The City Fox
Max ran her fingers along the lines of the cracks in the mirror. Studying the spiderweb latticework. It wove its way out from the centre, distorting her image. She remembered when the mirror had been clear and unblemished. That was a very long time ago. Now it sat on the wall in her bathroom, staring out into her bedroom, past her and at the woman who lay sleeping and satisfied on her bed. Did the mirror remember, did it remember the other women? The one with the red hair and the green sparkling eyes. The one with the raven hair and tattoos. The one with the hourglass figure and short-temper. She wondered if it remembered any of her past lovers, or did it just watch blindly, its one, good eye shattered by bad decisions. She hardly did. They’d become features, red hair, tattoos. She could just see their names, never their faces, never their whole. They remained distorted, murky.
Max pulled herself away from the mirror, her thoughts spiraling out into an inky mess. She turned, grabbing her dress and pulling it over her head, slouching on her coat and fleeing the room. She thought maybe the woman with the soft brown hair and wise eyes had woken up, she couldn’t be sure. She didn’t actually care. She need to go out, away from where the woman lay, red, raven, hourglass. They haunted her. Shadowed her footsteps. There were many more, but they had faded so much that she could only see their eyes. Gold, blue, brown, grey, green. They watched as she fled down the apartment stairs and out into the cold and soft yellow light of street lights.
She turned the collar of her coat up and pulled it close, the chill of the air cutting through her flimsy dress and making her shiver. She looked down, realizing she had left her shoes in the apartment and the sidewalk was wet from intermittent rain. She wiggled her toes, feeling the hard cement beneath her soles. She longed for the loamy earth of her childhood. The soft rustling of leaves had been replaced by the rumble of traffic. The calls of birds bidding the sun farewell replaced by the coo of disturbed city pigeons. Occasionally she’d see a fox. Bright orange fur stark against the gunmetal grey of office buildings and the deep black of wet tar. They raided the dumpsters and the rubbish tips, walking off with stained diapers and crumpled chip packets. They seemed trapped, confined to this unnatural place, just like she was.
Max walked, not really caring where she went, but knowing that her feet would lead her where she needed to be. It took a while, the cold tar and cement rubbing raw against her bare feet. She was hobbling by the time she reached The Spot, a small piece of glass had pushed itself into her heel. Specks of blood leaving a breadcrumb trail behind her. She took in her surroundings for the first time since she had begun to walk. She was on the side of a bridge that spanned the great river that cut the city in two. Cars whizzed past her, becoming contrails of light and sound. The river wound its way through the city, boats, barges and ferries making their slow chugging away across its polluted length.
The city lay out in front of her, the dark, squat buildings of the city were silhouetted like split against the sickly yellow moon and the steely, cloudy sky. The clouds hung low and the moon was large and bloated, pollution yellowing it like the fingertips of smoker. It was oppressive, claustrophobic. It seemed to press down on her. The twisted, ugly skyscrapers glared at her. The city hated her. It hackles raised, teeth gnashing.
She stood there for a long time, the cold becoming a dull ache. The puncture in her heel a dull throb. The traffic, the bridge, the city, it all seemed to melt away, leaving her, the river and the cloud crowded sky. She felt herself drifting, the river carrying her away, away from the city and the rumbling traffic and the cooing city pigeons. The yip of a fox broke her from her reverie. She swayed, almost fell. She was shivering, uncontrollably. Her hair plastered against her head by a steady downpour that had started without her realising. She suddenly thought she might die, she felt it in her bones, the cold seeping in, chilling her heart. She wasn’t averse to this, this slipping away.
And then she felt a longing, so deep and wide that she felt her heart might burst. She wanted so dearly to see the misty hills and secret woods of evergreens and herds of bony, long horned cows and small squat houses of grey stones, roofes covered in thatch and moss. She wanted to go home. The feeling thrummed in her heart. She gripped her arms, her fingers digging into her flesh. She couldn’t go home, her family, her wife, her home, they weren’t hers anymore. She felt a voice, an old voice, that grumbled and spat and chuckled. Home is home.
She managed to make it back to her apartment somehow. Her soft brown, tousled headed friend with the wise eyes was gone. A folded note lay on her bedside table. She picked it up and threw it on the wastebin. She grabbed as many clothes as her small black suitcase could hold, shoved her keys, purse and toiletries in a backpack. She grabbed her only set of shoes, pulling them on over her bare and bloody feet. She called a taxi.
She went to wash her face and looked at herself in the mirror. Of course she couldn’t see anything, only the spiderweb of cracks. She gave the mirror a good long look then went and grabbed the lamp on her bedside table. She swung at the mirror with a scream, the lamp finally shattering the hateful thing with a crash, the pieces falling to the floor in an explosive rain of splintering glass. She stood there for a long moment. The ruined lamp in her hand. Glass crunched under her shoes as she slowly backed out of the bathroom. The mirror finally slain.
A fox watched her go, bright yellow eyes fixed on her. It slipped away as she got into the taxi. Disappearing into the shadows of an alley choked with rubbish.
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