The first night it happened Margaret awoke to find a small fox standing on her chest. She instinctively froze, not realizing she was holding her breath until the fox shifted his weight from his front to his hind paws. She felt the pressure of the animal ease off her cleavage and sink further into her belly. She exhaled, then stole a quick glance at her daughter, still sleeping in her crib. She could feel the fox’s stare as she did this.
Margaret blinked back to calm eyes, which turned her fear down to a simmer. Even in the dark room, she saw intelligence on his face. His expression reminded her of a day long ago when her grandfather consoled her after falling down the front stoop. The fox slowly lowered his long, thin nose. She saw the white of his chin recede in her field of vision as the plain of rust on top of his head expanded down the length of his body.
He tapped gently on her collarbone to get her to focus. When he was sure she was present again, he turned his head toward Ella. Following his gaze she saw that Ella had thrown off her blanket in her sleep. Margaret was reassured by the gurgling sounds only a sleeping baby could make.
With a quick wink he jumped off the chair–updraft of musk and the smell of fresh soil–and across the plush rug. When he approached the crib, he reached a paw through the slats, grabbed a corner of the pink blanket, and patted it over Ella.
Satisfied with his work he scampered over to the wall below the window and knocked. Three quick raps. Then Margaret heard the unmistakable sound of birds chirping before three starlings zipped into the room. One held a green ribbon in its beak, the loose end fluttering by her face like a butterfly.
The ribbonless birds swooped, picked up a Winnie the Pooh barrette in tandem from the mantle above the fireplace, and clipped it onto a small tuft of Ella’s hair. Blink of an eye. Meanwhile, the third bird dexterously tied the ribbon into a bow on the top railing of Ella’s crib. Four more quick raps. The birds sailed out and the fox hopped onto the sill. He kicked out his right paw with a flair and gracefully jumped down into the flowerbed Margaret herself had planted that very morning. She saw the birds struggling to hoist up the screen from the lawn. Two paws helped them lift it vertically and the screen clicked into place.
Preposterous, Margaret thought. The very idea. She decided the whole sequence was a product of lack of sleep and midnight feedings. She picked Ella up careful to avoid the birds’ pretty bow. She closed the curtains. A lullaby about silver clouds and blue birds and only loves popped into Margaret’s head. The more she sang it the more she grew convinced that the visit had actually occurred. She was singing still when she heard the sound of her husband’s alarm clock in the next room.
“I think a fox winked at me last night,” Margaret told her husband over breakfast.
Margaret recounted the strange event, describing every minute detail to convince him, and herself, of its reality. Her husband remained bullishly unphased. When Margaret finished her husband concluded between chews of his toast that it had been just a dream.
She took his hand to the pink bedroom. She showed him the green bow on the cradle. They discussed the intricacy of the ribbon’s lacing–far superior to either of their abilities. She lifted the curtain and pointed out the fox tracks in the dirt. She even hauled out her plastic bag of ribbons, dumped its contents onto the floor, and together they determined that they did not own green ribbon. She expressed her disappointment that birds, and not her own mother, had clipped the first barrette in Ella’s hair. It was the only thing during the fantastical night that she regretted.
“What do you think it means?” her husband wondered. She heard a note of psychoanalysis in his voice. He was still not convinced.
“I haven’t the foggiest.”
“Didn’t you ask the fox?” A ludicrous question in any other circumstance.
“It hadn’t occurred to me,” Margaret said.
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