Friends!! So glad to be here! I was driving all day yesterday and today, so forgive me for being quiet. Love you all! Loving the materials, Dominique! xoxo

The Mange

The story I’m going to tell you is unbelievable.

Many years ago, when I was still married, I fell in love. When confronted, I hid my lover inside the body of a fox. And that is how I came to be in love with a fox. It ended badly, as we both should have predicted, and I didn’t see him for a while after that. Also predictable.

That part is true. But you can read that story elsewhere. I’m not the first woman to fall in love with a fox and I won’t be the last.

But this is where it gets unbelievable. When that story ended, as all stories with wild things must, all the foxes disappeared. Not just for a little while. And not just him, but all the foxes. Gone.

The coyotes were quick to move in, all machismo and jock with their gray playboy eyes. I entertained them briefly as they howled for me each sunset, secretly hoping the foxes would hear and be driven back with jealousy. But eventually after the initial conquest the coyotes found more interesting prey and we both moved on.

It’s the mange people said when I asked them where all the foxes had gone. The mange came through here a few years ago and wiped them all out.

But I knew it wasn’t the mange.

I didn’t see any foxes for a year, then two. I began to doubt if I should have written about things so wild and delicate. Bad enough to upset the balance by loving a wild thing, but then to expose it in words, and then to cast those words out in the world, was a much graver magic. A dangerous magic that I was far too young and immature to know how to handle.

In my defense I was young, and careless, and should never have been allowed access to anyone’s heart. Collecting foxtails like beautiful charms on a bracelet.  But the spell was already cast. The mother bird rejects her baby after it’s been wiped with a human scent. The foxes were gone. I said my penance for the unholy union, the incest of my ego, and in the years that followed I resisted walking the roads by the old fox dens. People continued to send me pictures of fox sightings in faraway places. But I made a mental note to never visit those places.

That part is all true. But here’s the unbelievable part:

I started a new story. I was determined this story would have nothing to do with foxes or coyotes or even love. In this story the people were ridiculous and tragic and poignant and unbelievable things happened and it was sad and funny and funnysad and they had tragic or poignant or even absurd outcomes.

One year ago I finished that story. And then one year ago, it, too, began to come true. Not just little parts. The whole thing. With slight poetic variations, barely disguised. Each day I tried to write myself ahead of the story, but I was quickly overtaken. The more ridiculous the people became, the further the edge receded until there was no edge. And with each passing day, that which had been outlandish was no longer outlandish, that which had been metaphor was now truth, and I watched the edge disappear like a baby slowly being crushed, like a ridiculous auto de fe, and that slow burn was perhaps the worst of all.

At this point I must tell you something else unbelievable if any of this is going to make any sense. Once, long ago, I was in a terrible accident, the kind that ends lives. But my life didn’t end. In those moments of impact, mere seconds as I lifted out of my body, I was given a choice: Stay or go? Stay. Yes. I made the deal. A deal that would allow me to return. Judge me if you like. But I was young and stupid and happy to be alive and for many years I wasn’t exactly what I had agreed to.

By now it should be clear what kind of deal had transpired in those moments before impact. They say Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo in return for sexual favors, but when she didn’t come through with the favors he cursed the gift—she could see the future, but was unable to change it. And now, too, it seemed, no matter what I wrote. Not matter how ridiculous or tragic or poignant. I even stopped writing the story, but the events were already in motion. Out of my hands. The act of burning had only activated it further, cast into the blowing wind.

So here’s the unbelievable part. Last week a coyote arrived, the first one I’ve seen in many years. He was wandering almost delusional through the apartment complex, barbed wire around his neck, a red gash blooming like a scarf through his fur. With those gray eyes of eternity I remembered. Begging me to change the ending.

14 Comments

  1. Nancy Stohlman

    Whoops: noticed one of many typos, but this one is important:
    But I was young and stupid and happy to be alive and for many years I wasn’t exactly SURE what I had agreed to.

  2. Dominique Christina

    Nancy!

