They were passing acquaintances. The older man would nod when he saw him crossing the road, or when they met in the man’s orchard. He sensed an aura of sadness whenever they crossed paths and had once overheard the retired farmer tell the mailman how difficult and painful his wife’s struggle with cancer had been. While he didn’t understand nearly as well as the mail carrier, he grasped how wrenching the loss of a long time mate felt. After all, he’d lost his when a speeding driver ran her down the previous spring.
When the farmer stepped out of his shed with a saw over one shoulder, he was curious enough to follow. Lights had started appearing on nearby houses the week before, signaling the start of the Christmas season. He remembered the man making a similar trek with a saw two years ago when his wife was still well enough to decorate their porch and the evergreen tree in the living room window. Maybe he’d recovered enough interest to find a tree once again.
He remained out of sight as the old farmer wandered along the stone wall separating a wooded hill from the apple orchard that still bore delicious red apples every fall even though none of the trees had been pruned in years.
He waited until the man started up a narrow path through half a foot of fresh snow before following, moving closer when he was certain the man couldn’t see him. The farmer’s tracks wandered from tree to tree as if looking for the perfect one.
When he heard the man exclaim “yes”, followed by the zip of a blade cutting through softwood, he backed away from the trail, hoping the farmer wouldn’t notice a second set of tracks running alongside his. A moment later, the farmer passed by, a small balsam fir trailing in his wake.
He was about to follow the man along the stone wall when he saw him stop and drop the tree and saw while looking at his left hand.
“Dammit,” the man cried, frantically searching his pockets. “Why didn’t I have the brains to wear gloves. I’ll never find it in the snow.”
It didn’t take an empath to realize the farmer must have lost something very important to him, but what? He thought about times he’d seen the farmer up close. Did he remember anything he couldn’t see now? Yes, the gold band he always wore on his left hand wasn’t there. Its significance escaped him, but the fact that this was the first time he hadn’t seen it on the older man’s finger made him suspect it might have fallen in the snow somewhere between the house and where the tree was cut. Losing it made sense, as the farmer had become a lot thinner since his wife died. Maybe there was a connection between the metal band and his late wife. He watched the man pick up the saw and slowly drag the tree back to the farmhouse.
He could smell more snow coming as darkness began to fall. If he was going to locate the lost band, finding it would be a lot easier before everything was buried under another foot of the cold white stuff that made winter so challenging. He turned around and started searching.
He stopped twenty feet from where the tree had been cut, sensing something under the packed snow where the man had stomped his feet to keep them warm. He sniffed, sniffed again and began digging into the packed snow until he caught a dull flash as the gold band flipped loose, tumbling to the side.
He picked it up and retraced his way to the stone wall, hesitating momentarily before continuing across the orchard and over the small frozen meadow until he reached the road. Satisfied no cars were coming either way, he scampered across and walked up the stone steps to the red door leading into the house.
Now what? He wondered. Lights were on in the kitchen and living room, but he couldn’t see movement in either room. After waiting for a while, he decided it was time to do something risky, so he uttered three sharp barks and sat facing the door.
When the farmer came to the door with a puzzled look on his face, he opened his mouth, letting the lost wedding ring fall on the top step.
“Blessed Virgin Mother,” the farmer whispered, looking from his ring to the fox on his doorstep. “How did you know, how did you find it?” He stopped, remembering finding the dying female fox that spring and how he’d tried to comfort her. He’d buried her body on the hillside across the road. “You understand grief and loss, too, don’t you fox.” He put the ring on his left hand. “Wait here,” he said turning and going to the kitchen.
“I was going to have this for supper, but losing my wedding ring left me with no appetite. You sure deserve it for returning the best memory of Hilda I still have.” He set the still warm roast chicken on the stone and waited until the fox picked it up and started walking toward the road. “Merry Christmas, little friend.”
Thank you. A beautiful tale. Perfect for Christmas Eve.
Truly lovely and heart warming, thank you!
Just lovely. Merry Christmas to all, foxes and friends alike.
Drat the onion Ninja is back out in force!
Lovely story. Thank you.