My daughter is nine when she first sees the fox. It prowls through stalks of sage and lavender, leaving little more than a rustle in its wake. When she asks, I say that it is a vixen, a female, and she gapes through the windowpane at the slender body slinking through the underbrush.
“I want to be a fox,” she proclaims.
She immediately runs toward the door, but I catch her before she can frighten away her newfound friend.
“Stay inside,” I say. “You’ll scare it off if you open the door.”
I expect an argument, but she perks up. “She’ll know where I am?”
“And she’ll run away.” I say it again with some measure of conspiracy in my voice — as though she and the fox and I are equal partners in some unspoken accord.
My daughter spends the rest of the day staring out the window. The fox slips by twice more, once in early afternoon and again at dusk. Both times, my daughter is rapt by its passing. That night, as she retires to bed, she tells me that she plans to dream of foxes.
I give her a kiss, wish her well, and watch her shut her eyes tight as she awaits the dreams that can’t come fast enough.
I hear the door open at first light and am out of the bedroom and halfway down the hall before the hinges squeal closed. My daughter’s room is empty, and I piece together a likely story as I hurry toward the door.
When I reach it, I place my hand upon the brass latch. I do not open it. Instead, I glance through the peephole to see my daughter, dressed in pink and purple pajamas prowling down the walkway in a low crouch. She banks left from the concrete and rounds toward the break in the wild grass, where she saw the fox the day before.
Watching her, I cross toward the window for a better view and feel a churning in my stomach as a spot the vixen crouched low in the brush. My daughter is not the stalker she believes herself to be, and her approach startles the fox. Its ears perk up, and it eyes her through those purple stalks.
Then it is gone, a vanishing ghost as the sun nears the horizon.
My daughter pokes her head into the brush a few moments later and, finding nothing, returns to the house. I am waiting for her when she opens the front door, though I do not scold her for her adventure.
The fox does that on her own.
“Where did the fox go?” my daughter asks as she searches the field from her perch beside the windowsill later that day.
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” I say. “Maybe something scared it.”
“Like a bear?”
“Maybe,” I tell her. “Or a person.”
“Oh,” she says. I see the revelation strike her as she settles down to wait.
But the vixen does not return.