A few years ago, I wrote a short story I titled The Fox. It is about a young woman who is struggling to recover from the death of her husband. She works a mind-numbing job and comes home each night to an empty house. One hot summer evening, a fox wanders into her yard. The fox appears to be sick, or have mange or maybe even rabies. The woman is alarmed and calls the local police, which, in her small town, consists of a part-time constable. The story goes from there as the fox returns again and again, each evening at dusk and the woman bonds with the sick fox; she, in a sense, falls in love with the fox. I wrote the story and shared it with a few of my writing friends but never sent it out. The market for fiction has dwindled considerably in recent years and I’m so busy, well, enough to say the story sat in my computer.
Over the winter, I had a chance encounter with a young man with the fulsome name of Joshua Bodwell, which sounded to me like a character out of Melville or Wharton. I had gotten to know Josh when I was the fiction editor of this magazine. A good writer, he was interesting to me at the time because he was young and he operated a wonderful letterpress shop, putting out small editions of poems and stories to an even smaller public. An idealist, to be sure, a rare breed in these increasingly mainstream times. Now he is an editor at a Maine magazine and just as idealistic and energetic as he was back then. But, older now, with a family, he has to keep the money coming in. So he has this job editing a fine glossy magazine and when he’s not doing that, he writes fiction and free lance articles for literary magazines. He sent me some of his stories, which I found to be very moving. I made some suggestions which he said he found helpful but the stories were strong and really did not need my guidance.
Getting to know each other again, he asked if I had written any fiction lately. The last piece I had written was The Fox so I told him about that and he asked if he could read it. I was thrilled to search it out of my computer and, as used to be literally true in the old days, dust it off. I sent it to him and he responded with praise as well as the offer to fine-tune it, give it a good line-for-line reading. Too good to pass up. He not only has his day job and his family to keep him busy but he was about to go off to London to do a teaching stint. My head was spinning as he told me all about his schedule. Even when I was his age, my life never held so much. So off he went to London with The Fox in his briefcase (more likely a backpack) and the promise to me that, while there, or perhaps while on the flight going over, he would work on it. Sure enough, when he returned he mailed me the story, which I received yesterday. (It was further uplifting to receive the manuscript in the mail, printed on paper, marked with ink and in his own handwriting. In case you are not aware of this, most work of this kind is now done online, excluding anything personal, which this work is, intrinsically.) He included some wise suggestions as well as some very warm and enthusiastic comments. This kind of attention gives a writer a boost that people in few other professions can appreciate. It is not only a great service, to read and comment on another’s work, it is a generous measure of faith. Like a good jar of jam, a story can stay for years on the shelf, somewhat inert, but once you open it and share it, it comes to life, feeds and nourishes.
I was scheduled to do a reading that night in Merrimack and had opened Josh’s letter and read through The Fox manuscript and Josh’s comments just as I was leaving for the evening. I drove over to Merrimack in a warm mood. Compounding that, the people who attended the reading left me feeling lighthearted and happy so my ride home, under a big moon scudded with clouds, was easy, almost euphoric.
It was late by the time I neared home and I was ready for bed. Things happen in an instant sometimes, so we have to recreate what actually happened in retrospect. What I saw was a fox in my headlights, no time to swerve or even hit the brakes as he was right under my wheels or so I thought. But there wasn’t a sound or a sensation. The fox had apparently, somehow, avoided my speeding car, passing under it or behind it, I have no idea, but somehow I managed to avoid hitting him. Since I didn’t hit him, my sighting of him seemed almost like an apparition in the bright light of the full moon. I stitched all of this together as I continued on toward home. And then I remembered the story of the fox, which had come to me in the mail that day from Josh, with his careful, thoughtful comments. And I thought of all that had led up to that. The fox was saved. That’s all I could think of.
To read the story, The Fox, go to Edie’s website, www.edieclark.com.