I shiver next to him. The shadows on his face and the light of the fire make him look a little like a jack-o-lantern. Ben, I think his name is. I keep my gaze straight ahead as he talks to me. If I turn towards him, he will kiss me. That’s what his hands say. To the left of me, a guy breaks sticks and silently tosses them into the flames. He’s drunk, too.
He smells too much like cigarettes. But I like his hand there, on my hip, just for the sake of it being a hand. If I close my eyes, it can belong to anyone. I won’t let him near my mouth, so he settles on my ear. I rise and rub off the saliva with the edge of one sleeve and head towards the cooler.
• • •
We were in the kitchen making dinner when I asked him what I would be if I was an animal. We had a lot of conversations like that. He listed off a few of the typical choices I might expect. Cat. Dog. Fish. I didn’t like any of these answers.
“Well,” He said, filling a pan with water, “what would I be, then?”
I had to think about it for a few minutes, but then I knew. “A fox,” I said. I pushed pieces of diced tomato into the corner of a cutting board with a knife, leaving a bloody trail across the wood. “A fox,” I repeated.
He smiled. “Is it my hair?”
“My good looks?”
I laughed. “Yes.”
I didn’t tell him that when I think of a fox, I think of silence and quick feet. I think of the only moment I ever saw one: it was there and then it was gone. A red dart. I could have convinced myself I was seeing things. It was a trick of the light.
I imagine foxes are easily spooked, like the sound of the wind knocking a small branch off of a tree sends them running off into the dark.
He was like this. He ran. He ran, and I drank.
One day I said something, and I saw his ears prick up and his eyes grow wide. He was very still. I had caught him by surprise. I backed away slowly, but I knew it was too late.
On my way back from his house, I stopped by the liquor store. I drank and I thought of the patter of little black feet. The glow of amber eyes in the woods at night.