After a poem and picture by Kiit Lock
November. A twenty-something Red Fox Halfling exits the subway station at the end of a Thursday afternoon. He’s mostly looking down at the pavement, his tail hanging limp. In a slow pace, he walks down the street, on his way to a familiar place he hasn’t visited for a long time. The tag on his collar quietly jingles every now and then, muffled by his long, warm coat.
Yet, the fox doesn’t feel warm, and even if he would, it’d be merely on the surface. His insides are cold, and he’s not even sure why he’s returning to this part of the city. Maybe he is, but he doesn’t know what to say or do once he arrives. Would she even still live there? What if she had moved back to her place of birth?
The fox sighed. If Svetlana had left the country, and traded Regnesca for her motherland, would he ever see her again? Sybria, that big cold mass of land, stretching all across the overseas continent. She had once told him her heart laid there, but would she act on the desire to retrieve it?
As if to personalize his thoughts, a cold gust of wind hit him straight in the face. The fox put up the collar of his jacket, hiding his actual collar from view. Along with it, the name engraved in its tag was now obscured, but the fox was okay with this. He preferred the people around him not knowing he was Rick, the fox who had left the only vixen he had ever loved with all his heart.
He sped up somewhat, not wanting to be out in the cold any longer than necessary. With his black-furred hands in the pockets of his coat, he fumbled with the small metal item in there. All he wanted to do was get to Svetlana’s place, drop said item off, then disappear as silently as he arrived.
Ever since Rick had entered the subway, the fingers of his right hand had been fumbling the cold metal of the trinket, idly playing with the fine chain it was attached to. It was ironic to walk around with that thing so close to him. Svetlana had given it to him after they had shared that special moment, but the more he thought about it, the less he thought he was supposed to have it.
The fox sighed, thinking of the time when the silver key still hung around ‘his’ vixen’s neck. She had gotten it from her father when she was twelve, and it originally belonged to her mother. The concept of those keys was not foreign to Rick, as he had seen girls in his high school wear them.
They were called ‘chastity keys’, and the girl wearing it was supposed to hand it over to the first guy she’d had intercourse with. Traditionally, a guy would pass on the key he received from his wife to his daughter, as a symbol of continuation. It started out as purity thing, but practically made a girl think twice before she allowed a guy to take her virginity.
It might seem like insignificant, but everyone would notice if a girl suddenly wore her key no longer. In Sybria, having sex before marriage usually meant great shame to a girl, or even her parents. Rick and Svetlana had been engaged, and were determined to get married, but technically, they were ‘too soon’.
If she’d still be living with her parents, her father probably wouldn’t have let her live it down. Rick didn’t know the tradition was valued this much in Svetlana’s birthplace, until he looked it up after she had given him her key. He held the symbolic full access to her body in his hand – a hand that wasn’t adorned with a golden ring.
The fox hadn’t slept or eaten for almost two days after he found out what he had done. Even though Svetlana insisted it was consensual, he had obliged the vixen to give her chastity key before she was culturally supposed to. Rick strongly regretted having had sex with her, and he couldn’t stand being around his fiancée anymore.
It’s not that he had begun to dislike her, or that he didn’t love her anymore. No, he had grown unsure about a lot of things. However, in his confusion, he was certain of one thing. He couldn’t take back what he had done, so he had to leave Svetlana. Even so little as looking her in the eyes felt like an impossible assignment for Rick.
He hadn’t talked to her for six weeks, save for when they cancelled their engagement. It had been a short conversation, yet filled with awkward silence. The gaze of her eyes felt penetrating to Rick, and he still didn’t dare to look at them. Whatever meaning they might have expressed, he could only have missed it.
The fox turned the last corner, and soon ended up at the portico that’d lead to the apartment of his former fiancée. Once more, he stood at the door of the place that had housed him for a brief happy time. Yet, this door had become broken, a damaged entry to a life he didn’t even dare dreaming about anymore.
Rick had been so certain about his decision when he stepped outside of his own place, but now, he didn’t even know what to do. He couldn’t just put the key in the mailbox, could he? Closing his eyes, he sighed, with his left arm and forehead resting against the doorframe. The other hand was still clutching the reason of his return.
“Here I am again, standing at her door. The place where I survived, but lost what I fought for. Live and die on this day. Alive on the outside, but dying from the inside,” he muttered to himself.
He didn’t know how long he stood there, leaning against the cold brick wall, next to the door. So self-absorbed, the fox didn’t realize he was talking to himself, either. Furthermore, he didn’t notice the window on the first floor that stood ajar. Rick didn’t even hear the sound of someone silently crying.
For behind that window was a female arctic fox Halfling. She had overheard the red fox talking to himself, and had to bear every painful word pierce her eardrums. All she wished was to hear the sound of her doorbell, so she could put an end to the wallowing of that mess of a fox at her door.
Seconds felt like minutes, which in their turn appeared to be stretching into hours. Time stood still for the two foxes as they were both occupied with the torrent of their thoughts. They were so close to each other, but the distance they felt was immense. It wasn’t so much about the physical distance, however.
If Svetlana really wanted, she could’ve just ran down the stairs, but something held her back. She realized Rick had come back without her asking to, nor did he inform her. Her former fiancée must’ve had an awfully good reason to show up at her doorstep, yet take so much time to actually enter the building.
Eventually, Fox rang the doorbell. As much as his left hand was shaking as he pressed the button, so tightly did the other clutch the key he still kept hidden deep within his pocket. He heard pawsteps on an old wooden staircase, and wondered if he had made the right decision. Would he bail out on the last moment? Could he bail out on the last moment?
