast by the branches of pine trees.

Neighbours have by now settled indoors. So have all the kids of Marathonomahon Street, as those of Makedonomahon. The sound of crickets is audible, as is the croaking of frogs by the creek. Only now and then, can one make out some drowned cough from next door, behind old mister Spyros’ walls, or a bit more farther off, the cackling laughter of missus Spyridoula. The girl would recognize that laughter among a thousand others. Yet, by and large, the neighbourhood is at rest, just before bedtime.

In a moment, and although for some time now – so it happened – neither of the two kids has uttered a word, the mother slowly lowers her outstretched legs from the stool before her, bends slightly forward and whispers:

“Shhh… Don’t speak.”

The girl freezes with her teeth plunged into the split fig while her eyes follow her mom’s line of vision – pointed opposite, at the uphill road. Her brother, somber and stern, is already looking in that direction. They spot her.

Its body is small and short-legged, but seems rather big with her tail. She’s just turned off Marathonomahon Street and is slowly descending towards their house. As if aware of being watched, she abruptly stops in the middle of the road’s silvery-white ridge, one foreleg in midair. A small black shadow scissoring the flow of a shallow milky descent. Then it turns and hides in the shadows by the side of the road, opposite Gogo’s home, and for a moment the girl figures that that’s it, they’ve lost her for good – it’ll vault into the clump of pine trees, or onto the concrete slab, and sneak through the broken shutters into the deserted little house where a myriad of small medicine bottles lie strewn on the floor. Not so.

Shortly, and while the pupils of the girl’s eyes have over-dilated to distinguish each shadow within the shadows, she sees it continuing its descent with lowered muzzle, along the unpaved side of the road. It now steals past the second plot, that “little forest” where kids go picnicking. The girl, feeling the fig seeds moistening her nostrils, wants to lower the hand clutching the fruit – but dares not. The fox has moved down almost opposite the balcony, and the girl is convinced it can discern the faintest stir of a human.

As a reward for the stillness of the girl and her fig, the fox seems to recover its self-confidence and, with a wide, unwarranted turn, there it is again in the midst of the road, allowing the diffuse light of the lamp post – corner uphill road and Marathonomahon Street – to slide inside its fur, onto the contours of its ears and the white tuft of its bushy tail. And with this last appearance, as soon as it sets foot onto Makedonomahon Street, turns upwards and sneaks into the darkness.

“Did you see her?” asks the mother excitedly, springing to her feet.

The girl returns her gaze to the uphill’s milky ridge. The road is all empty. Yet enchanting. She lowers her hand from her mouth and hands the fig to its mother.

“Here, mommy, I want no more” – and with the back of her other hand wipes lips and nostrils.

“Hey, didn’t you see the fox?” repeats the mother impatiently, as she carelessly takes the fig and proceeds to lean on the balustrade. “Ah, let’s see, where’d it go… there she is! There she is, kids… no! No, wrong… There… No!”

“She’s gone, mommy” says the girl.

The mother turns towards them:

“If we stay put for a long while all lovingly and quiet, and if there’s no fighting, yet another fox will soon come along.”

The boy looks at her.

“Other foxes will come over in any case – missus Dolly next door has chickens.”

Their mother laughs.

Warily the girl regards the house next door, by now drowned in slumber. Not even old mister Spyros can be heard coughing. She’d rather not imagine the fox digging beneath the coop’s wire netting, driving a hole in the ground, setting foot inside and pouncing on the chickens. Choking them, gobbling them up. And yet it forthwith crossed her mind.

She thrusts herself at the balcony door and with all her might pushes open its one panel and bolts inside the house before missus Dolly’s chickens commence cackling terrified in the night. Behind her, mommy and her brother are convulsing with a belly laugh which they try to muffle in the neighbourhood silence.