Vulpes lagopus

Vulpes lagopus

Matthew Pinkney

I hate being woken up from a dream. I always catch it right in the middle of something. It’s like changing the channel to a movie two-thirds of the way through. Everything happening seems important, but I can’t figure out what any of it means. And then, as quickly as it all comes to me, it slips from my grasp.

In my dream, I am an Arctic fox, small and thickly suited in white fur. I pad forward on pack ice through a blinding snowstorm — a whiteout, some would call it, while advising you to stay inside and warm up with hot chocolate.

But not me. I keep going, putting one paw in front of the other, bracing against the wind and ice. I see nothing ahead of me, but I feel everything. The cold twists its icy fingers beneath my fur, threatening to freeze me solid. Wind beats at my face. Chunks of ice tear at the soft skin on my paws. I grip harder onto the pack ice, feeling the slow, ominous roll of waves beneath my feet. I grit my fangs, flatten my ears, and take step after step after step, knowing I must take shelter, hoping something will be on the other side.

The ice shifts beneath my feet, rising up suddenly, and I am awake.

I woke back into my body, still in the clutches of the cold. Suddenly furless, I reached out for the closest source of warmth I could think of, but there was nothing there; just a warm spot on the sheets and a lingering masculine scent on the pillow.

The disconnect between expectation and reality was enough to pull my brain fully into the land of the waking. I opened my eyes and ran my hands over the other half of the bed while they adjusted to the darkness. He wasn’t there.

Frightful was a good word to describe the weather outside. Wind rushed through pine trees and snow beat against the walls of the cabin. The only light to see by came from the LEDs throughout the house. The moon and stars were hidden by storm clouds.

I wrapped a blanket around my naked body and trudged into the other room.

He was sitting at the kitchen table in his boxers, framed against a wide window, watching the snow fall. A cup of tea sat next to him, thin wisps of steam rising into the cold air. 

I sat behind him and wrapped my arms around him, trying to gain what little bits of warmth I could.

“Hey,” I whispered, almost afraid to break his silent reverie.

“Did I wake you up?” he asked, just as quietly.

“A little.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, “Sorry.”

We stayed like that for another moment, him looking at the snow, me hugging him from behind.

I planted a kiss on his neck and murmured into his skin, “Come back to bed.”

“In a minute,” he said.

I wanted to argue, but instead, I just leaned against him and rubbed a small patch of his forearm with my thumb.

“What are you doing out here?” I asked.

“Thinking,” he said, after a pause.

“Is it about what I said?”

“Do we have to do this right now?” he asked.

“That’s a yes.”

“No, it –” he sighed. “Okay, yeah. I was.”

I knew when I asked him if he wanted something more that it was a risk. Right now, we were just… friends wasn’t the right word for it, but trying to find a better one was like trying to catch a snowflake in a blizzard. “Friends with benefits” was closer, but left a poor taste in my mouth. I wanted things to be like this beyond the two weeks we trekked into the wilderness and played pretend at love. I wanted something more than this kindergarten domesticity.

When we finally went back to bed, I found myself staying awake, listening to the snow fall and playing with the hair on his chest, long after his breath evened out into the steady rise and fall of sleep. 

I kissed him one last time and felt something inside me break.

The Arctic fox is carnivorous, but has been recorded eating everything: seal pups, bird eggs, berries, seaweed — anything it can to survive.

I feel the same as I run back from the airport, take two subway trains, walk three blocks, and climb four flights of stairs to reach my empty apartment in the heart of a snow-locked city. I leave my bags on the bed, run a bath as hot as it can get, and write out a text.

Just got home safe. Love you. Purple heart, because red is still too hot for us.

I hit send and off goes another bit of sunshine from my cold life to warm him. I sit down in the tub, but it is lukewarm before long.

Matthew Pinkney