The first time you read Fantastic Mr. Fox, you’re sitting alone on an acquaintance’s couch in southern France. The gray March sky clenches your shoulder as you turn the pages. Lace up your running shoes; collapse back into the chair. The raw part of your stomach reaches up towards your lungs, your heart, your throat. Put down the book. Unlatch the door and step outside. Mist on skin; scent of mud in the fields. The second-to-last words your husband said on Skype last night grate against your brain: “It was a joke.” The same way he will someday say, “I was kidding,” after he says “You’re a bitch.”
Run down a lane outside the village. White birds lift off the sodden field. Ahead, a lorry rumbles, whines. With each footstep, the dead place inside throbs. You feel the old asthmatic pull of tissue in your throat. At the end of the road, turn right. Bare olive trees. Soggy crocus. The last words he said over Skype last night: “Well, I better go. I’m making dinner for Christa and she’s bringing brownies.”
At the bridge that smells like the crayfish creek by your childhood Ohio church, you turn around. Dare the motorists to hit you. Rain falls harder, splashing on your eyelids down your nose, soaking your shirtsleeves. Run in slow motion up a hill that feels like purification and mercy. At the village, keep going because your host said a holy place was at the top of the next hill. Mud splashes up your calves in reverse tears. Run down, spent.
At the market later, hold the camera while your friends twirl under medieval French arches in the rain. At least be useful if you can’t be happy. At least choke down the chocolate gateau and red polka-dot cup of tea. The churning mass inside: is it death, or a terrible rebirth? Before you catch the train to Paris, walk back up the hill in the woods, looking for an answer. Wet skirt, boots, eyes. Your friends are sad to leave their friends and happy to go to Paris, so quarantine yourself. No one likes a woman who has seen the end.
At the end of Fantastic Mr. Fox, farmers have bulldozed the hill where the animals live and are waiting with shotguns for the starving fox family to emerge. Meanwhile, Mr. Fox found a backdoor to the farmer’s chicken coop and pantry and hosts elaborate dinners with all his underground neighbors. A wartime feast is still a feast.
So board the train and find your seat. Write instead of cry. When the train pulls up in Paris, you feel your body unknot itself, like a dark yawn and clench has released. You haven’t learned about non-attachment yet, but this is the first lesson. At the hotel, call your husband with your flight information as if nothing is wrong. Then walk out in the rain towards Montmartre, laughing. Is the world over? you might ask. Not yet.
Katie Karnehm-Esh, originally from Ohio, studied creative writing at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She now teaches writing and English at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. Her work has been published in Barren Magazine, Fourth Genre, Topology, The Cresset, The Other Journal, and Whale Road Review, and she regularly writes a blog for Annesley Writers Forum. She irregularly blogs at 10pmblog.wordpress.com, and you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.