Where do you find comfort when everyone else has accepted the diagnosis? Luckily, she had the fox.
By Lucile Barker
•   •   •
In September 1972, we had not succumbed to all night talk radio with alien abductions, crops circles and yetis, so you can’t blame what happened on that. We were having a late heat wave; the hospital print shop had closed down because the ink was sliding off paper. Emerge was full of heatstrokes, burns. I was going to work at the hospital next door soon, older, worse ventilation.
“We should take a holiday before you start,” Robin said. “In case-"
I had been diagnosed with a condition that might kill me in five years. I was popping steroids, immunosuppressives, drugs that had numbers and letters.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked.
“We’ve never been to Thunder Bay,” I said.
Before I got sick there had been a smugness to our lives: the Victorian house downtown, the decent jobs, the brand new Impala convertible with the expensive Michelin tires, both of which might be paid for in time for my funeral.
“You have to start the third week in September,” HR at the new job said. “Why is your face so round?”
“I let my husband cook,” I said. Truth is sometimes the best lie.
It was still hot when we started.
“Don’t let her get chilled,” my grandma told Robin, as if I was some exotic food that had to be served an exact temperature.
During the day, we had the top down, even though I sometimes wore the coat my grandma had insisted I take. 
“We should stay in a hotel tonight,” Robin said.
“No way, let’s find a provincial park and have a barbecue!”
If we spent money on hotels, there would be nothing for him to inherit.
We got hot dogs at a butcher store, lots of pop and huge supplies of Beechmint gum, which almost killed the flavor of the drugs. 
The hot dogs had gone bad by the time we found a park, and we drove back to a diner where two OPP officers were having dinner.
“You kids are crazy,” one said. “You camp right by the parking lot, no exploring in the dark. We patrol 150 miles along here each night. No telling when we would get back to find you.”
We had a decent Swiss steak and I gagged down the pills in the washroom.
We found a fairly soft piece of land near the fence.
“I’ll get rid of these,” I said and tossed the hot dogs in the metal garbage can nailed to a post.
Between the fresh air and the drugs, I drifted to sleep quickly.
“Honey,” Robin whispered urgently, his hand over my mouth.
I’m dying and you’re gonna suffocate me now? was my first thought.
He took his hand away and whispered, “Bear. Don’t you dare sneeze.”
Through the net mesh of the side window, we could see a huge bear impaling hot dogs on his claws. I wondered if I had a lethal dose of painkillers and if they would work before the bear became interested in us. He wandered off, and it was a wonder the joint sigh of relief didn’t bring him back for a more substantial meal.
“How could you have goofed up like that?” Robin asked me over a restaurant breakfast in the morning.
“The drugs make me stupid,” I said.
The next night we slept beside the huge yellow tubes of the pipeline, right under the “No Trespassing” sign. There was a hum.
“All the power in the country going past us,” I sighed, snuggling up to him and then burped and had to get a stick of gum.
We had to put the convertible top up the next day; the sun was wonderful, but there was a nasty wind. The leaves up here were changing.
Quit thinking about time and mortality, ya dummie, I told myself, even when the pain cut in.
Breakfast in Chapleau, where the teenage waitress looked longingly at her friends going back to school, and even more longingly at the map we had spread on the table.
“Let’s go to Temagami!” I suggested, and Robin sighed.
“It’ll be colder,” he said.
“Lots of money,” I said. “Maybe a hotel.”
He agreed. 
Going north on the narrow road on the west side of the lake was like being in autumn, but being surrounded by trees, we had put the top down. The radio was only picking up static and country, so we sang instead.
I don’t even remember what we were singing when the rear driver tire blew. The jack and the spare tire were under all the camping equipment. It was early afternoon, but it already felt like dusk. 
“Can I help?” I asked, after setting out totally inadequate flares.
“Put on your coat, sit on that log, and listen for any cars coming.”
The log was hard, but I felt sleepy. Maybe I would hear better if I closed my eyes.
I smelled it before I saw it, he was so well camouflaged by the leaves. He stared at me and was almost smiling. Black whiskers, white face, and a shiny coat. He took another step toward me.
“We have company,” I said softly.
Robin looked up from where he was tussling with the hubcap, and gasped. “Don’t move,” he said.
If the fox attacked me, I could stand up and run. Robin was on his hands and knees, but he had an assortment of metal weapons. The fox glanced at him and then took two more steps. I noticed that his feet were huge like my aunt’s Great Dane. He moved closer, his head cocked as if to ask, “What’s up?” I could reach out and touch him. Friendly wild animals can have rabies, I told myself, but I was having to stop myself from patting him. Maybe he was half fox, half big dog.
“Don’t touch him,” Robin said softly. “You have no immunities.”
“Keep fixing the tire,” I said. “I’ll be okay.”
The fox sat on his haunches, turning once in a while to watch the slow progress of the tire change. It was one of those temporary tires, and there would be no Michelin dealer in Temagami.
“I’ll die before you will,” the fox said.
Robin hadn’t heard it.
“You sure?” I whispered, but it didn’t answer.
The trunk slammed. The donut tire was on. I stood up slowly and walked to my side of the car. Robin had gotten in and was fumbling for the keys, but he still had his door open and the fox was now standing by his door, looking almost pleadingly.
“Sorry, buddy,” Robin said, and closed his door.
The fox ran to my side, and I was so tempted.
“We’ll come back next year, with a better spare tire,” I promised him, and closed the door.
Robin turned the car south and we drove in silence. We got to a garage and restaurant and stopped.
“Food and pill,” he told me.
“Michelins?” the mechanic said. “Back to North Bay. And go slow on that stupid thing.”
There was no more camping that trip. I found second hand bookstores in North Bay and bought too many books. Give ‘em away if I die, I thought, but I didn’t say it.
“The size of that fox’s feet,” Robin said
 The new job didn’t pan out. The exit interview was swift.
“She used to be foxy,” one of the men said as I hit the elevator button.
The steroids and age added two shoe sizes to my feet. Or maybe the new drugs that keep me alive. But I think it’s the influence of the fox, giving me more to stand on and balance.
Robin and I talk about the fox once in a while, how strange and magical – a bear and a fox in one trip. Now we see coywolves who have invaded the back alleys in the city.
Once in a while I go for a walk in the ravines, cell phone in pocket. But my feet get so big and I am sure my toenails are curving. What would happen if I stayed in the woods?
•   •   •
Lucile Barker is a poet, fiction, and non-fiction author in Toronto, Ontario, where she has led the Joy of Writing workshop since 1992. Her most recent poetry has appeared in Snakeskin. @LucileABarker on Twitter

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