They came early spring and set up camp there, in the woods near the lake, eyed stands of hardwood they would cut to make room for the necessities of cabin and garden. Father, mother, three boys under nine and a rickety wagon that would carry them no longer. There were no roads on which to travel in any case; they stood now at the end of one.
Their livelihood hinged on the clutched deed, and despite poor soil they spent the summer cutting, chopping, digging, cursing. Father, mother and two horses doing the heavy work until one of the horses stumbled forward and died. By autumn they recognized the land’s poverty would never allow for rolling fields of grain or orchards ripe for market. Lucky to be fed the first winter on roots and stone soup. Father meditated on the possibilities of logging, trapping, and more hard-working sons as he tramped the land in search of clues to an existence.
During a breathless trapline walk there came an idea as he knelt to recover a fox, its winter red pelt all gloss and luxury. A glitter in the grey, he turned over the possibility of breeding rather than trapping and saw its value. What was more, he knew a place to keep his quarry from predators, requiring no fence or feed. A tiny island some distance from shore would imprison these pups with an aversion to swimming, and provide their small subsistence.
He trapped his foxes live, rowed them in batches to populate the scrubby island by summer’s beginning. The family worked and cursed through their second cycle on the land, another son now heavy in mother’s belly as she pulled the plow in lieu of the last horse which had died over winter. All the while father kept his foxes close in thought, felt assured by their presence nearby.
As the northern lights of November winked their last, fall turned into a truly raging winter. Buried in snow the family huddled, prayed, and wished for the life they had left in city slums. Father’s mantra, even as they hungered, stayed the same all winter long: come thaw, come spring, come pups, come pelts. He whispered by the fire, sometimes sitting up all night.
Then came the longer days and stronger light; they traversed sodden paths through the wood to the lake, finding then it had frozen solid during winter’s height. It was thin-to-melting now and in a few days father launched his rowboat towards the copper island to investigate. Surprised then to find no living animal nor carcass as he explored the rock studded with spring’s green shoots. Neither tufts of fur or blood to mark a struggle. He was puzzled.
Rowing back he realized, put frozen lake and homing drive together; saw those small red creatures skittering one by one across the ice, disappearing back into the wooded hills above the cabin. Squared his shoulders then, returned to thawing land.
(This piece of postcard fiction is based on a true family story, was submitted to GEIST’s annual contest in 2008 but won no prizes, and has no postcard to go with it any longer.)