The Good Thief by Amanda McLeod

I came home at 4:42am; I remember it quite clearly. I opened all the doors to let in the sweet relief of the summer night, then went straight to the bathroom. That’s when I found the fox sitting in my bathtub. I closed the door and turned around and there she was, regarding me with golden eyes as if she’d been waiting for me. She sat still and calm, as if tethered by some invisible lead she had given up fighting. I pressed my back against the cold gloss paint of the bathroom door and we stared at each other. I found the courage to speak first.

‘What are you doing here?’

I don’t know if I was expecting an answer, but two gin and tonics isn’t enough to have me believing animals could speak. Perhaps the incongruity of the situation, on top of all the other tangled vines in the garden of my life, set my very self askew. But answer me she did, in that way animals have of speaking to us without words. I understood she was there to take something.

She leapt from the tub, a perfect gymnast’s landing on the mat, four dark paws with quiet thuds. With a slow burn quiver building like an earthquake, she shook herself from head to toe. I admired her stunning russet coat, her bottlebrush tail, the air of quiet wild hanging around her like mist. She held herself, as confident of her purpose as I was uncertain of mine; and I envied her self-assurance. She was the calm I wished I possessed, instead of the life of chaos I tried so hard to ignore. I slid down the bathroom door until I was curled up at the base of it, struggling to contain the darkness that threatened to bubble out of my chest. How low was I, if I envied a fox?

Tears spilled from my eyes and as I lost the battle I screamed, guttural. In my pain I realised she was screaming with me, camaraderie. The screaming became sobs and as I scrunched my eyes closed and wrestled with sucking gasps I felt the wet slick of a cold nose, then the soft shape and warmth of the fox’s head thrust beneath my hand. It was an age since anyone had chosen to be that close to me. I rubbed my fingers against the velvet ears and the rhythm soothed me. Static electricity discharged between us, more felt than seen, tiny sparks of light, of life. A bond, something to hold me to the earth. My breath slowed as equilibrium returned.

Then the fox was up, staring at the door and at me and at the door again, a busy fox with a wild life to attend to. I rose and opened the door, following as she trotted down the hallway, familiar as if she’d been here many times. At the back door, she paused and turned back, sniffing the air, making sure she had what she came for. Our eyes met again, golden staring deep into brown. Then the spell broke and she turned to trot off towards the forest.

Dawn bloomed behind the trees and under my ribs as the fox disappeared. The shadows grew shorter, and shorter, dissolving into nothing. Then I knew.

It was the darkness, the shadows.

That’s what she took with her.

Amanda McLeod is a creative working in Canberra, Australia. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her poetry and fiction have appeared in many places, both in print and online; and she is the Managing Editor of Animal Heart Press. She loves cheese, coffee, and quiet. Find her on Twitter @AmandaMWrites or her website