The jingling noise of a key ring being turned, a door unlocked. Slowly, Svetlana opened the portico door, leaving the two foxes standing within each other’s arms’ reach. A silence lasted between the two of them. It could have been three seconds, but also three minutes. Nobody shouted, nobody begged . Not a sigh or a whisper. Finally, Rick spoke up.
“I found a note with your name, and a picture of us, somewhere in a cardboard box I hadn’t looked in for weeks,” he said with a broken voice. “When I took it out, I found this underneath.”
For the first time since he had left his apartment, the fox took his right hand from the pocket it had so comfortably rested in. He opened his hand, revealing Svetlana’s chastity key, as if he was offering it to her. She initially wanted to take it from him, but quickly recognized the item and withdrew her hand.
“Rick…” she started, but no further words came out of her muzzle.
When he looked het in the eyes, hoping to find the rest of the message there. It wasn’t until then he noticed the vixen had been crying.
“Y-you… were you crying because of me?
He stared down.
“I shouldn’t have come back.”
“But you did so anyway,” she said kindly. “Why?”
“This belongs to you. I can’t think of a reason to hold on to it.”
She shook her head.
“I gave it to you, and you should keep it. It’s no longer mine, Rick, I can’t accept it back.”
“Why not? You should give it to someone who can be a good mate to you. I don’t deserve to have your key.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the vixen replied, without losing her calmness. “I gave it away because I wanted to, remember?”
“Of course I do,” he said, drooping his ears. “The problem is, you wanted to because you loved me. But my love for you, was it even real? You can learn to love again, Svetlana, but I’ve proven I can’t be with you.”
“Then why would you even bother to go all the way here to bring me something I can’t take back? And where would you go?”
“I’ll remain solitary, I guess. Until I find someone I’m worthy of, if at all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Svetlana asked in confusion.
“A week or two after we broke up, I found someone else, but it wasn’t the same. Even though she wasn’t offering me nearly as much as you ever did, it felt like she couldn’t give me what I need.”
Rick’s ears drooped.
“You,” he whispered, terrified to utter the word. “It’s a dilemma, y’know. I can’t be with you, but I don’t know what might happen if I dare to live without.”
She tried to look him in the eyes, but it took a while before he dared to raise his head again.
“I think you’re wrong. It’s not a hard choice, is it? What do you want? You want to be my boyfriend again, don’t you? Heck, we were engaged! You wanted to become my husband! What’s left of that?”
Rick closed his eyes and shook his head.
“But how can I even get back to you? I’ve hurt you more than I can explain away, and I’ve treated you worse than I’d dare to admit. Leaving you was a grave mistake, let alone coming back.”
“Richard, It wasn’t just you. Regardless of my parents’ culture, I gave myself away too early. We were both eager. Maybe we made a mistake, but all it tells me is we both have a strong desire for each other.”
He opened his eyes, but still didn’t dare to look up. Svetlana only ever used his full name if she had something very serious to say.
“I didn’t give it to you merely because of a tradition, but because it’s a sign I wanted to be with you. Not just anyone, but specifically you. I still do, Rick. Every day I spent without you, I’ve felt unbearably lonely.”
“How can you want me back? I-I… the shame I’ve brought upon you, it’s-”
“Would you shut up about that already?” Svetlana interrupted sharply, but not aggressively so. “I’d value the fact you dared to came back much higher than the mistake we made. You doubt whether you’re worth of me, but even if we would take my culture in account, I would be unworthy of you for giving myself away without wearing a wedding ring.”
Rick suddenly looked her straight in the eyes. He had read about the Sybrian tradition, but none of the sources mentioned this.
“You really want me back? Me?”
“Why not? Since you left me, I’ve felt like I know nobody. I mean, I recognize the face, but not the person. I miss you, Rick. Haven’t you missed me?”
He looked away again, and remained silent for a few seconds.
“Only when I breathe,” he then whispered.
“Then why do you resist getting back with me?”
“I… I haven’t been a good lover to you. I should’ve respected your culture, and my mistake could’ve easily been prevented. Besides, if we get back together, what will become of us?”
“As long as you don’t believe in yourself, we’re going to fall apart again. Don’t let this one flaw stop you, but get back on your paws and give it another try. We did what we both wanted, and I see no reason for you to regret what we shared.”
“B-But I can’t guarantee I’ll-”
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” she interrupted him again. “It’s not that you think you can’t love me, but expect you’ll hurt me again. It’s never too late to stop being afraid, Rick. Let go of what you’ve done, and stop beating yourself up over it.”
He cocked his head to the side, making a slight whimpering noise to express his confusion.
“Let me put it like this, Rick. It’s not the height that scares you, but the possibility of falling. We all fall sometimes, that’s just how life goes. But when you do, will you crash, or will you fly?”
“I didn’t understand a word of that,” the fox said, still confused.
“You’re standing at my door, thinking it won’t open for you. Still, you’re holding a key you want to return to someone behind that door. Don’t you see how that doesn’t make any sense?”
Rick’s ears perked up. It finally clicked in his mind. He looked the vixen straight in the eyes.
“Then what do you want?”
“I want you to choose. Either you leave now, and we’ll never see each other again, or you come in and have dinner with me.”
She put a finger on his lips.
“No buts, Rick. And stop thinking about that key. It hasn’t been mine anymore since I gave it to you, and I don’t want it back. Now, what’s it going to be?”
The fox let his head hang. With his eyes closed, he felt a tear dripping down his face. He opened his muzzle and tried to speak, but he couldn’t get a single word out the first couple of times. He clutched the key in his hand, and put it back in the pocket where it had been hidden. Rick then opened his muzzle, and took a deep breath…