The Year of the Fox - chapter one

Into the Big Green

I’m Nancy –
mostly Nance, sometimes Nan, and when I’m unbearably endearing, Nancy Pants.

I'm not normally a contemplative person, but lately I've found
myself ruminating on fences. A lot. Here's what I know: from where I stand
(literally in front of my lounge window, metaphorically as an aggrieved
neighbour) a good fence is a necessary comfort. It imposes order on the
landscape. It offers a sense of protection. It separates.

My fence, or as I affectionately call it, The Line of Demarcation,
is not a thing of beauty. It is constructed of wooden posts, rammed into the
earth and joined by a series of wires. Simple, inelegant. And yet I have grown
to appreciate it. I love the way the wires stretch into the distance in each
direction, tapering off to a single point. I love their twang when my sheep rub
up against the posts. And I love the fact that it says, without any need for
verbalisation or habitual scent marking, Back
off. This is mine. That is yours



It was on a sticky mid-summer evening that I found
myself crossing three fence lines (only one of which belonged to me) and
courting a whole lot of over-the-fence trouble.

I had entered a patch of
thick bush, full of tree ferns and leafy kawakawa, and could hear the babble of
water running over rocks. I stepped through a screen of fern fronds to discover
a stream running through a glade. The water was clear and tumbled over
moss-covered rocks. It was so picturesque in the soft evening light that I
stood for several minutes drinking it in. A few metres downstream, the rocks
had formed a partial dam, creating a pool, and I, uncomfortable from the day's
dried sweat, felt that there was little choice but to accept the water's

I stepped out of my gumboots
and clothes, peeled off my damp socks, and stepped tentatively into the water.
It was gasp-inducingly cold, but boy was it good. I dived under and swam the
few strokes to the other side where the bank afforded a place to sit in the
water. I set to work scrubbing the day's grime off, giving particular attention
to the sourness of my armpits, then leaned back and closed my eyes, listening
to the water's chatter.

"Ah, can I help you?”
said a voice to my left.

"Fuck!” I replied and
turned to see a man standing over my clothes and holding the ends of a towel
draped around his neck. I covered my breasts with one arm and sat lower in the
water. "Sorry. God, you gave me a fright.”

"I gave you a fright? I come here every day
after I've finished work, on my farm, and I don't expect to find anyone
else.” The light was behind him, so he was hard to make out, but I could see he
was dressed in singlet, shorts and gumboots, and that the top did a perfect job
of showcasing his muscular arms. "You do know you're trespassing?”

"Yep. Sorry.” The
sibilance was lost among the din of cicada calls enveloping the clearing, so
that it came out "orry”.

He released his towel and
shifted his hands to his hips.

Despite the cool of the
water, heat pooled in my cheeks and my words tumbled out in a heap. "It's
just I've been working on my land over a week now and I've never seen anybody
around. Your existence hasn't really registered, sorry. And, ah, I've been
taking some liberties exploring your farm in the evenings. That's how I found
this place.”

"Have you now?” He took
a step forward.

"I'm building a house on
that block of land next door to you” – I waved an arm in the general direction
– "and I can't decide where the best place to put it is.”

"Uh-huh.” Another step.

My voice rose in pitch to
match that of the sex-hungry cicadas. "So, I've been trying to get a sense
of the lie of the land, you know, review all the different prospects, which
requires doing some…reconnaissance on neighbouring hills.”

"Right.” He paused.
"How's the prospect from my stream?”

I offered him my best smile.
The one that turns my crow's feet into attractive laughter lines. "Gosh,
it's gorgeous here.” I made a point of looking around me. "You're very
lucky to have this.” I sank further under the water. "On your property.”

The farmer stepped out of the
shadow of the trees. He was somewhere in his thirties, with dark hair and
darker eyes under a deep frown.

"Have you met Saffron
yet?” the mouth under the frown said.


"Local eel. Has a name
for making herself known by latching onto tender, dangly bits. I haven't swum
naked in here since she nearly circumcised me when I was seven.”

I sat upright. "Oh my

"She's much bigger now –
prefers larger meat, calves mostly, the odd forearm.”

I started edging my way back
to the other side of the stream, searching the water for a long black shape.

"Doesn't hurt much, but
once she clamps on you've got to allow her to let go in her own good time. Pull
her off and her backwards-facing teeth'll tear the flesh.”

