Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox
by Theodora Goss

When I first fell in love with Mr. Fox, he warned me:
You can’t trust me, my dear.
Just when you think I am there,
I am gone, I am nowhere.
Look, I’m wearing a mask. Who does that? Thieves.
By the time the autumn leaves have fallen,
you will mourn my absence.

And yet, I couldn’t help it. After all,
he was wearing such a dashing red coat,
like a soldier. He had such a twinkle in his eye.
He danced so nimbly, holding my hands
in paws on which he wore black kid gloves.
His tail ended in a white tuft.
I knew about the others, of course — or at least
I’d heard rumors. I knew he was no innocent.
I knew about the one who had drowned
herself in a river, her muslin gown floating
around her. I knew about the one who had locked
herself away in a convent.

How does one fall out of love with a thief
who has already stolen one’s heart?
But I was cautious: I went to his castle in the woods.
Be bold, said the sign above the gate. Be bold.
But not too bold. I have never been good
at listening to advice, or taking it.
I was too bold, as usual.

What did I find? First, a pleasant parlor,
with blue silk curtains and rosewood furniture,
perfectly charming. Then, a library
filled with books, from Shakespeare to W.B. Yeats.
A kitchen with no implements more dangerous
than a paring knife, beside a barrel of apples
waiting to be turned into cider.
Bathrooms with modern plumbing, a dining room
that contained a mahogany table large enough
for banquets, but seldom used, judging
by the dust. Where was his secret chamber?
There must be one. On top of a desk in his study,
I’d seen a photograph of the girl who drowned,
beside a vase of lilies, like a memorial.

And there it was, at the end of a carpeted hallway.
I knew what it must lead to, that small door.
It was locked, of course, but I took out my lockpick tools
(if he was a thief, I was another).
It opened easily.

There was no blood on the floor. There were
no dead, dismembered wives hanging from hooks.
Instead, the walls were covered with masks:
fox, badger, mole, boar, weasel,
otter, squirrel, even one that resembled a tree.
All the masks he had worn, presumably.
And on one wall, opposite the window,
which badly needed washing, was a portrait
of an ordinary man with sandy hair
and tired eyes.

I locked the room behind me. At our wedding,
he said, “Are you sure, my dear?” with a toothy grin
that seemed wicked, but was, I thought, a little anxious.
“To marry the dangerous Mr. Fox?” I asked.
“Who knows, you might gobble me up,
but I’ll take my chances.” He seemed satisfied,
and swung me into a waltz. There’s a moral to this story:
ladies, have your own set of lockpick tools. Also,
be bold and wise and cunning,
like a fox.

(The image is Fox and Crescent Moon by Kobayashi Kiyochika.)

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