• Scott Beard

Hollows

The snow blew from the north, shattered glass bit into cheeks, and the acid sting scoured Luke’s blue eyes and he lowered the camera resting on the sling across his neck. He lifted a frosty glove to wipe the snow that powdered his face, but as he focused on the snow in his eyes, he lost sight of the fox. Eventually, he looked up. Gone. Luke sighed and scanned the powdered sugar grassland that stretched out across the hollow. The curled brown fallen locks from the elms and maples peppered the undulating hills and he followed the misty horizon until the snow dipped along the creek at the far end of the hollow. The fog had writhed its way across the snowy rolling hills. It was hard to tell where the vapor rising from the creek ended and the fog and froth from the misanthropic snow and ice began. Further across the horizon, the slow groan of cars and trucks echoed from the highway a few miles away. It was still daytime, and the snow soaked up the brightness across the rolling hollow, but he could not find the fox. He turned his face into the snow blowing at his back, but in the heavy haze, he could not see his truck parked along the gravel road that wandered along the north side of the hollow. Snow pelted his cap, sifted under his collar. He sat in silence, listened to the droning whir of the trucks grinding along on eighteen wheels in low gear on the slick and snowy lanes of U.S. 54. He waited.

He thought about going back to the truck, but he wanted to get a picture for his daughter, Sara. She loved foxes. She loved the stony gaze of amber eyes alert, watchful. She loved watching them curled lazily in the small beds dug out from dry dirt at the zoo, on the nature documentaries; their auburn fur, bounding along on the miles and miles of snow, their alien bark accompanying them in dark of night, sounding the frigid dawn, the sharp shrill piercing the cold air and rattled frozen limbs of the tall elms.

The fog floated in and white flakes fell and played plastic bubble wrap snaps as the powder landed on the leaves. It continued to cover the tossed salad grass—the burgundies and ochres of sage and bluegrass fading to a blanket of white along the undulating hills of the hollow. He clutched the camera, gave the strap a light tug, and walked toward the creek. The flakes tapped along the outside of his hood and he lowered his head, lifting his eyes only to search for the fox. His boots pressed through powder; the snow crunched and melted on the black rubber soles. Through the heavy fog, he found a hollowed oak deadfall that lay along the creek. Luke noticed the writhing arm of the oak had split off and fallen perpendicular making a natural bridge to the other side. That’s when he finally found the fox.

It raised its orange cone ears from behind the large deadfall. Its auburn face blended with a blanket of snow across its chest. The fox leered, leaning its long snout into the cold breeze; amber eyes glowered across the rolling powder.

Luke tapped the camera, its plastic casing sweating snow into droplets along the short lens. The fog and snow made a filmy haze across the hollow and at this range, the fox was nothing more than a fuzzy ball of fur. It still stared at Luke, its head and neck undulating up and down, darting behind mounds of powder piling up along the blustery hills. He lowered the camera and sighed.

Luke sat against the base of a large elm. He waited. He had been waiting for six months now, ever since he had lost his construction job at the concrete factory. The company had lost a few contracts and Luke was one of hundreds they had to let go. He had planned to pay for Sara’s first semester of college—a manageable sum of in-state tuition and textbooks. He pictured her walking the concrete sidewalks, flanked by tulip beds and rolling patches of fresh fescue that awoke from its winter slumber just before spring break. He saw her in a new pair of jeans, and some baseball tee, walking briskly from hall to hall, her gingerbread smile warming faces, opening glass doors, and praying some would open for her. He pictured the move out of the two-bedroom apartment, its flat green carpeted hallways, the pool-hall haze of cigarette smoke that hung in the alcoves of the building, waiting for the wind from an open window to take it all away. But now, with the unemployment checks at seventy percent and bills pressing into his pockets, she might have to wait, like she waited on all those lonely nights for a tired truck driver along U.S. 54 west of Wichita. A dull-bearded face, gray haired, the web of lines like roads on a map, endless cups of coffee and plates of flapjacks and sausage, rolling down the highway making interminable tracks on the cold gray asphalt. The tired whirring of wheels that never seemed to take her father anywhere, but never seemed to stop.

The fox started up from behind the log. Long charcoal legs perched on the rotting trunk, orange cone ears erect. It stood, listening to the low growls of cars and trucks still jostling along on U.S. 54. Luke gripped the camera again, rose, and leaned against the trunk of the elm. He lifted the lens and rested his index finger on the shutter release. The fox bolted. It trotted along the rotting pine that lay across the creek, white powder rising in clouds of cold dust. Luke sighed. He slung the camera across his neck again and walked toward the creek. He stopped a few yards from the deadfall. It was a narrow maple that had already begun to bend under the ice and snow. He looked out across the hollow on the opposite side of the creek. The fox stood along the undulating drifts of snow. Its long black legs steady in the snow. Luke reached for the camera. But the fox didn’t wait. It darted across the soft snow into the foggy folds of rolling powder, leaving fine footprints in the interminable white of snow. He thought of his daughter, walking steady down streets and sidewalks of a bustling college town, her blue business suit pressed, purse slung across shoulder and chest, into the horizon until her blue suit blurred with the gray backdrop of office buildings and the smog rising from cold gray storm drains along the busy street.

Luke scanned the horizon again, the writhing gray fog had moved across the creek now, following the fox further into the cold and tired trees and fields of fallen leaves on the other side. The cold crawl of the creek rushed from under the deadfall. The snow reflected the gray glow of a cloudy winter night enveloping the hollow. He would go home, and wait for the phone to ring.Wait for the next time he would drive to work, clock in; wait for another day to see the smile on her face, for her final walk across the college campus—fresh flowers along gray sidewalks. He listened to the tired ticks of the snow pelt the back of his hood. He stared into the distance, listened to the low rumble of truck tires whirring along on the wet asphalt. He turned to face the blowing snow, and began another trek back across the hollow to his truck parked along the gravel road.

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