Something brushed my leg.
"Ngaaaaaarrrrrrr,” I shrieked, leaping to my feet to demurely scrabble,
arse out, up the bank. I stood panting, facing The Frown's hastily turned back,
and as my panicked brain jumped from Eel!
to Where are my clothes?, my focus
shifted to the back of his head. It was turned slightly, the cheek rounded in a
smile. I pivoted towards the water and peered into its depths. Nothing. Not a
ripple, not a shadow. "Oh, ha bloody ha, good joke.” I put a hand to my chest
in a futile effort to calm my heart.

The head tilted down and
chuckled into its gumboots.

"Yeah, alright.” I took
a deep breath and said more gently, "Could you at least pass my clothes?
The sooner I'm dressed, the sooner I'm gone.”

I was delicately handed my
undies between two fingers.

I stepped into them and tried
to pull them over my wet thighs, but only succeeded in rolling them into a
tight band. With a grunt, I forced them to crotch level and attempted to peel
them over my damp buttocks. When I finally succeeded in separating fabric from
skin, I lifted my head and got a face full of sweat-laced sports bra. I jerked
my head backwards and snatched it from his fingers. Offering an ungracious
"cheers”, I worked to turn it through the right way. 

Now, the problem with sports
bras is that because they’re designed to hold all the soft parts in place so
that they don't so much as jiggle, such bras are rather tight. I managed to get
the thick elastic at the bottom of the bra as far as my armpits, and there,
thanks to the firmness of the fabric and the clamminess of my skin, it refused
to move. "Fuck,” I muttered under my breath. I couldn't get my arms into a
position to effectively pull it down. I moved my arms uselessly from front to
back then gave up, leaving them propped up like antennae and my face buried in
boob-binding polyester.

I turned to face the stream.
"Uh…could you just…?”

A snort and the bottom of my
bra was yanked down.

"Thanks.” I swung back
around and was presented with my t-shirt and shorts. "Forget it. I'm sure
you've seen a woman in her underwear before.” I grabbed the clothes from his
outstretched hand, marched around him and stepped into my gumboots. I walked on
without looking back. "Enjoy your swim. Neighbour.”

"Thank you, I most
certainly will.”


Trudging back across the paddocks to my property, I
sunk into an ever-darkening mood. Being humiliated at the hands of a male made
me think of Derek. I didn't like to think of Derek, but I was finding him
increasingly hard to exorcise from my head. He was the reason I was here, after

Six months ago, Derek dropped
the “met someone else” bomb and just to make sure I was really down and
bleeding, strafed my forty-year-old pride by implying she was much younger.
There was only one course of action: retreat to the happy place of my childhood
summers and nurse the pulpy mess of the Derek-shaped hole in my chest. That
place was Pukeroa, a two-horse town nestled in the foothills of the Southern
Alps. It was also the home of Margot, the mother I sometimes wish I'd had. When
I’d arrived, she drew me to her ample bosom and offered a double gin and tonic
when I came up for air. I asked for a triple.

It was in the window of the
Pukeroa General Store that I saw the advertisement for the land. Three hectares
of rolling, retired farmland with a magnificent view of the mountains for a
price I really needed to negotiate, but didn't have the energy to. A few months
later, with paltry change from the exchange of inner-city villa for lifestyle
block, but still riding the high of resignation from a job I found little
satisfaction in, I rolled back into town determined to forge a new life. One
that was fulfilling and gave me purpose and on no account featured men of the
falling-in-love-with variety. However, it wasn't long before I realised Derek
had hitched a ride and shedding him would be a herculean task.


When I negotiated the third fence, the one that did
belong to me, I headed for my car and the phone that was nestled in the front
console. I rang my oldest and closest friend, Hanita, and relayed the stream
encounter with as much indignation as I could muster in the energy-sapping

"I've named him The
Frown. With capitals.”

"Farmer Frown.”

"Weak,” I said, laughing
despite myself.

"But look, Nance, to be
fair you actually were trespassing, and he might have had a very good reason to
scare you off. Like, a large and lucrative plot of marijuana, or he might be
the leader of some over-sexed religious cult. He was probably keen to get you
out of the water so he could view your potential as one of his wives.”

"No, I think I'm safe
there. Hemp sandals may have been a giveaway, but he looked pretty plain Old
McDonald in his gumboots.”

"Was he hot? Or was he
one of those crusty types that look like they're about to keel over from skin
cancer at any moment?”

"No, he displayed a fine
representation of all the major muscle groups. But that doesn't make him less
of a dick!”

"It definitely makes him
less of a dick. He could have just told you to 'fuck off', but instead he
thought of an ingenious way to get you out of the water that would also
entertain me. I like him.”