    Thank you so much for this story. Before I forget, there are two films, “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Marianne” which is actually a limited series that I hope you’ll watch. Your story reminded me why I love both. In Marianne, a famous horror writer has to travel back to her place of origin because she has discovered that the spirit who plagued her dreams as a kid, who she also uses as the central figure for her horror stories, has been animated by the writing. In other words, the author has made the story true by the act of writing it down. And in Stranger Than Fiction, a much more whimsical story, an IRS auditor starts hearing a voice in his head and discovers that the voice he’s hearing is that of a famous author who is known for killing her protagonists in her books. The IRS auditor is this author’s ill-fated protagonist. As she writes, he actualizes. Your story is doing something similar and just as seismic. You are naming things and they are animating. You begin things beautifully…magically. Hiding a lover in the body of a fox is just excellent magical realism. You normalize falling in love with foxes by assuring the reader that this is by no means the first time a person has fallen in love with a fox. That’s good strategy. And then the foxes disappear. The folks in town think its the mange but your protagonist is magical and therefore knows better. She feels responsible for the foxes disappearing. She recognizes that she is conjuring things. Deleting things. Evoking things. She is young and there is a lot of heft in her gift. She tries to be responsible. A car accident that almost took her life positions her to make a deal that will likely have unintended consequences but she is young and not ready to die. I think sometimes the best stories give us insight into moments where we are most human and fallible but also still supernatural and made of much. You gave us a lot here. Thank you so much for writing it.

  3. Meg Tuite

    NANCY WOW!!
    I LOVE the command your narrator has explaining what is believable and what is unbelievable!
    “The coyotes were quick to move in, all machismo and jock with their gray playboy eyes. I entertained them briefly as they howled for me each sunset, secretly hoping the foxes would hear and be driven back with jealousy. But eventually after the initial conquest the coyotes found more interesting prey and we both moved on.” I am with you every step of the way. I LOVE LOVE the macho coyotes and ‘we both moved on.’
    And the ending is killer with the coyote who begs her to change the ending!
    Absolutely brilliant! LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!
    HUGS< xxoo

  4. Rhyannon Brightwater

    This was brilliant! beautiful visuals and haunting language. I too loved the imagery of hiding the lover in the body of a fox. It made me wonder what kind of conjure magic your narrator possess that she can do that. It is a story that will stick to me like a very rich feast. I will want to sit back and let it settle. And I will likely dream of the fox-lover now!

  5. Karen Schauber

    “I tried to write myself ahead of the story” – I love this notion.of being overrun by the story, of being swallowed up, subsumed by it, maybe even conjured up by the story itself. And, the refrain ‘tease’ is sooo effective- “here’s the unbelievable part”, “what I’m about to tell you now is the unbelievable part”… And wow “barbed wire around his neck, a red gash blooming like a scarf through his fur. With those gray eyes of eternity I remembered. Begging me to change the ending.” A landing that sticks!

    • Nancy Stohlman

      Thank you–I wasn’t sure about the refrain so I’m glad you mentioned it! xo

  6. Chelsea Stickle

    I love the twists and turns in this. “When confronted, I hid my lover inside the body of a fox. And that is how I came to be in love with a fox. It ended badly, as we both should have predicted, and I didn’t see him for a while after that. Also predictable. That part is true. But you can read that story elsewhere. I’m not the first woman to fall in love with a fox and I won’t be the last.” I believe I read and loved that story (stories), and I love how simply and truthfully you put that here. The voice is strong and funny and resilient. It makes me lean in closer so I catch all the details.

    “In my defense I was young, and careless, and should never have been allowed access to anyone’s heart.” Oof. We’ve all been there. This one cuts like a knife. Or maybe a scalpel because it might lead to healing.

    I love the mange excuse and the Cassandra section and the ending. What a glorious ending with a perfect final sentence: “Begging me to change the ending.” Never change this ending.

  7. Trent

    Heya Nancy –

    I’m intrigued by the “I told people it was mange” and they keep up with the sightings –
    What if somebody misses one, and that place has some unintended echo –
    Sometimes people just can’t leave things alone, yeah? 😀

    • Nancy Stohlman

      So interesting that you read it that way! In my mind it was the other way around–they told HER it was the mange. BUT I do believe the stories are smarter than we are, so I’m intrigued by your reading of it that way. Thank you! xo

  8. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Nancy, Masterful story, and no surprise since it’s you. I love this. It is so packed with magic, each paragraph leads us deeper into it, and yet, it is true that coyotes push foxes from their territory. I love that you have incorporated that even as you transform it. Thank you, sending love your way.

Submit a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest