It was a stormy day the first time I saw her, smiling face, looking out the window, daydreaming until she saw me.
But first, let me introduce myself. I’m a fox. But, I’m not an ordinary fox, every generation, a storyteller fox is born. It doesn’t follow a pattern or a family line, and it can happen to any vixen and dog. My parents had only ever heard about the storyteller fox, so when I spoke human at the age of three months, they were taken entirely by surprise.
My cub yelps changed to words and sentences. I chatted so much mum had to sit on me to keep me quiet. Then, dad started bringing books home from his nightly food-gathering travels. I read everything, from pocket dictionaries to travel guides, human history, and stories. And the books had the added bonus of keeping me quiet, to my mum’s delight.
Far too soon thought it was time for me to leave the den. But before I did, mum and dad warned me to stay away from people. Never get too close. They don’t see you the way you see them, mum emphasised. Of course, I listened, but I didn’t believe it. How could humans who had written so many beautiful stories and created such extraordinary things be the people my parents spoke about?
I travelled far and wide, encountering many people as I went. And sadly, I discovered my parents’ warning to be true. I was chased and shouted at. Some people even threw things at me. On one occasion, a rock caught the back of my leg, and it ached for days.
All they could see was a wild animal. On many occasions, I tried to speak and reassure them that I would not harm them, but no one wanted to listen. I had almost lost hope of connecting with anyone until that stormy day.
I was saturated when Jane saw me from her kitchen window and smiled. It was early winter, and the stormy weather had been blasting the country week after week. Luckily my den was on high ground and avoided flooding. But, food was slim pickings. I had to leave the shelter of my home earlier every day and scavenge what I could.
I must have looked a sight as I paused and looked straight at Jane. She waved, put up one finger, and mouthed for me to wait. A few seconds later, she was standing at the back door with the leftovers of a small cooked chicken. Stepping into the yard, she placed it on the ground and backed away.
I was ravenous. I raced over and devoured it quickly.
‘Thank you,’ I had gotten the words out of my mouth when I realised she was looking at me strangely.
‘Can you understand me?’
‘It seems so,’ she replied.
And so my special friendship with Jane began.
That evening she invited me into her house, and we sat for hours talking and talking. Never once did she ask me how I, a fox, could speak?
I discovered she and her husband had moved into the two-bedroomed terraced house over thirty years ago. Last year he passed away, they had known for months, but nothing prepared her for the loneliness.
After that night, I became a regular visitor.
During one of our many evenings together, Jane gave me the name Gertrude, after the author Gertrude Stein. Jane was making tea and quoting lines from one of Stein’s poetry books.
‘A rose is a rose is a rose. If she had met you, I’m sure that is what she would have said to you.’
I didn’t understand.
‘You are what you are, my dear. You are what you are. From now on, you can be my Gertrude.’
And so it stuck. I became Gertrude.
I loved our chats and tea. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months, but never once did I see another human visit the house. Jane was alone, but since I arrived, apart from the first night, she never mentioned loneliness again.
We spoke about books, and she complimented my dad on the ones he had chosen. I believed he chanced on what was available. But I did agree he had indeed made an excellent selection, even if it was by accident.
I borrowed books from her collection and read furiously. Jane always made dinner for the two of us, so I had plenty of time for reading. She introduced me to Joyce. Though I must say, Ulysses did take a few reads to get my head around. The philosophy of the Greeks, the horror of War with Anne Frank. I wondered how people could be so cruel to each other?
Then one day, spring arrived, and Jane’s garden began showing signs of life as it woke up from its winter sleep.
I arrived earlier than usual to find Jane standing in the centre of the garden. Where Jane stood seemed empty by comparison to the rest.
‘Hello, Gertrude, you’re a little early.’
‘I am. I thought it was such a wonderful day. I’d come to visit sooner.’
As I spoke, Jane turned. Up close, I could see light tearstains on her face.
‘Why are you sad, my friend?’
‘He never got to finish,’ she sighed.
Jane explained they had picked everything in the garden together, but when it came to the spot she was standing in, she had asked her husband to surprise her. Because it is in front of the kitchen window, she would see whatever was there every time she looked out. Ironically it was the exact spot I had been standing the evening she smiled at me.
But then he got sick, and it wasn’t important, that is until he was gone. Jane missed him so much it hurt to breathe.
Standing still, tears rolling down her cheeks. I sat beside her, wrapping my bushy tail around her ankles.
‘I’ll be fine, Gertrude, don’t worry, I’ll be fine, you know, whenever you get there, there is no there there.’
‘A Stein quote?’
She nodded and rubbed my ear.
Then it suddenly occurred to me what I could do for Jane.
Looking up, I asked, ‘what would you want here?’
‘I’m not sure. No, that’s not entirely true. I’ve always wanted a pear tree, I love making pear pies, and I’ve always wanted to make one with my own, home-grown pears.’
‘Perfect, I will get you a pear tree.’
Now, I just had to figure out how to get a pear tree and, secondly, how to plant the pear tree in the garden. I wasn’t sure what a pear tree looked like, but I would learn.
The following week, after my daily visits with Jane, I travelled as far as I could each night on my search but unfortunately, each evening, nothing! I did find pears. But, I realised that I couldn’t just eat the pear, take the seeds, plant them, and they would quickly grow into a tree. And, I also wanted Jane to have the best pear tree.
Continuing my search the following week, I moved further away from home. When, in the middle of rambling woodland, at least two hours away, I spotted a large established pear tree, definitely where I didn’t expect it to be. It stood in the middle of the woods, surrounded by Oak and Sycamore trees, and was overflowing with pears. Which was strange because it was still early spring. I made my way to the tree, scrambling to the lower branches, picked one of the pears and took a large bite.
Well, it was so sweet and juicy. After eating, I became strangely sleepy and curled up for the night. I always returned to my den, but not tonight. I felt safe in the branches of the pear tree. I knew then I had found the perfect tree.
That night I slept so soundly. Sunrise woke me early the following morning, and I quickly realised just how big the pear tree was. Bringing it to Jane’s garden seemed out of the question. But before I could think another thought, there was a voice right next to me.
Sitting on the very branch, I had slept on so peacefully for the night was a tiny human.
‘You can speak?’ he looked at me curiously.
Yes, was I talking out loud?
‘No, I can hear your thoughts. I’m a Tree Gardener, and you have stumbled across my pear tree. I don’t know how, but I do know why.’
Do you know Jane?
‘No, I listened to your dreams as you slept so soundly last night. In a world where we can be kind, we must be kind, and you have not always experienced kindness until you met Jane. So yes, my dear foxy friend, I want to help you.’
‘But how can you help me?’
‘Take these,’ the Tree Gardner opened his hand. You see, this pear tree is exceptional. He explained he grew it from tiny seeds a long time ago, from the same seeds he held in his hand. It is, in fact, the first-ever Pear tree.
I was overjoyed. Wasting no time, I hurried back to Jane’s garden with the seeds safely stowed away in my tail. It was early, and she was sure to be in bed.
I wanted to surprise her. The Tree Gardner assured me that a tree would grow and produce pears as soon as the seeds went into the soil.
Digging a small hole, I popped in the seeds and lightly covered them; instantly, there was a shoot. It was magic. In a matter of minutes, the tree was full size and the first pear popped onto the branches.
Not long after, I could hear Jane walking around the house and opening the kitchen curtains. Looking out, she smiled the biggest smile right at me, and my heart filled with joy.
Later that day, as we sat down for tea and a slice of pear pie, the sun shone high in the sky, Jane was smiling, and the world was perfect.