July 31, 2015 by The Citron Review
by Cheryl Smart
Foxy. That’s what we called her because she looked a lot like a red fox, same size, even had that patch of white fur on her chest. She didn’t have the black-brown legs or tail though and her ears were floppy instead of stiff and feline like they were on a fox. Sissy and I loved her nearly as much as we would love the baby sister growing in mama’s belly. Foxy wasn’t allowed inside, even when it was cold. But the barn was nearby, loaded to the rafters with hay, so finding a warm place to sleep at night was not a problem. The problem was that times were lean again and we couldn’t afford to feed her. We were doing good those days to feed ourselves. We weren’t alone in the struggle. The oil crisis and gas shortage of the seventies had everyone around us strapped, and if it weren’t for kindly Mr. Mathis giving hard-pressed folks groceries on credit at his store, things would have been much worse. It didn’t seem right asking Mr. Mathis to feed our dog on credit, too. It seemed right in a child’s mind, of course, but children are never in control of such matters.
“We’re gonna have to take Foxy off,” Mama said.
I’m sure my sister and I promised all sorts of things to keep our sweet puppy. It would have been common to make promises that we would share our own food or smuggle home leftovers from school lunches to feed Foxy. But Mama said Dad had already made up his mind and once his mind was made up, he was unlikely to change it no matter how much we cried and begged.
So we were taking Foxy off. What this meant was that Foxy would be driven far enough from the farm to make it so she couldn’t find her way back home, she would be abandoned, and then we’d pray “some nice person” would take her in. That sort of unpleasant responsibility fell to our mother. It was always Mama that did what needed to be done, always Mama that soothed her babies when the hardness of life broke us. Always Mama was an oak, as strong and protecting as the century-old beauty in our front yard that spread its trunk and branches to shelter us.
Mama called Foxy up to the farmhouse and offered her a few scraps of food. There was no arguing the fact that our pup was not well fed at the moment, she was thinner than she needed to be, and if she got sick, there would be no veterinary care for her. As cruel a thing as it seems to abandon the family pet, it was probably more humane than keeping her. There was that chance, you know, that she would find a good home. She had found us after all. Maybe she would find a better home, new friends, maybe old people that love dogs like their own children and feed them steak from the table.
Mama loaded our dog into our old Plymouth. Foxy wagged her fluffy red tail, stood on her hind legs, and peeked out the back window at us. Sissy and I headed toward the car. We weren’t about to let Foxy go through it without us. Mostly, I think we didn’t want our sunshiny mother going through it. There are only so many clouds the sun can chase away before it gives up and hides behind the next patch of darkness. That white patch of fur on Foxy’s chest looked like a cloud. And, she was as good-natured as she was pretty.
Mama ordered us to stay home, but she lost heart enforcing her demands when she saw what kind of battle she would have leaving the farm without us that day. There was the likelihood that Foxy would become suspicious of what was happening (she was a smart dog, too) and make a run for it while mom was busy pulling us from the car. We would curl our fingers around the door frame. We weren’t going to make it easy on her to leave us behind and she knew it.
I sat in back with Foxy. Sissy shared the front seat with mama.
We drove several miles, crossed the Tennessee-Mississippi line, and turned onto a gravel road that needed a few more layers of gravel. Mama stopped the car. Foxy had stretched out onto the backseat and rested her gentle fox-face on my thighs. I stroked her silky fur, told her everything would be okay, she would find a new home, we loved her, she was a good dog. I wet her coat with my tears the way Mary Magdalene wet the feet of Jesus with hers. Dogs are more Christ-like than people I always thought. Foxy had earned my tears.
Mama opened the driver’s side door, leaned up, and pulled her seat forward. Her shoulders trembled. Sissy stared straight ahead, never made a move, or a sound. She had that way about her when things were hard. Mama choked out my name and I knew it was time.
I lowered Foxy onto the dirt and gravel. This was no good for Foxy. She jumped right back into our car. A sort of tug-of-war went on then in which Mama pulled Foxy out onto the road while I pushed her from behind. When Foxy was finally where we needed her to be, Mama hopped back into the car while our beloved dog looked on quizzically, maybe frightened, but certainly confused by what was happening. Mama inched the car away in neutral until she could get clear of Foxy and close the door. Once Mama cleared her, she slammed the door, put us in gear, and dropped her foot down heavy on the gas pedal.
Foxy ran. She ran a long time. The Plymouth kicked up dust behind us, a little at first, then larger puffs rolled up as Mama drove away faster. Foxy ran. I watched her run from the rear window, the cool vinyl upholstery digging into my knees. I watched her run a long time.
But nothing could be done.
Foxy disappeared in the plumes of dust behind our car. How long she ran I can’t say. How long Mama cried I do not know. But, I’d put money down on Sissy never shedding a tear over Foxy. Sissy did all her crying on the inside. She had to. Because if I saw one tear from her, a thousand more would leave my eyes.
Cheryl Smart, a native Memphian, is a 2nd year MFA candidate studying Creative Nonfiction at the University of Memphis, where she is recipient of the 2015 Creative Writing Award in Nonfiction. She is current Assistant Managing Editor and past Nonfiction Editor of the literary journal, The Pinch. She has publications appearing or forthcoming in The Little Patuxent Review, Appalachian Heritage, Cleaver Magazine, Word Riot, Pine Hills Review, Apeiron Review, Crack the Spine, and others.