First I select fire hydrants from the blurred photos on my screen. Tick, tick, tick.

I couldn’t have found all of them, because another page, with traffic lights, appears. I do my best. Click on next.

Wrong. Now it’s flyovers. One of them looks half-finished, abandoned.

Or maybe that wasn’t a flyover, because a new on-screen message is telling me I’ve failed to confirm my humanity, am locked out. Is another job search newsletter really what I need? I decide no. All it does is raise my anxiety – or go straight to spam.

I turn the screen black, put on my jacket, gardening gloves. The smell of last night’s rain is in the air, sweet after the artificial heat of the kitchen.

Eight weeks isolation or is it nine. I’ve stopped counting. Some days I forget to check in on the app – have you had a COVID19 test? No. Yes, I am feeling perfectly normal, if this is what the new normal is.

Yesterday the news was full of a man found dead in his home after many lifeless days. I try not to think of my phone, the empty record of calls made and received. Better to dig, though what I’ve got to plant…. I can’t bring myself to get rid of the dandelions, only flowers in the wrong location.

I’m heaving out great spades of dark when something makes me look up, behind the greenhouse, where the dead tree lies. Two eyes and the beauty of a face watching me.

It’s just the two of us, locked in, looking at each other. I am rooted, feel the earth under my boots in a way I’ve never known before. I’m not even blinking, but my heart is quickening, mouth turned dry.

The fox yawns, rises, padding off through the broken fence into the overgrown no man’s land.

My steps are soft, steady, until I reach the pile of leaves, stretch out my hand. Then I’m on my knees, a sigh escaping as I place my cheek, a perfect fit, into the still-warm hollow.

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Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
2 years ago

This story is subtle, powerful, and haunting. “Two eyes and the beauty of a face watching me.” This sentence makes us forget about computers, job searches and all the bad news of the outer world. The communion between the two creatures, “locked in, looking at each other” speaks of an elemental connectedness. The last sentence is particularly moving and stayed in my mind long after I read the story. Excellent writing!

Susan Dawson
Susan Dawson(@susan-dawson)
2 years ago

A tender ending, and I do love the humour of the beginning. They ask you to click on cars and then they put vans in that look like cars, or blocks of flats that look like shops. You tick 3 of the silly things and it turns out they wanted 4. Or those that want traffic signs that stretch over 4 rectangles. Do you click on the post that holds them up as well? I am just a bit north of Tyne and Wear, by the way!

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musing mind
musing mind(@musing-mind)
2 years ago

Very relatable story. Loved reading.

Katy Bizi
Katy Bizi(@katy-bizi)
2 years ago

“Yes, I am feeling perfectly normal, if this is what the new normal is.” This sentence hit me hard. In fact, the whole story did. During these difficult times, we need something to hold on to, something to give us courage. The bittersweet beauty of the story is just what all us of need.

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Sandra James
Sandra James(@sandra-james)
2 years ago

A beautiful story, Fiona, and I’m not surprised it received the Grand Prize. First the mundane ‘new normal’, then a magical, special moment that eclipses everything. I have had foxes slaughter my chickens and ducks but have also been blessed with similar eye-locking moments giving me enormous respect for these beautiful, though sometimes annoying, creatures. I enjoyed it very much 🙂

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Susan Giles
Susan Giles(@susan-giles)
2 years ago

This story has so much to which we can all relate! I especially liked the transition from tech-centered to the natural world. The best panacea for a bad time.

Christer Norrlof
Christer Norrlof(@christer-norrlof)
2 years ago

Your opening Is incredible, Fiona! There is first the feeling of confusion, “What it this all about?” and then the recognition of the well-known, non-human experience, which is summed up in a wonderful way: ‘I have failed to confirm my humanity”.
The alienating feeling of the computer experience works well with the isolated situation and the story about the dead man, all of it then contrasted in the surprise meeting with Real Life – the fox, “the beauty of a face” – and its warm home. It is very touching and real!

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Eric Radcliffe
Eric Radcliffe(@eric-radcliffe)
2 years ago

I understand in your story how freedom can be found from society’s constant pursuit for information about us. You can not log in on any site until you agree to this or that passwords, till your mind deliberately says enough – and then forgets them. I love the way that you point out, that just getting out in the garden can connect us, often in a way so simple, that it becomes amazing. Thank you for the insight told in your story, Fiona.

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Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
1 year ago

Congratulations on your grand prize win, Fiona. Your story is great and powerful. Excellent.

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
Reply to  Fiona Ritchie Walker
1 year ago

Thank you, keep safe always.

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