The Visiting Scholar
A lot of people had reported seeing the fox downtown.
One lady swore it had trotted right past her on the sidewalk
with a green tennis ball in its mouth. The detail of the
tennis ball seemed to really annoy her. Someone else saw it
napping beside the flagpole outside the courthouse. Cars
screeched to a halt to let it cross the street. It was seen
standing in the doorways of restaurants. A lady claimed it
stood up and peeked into her baby carriage, and her baby tried
to touch it. Reports of its size and exact color varied a
great deal, but everyone agreed that there was a fox among us.
The newspaper offered a prize of five hundred dollars for the
best photo of him, so I started hanging around town with my
camera on the ready. I noticed a lot of people were carrying
their cameras, and looking up and down the streets nervously.
I saw the fox walk right through a whole crowd of these people,
and no one even noticed. I was so fascinated by this, I forgot
to take a picture. “Have you seen the fox today,” one of them
asked me. “What fox?” I said. It seemed as though the more
public he went the more he blended in. I saw him once wearing
a pink feather boa, of which he seemed inordinately proud. And,
another time, he was carrying a take-out carton of Chinese food
in his mouth. The paper never did run a photo of him, and people
stopped carrying their cameras. I never went to town without
seeing him. Why me? I don’t know, except that I thought about
little else. I saw him once in a straw hat and sunglasses, sitting
right outside the entrance to the bank. Customers came and went,
some nodding at one another, and even one nodding at him. The fox
nodded back in a gentlemanly way. And, then, one day I, too,
stopped seeing him. I knew he was still there. I sensed him
everywhere, but he was no longer visible. He had so thoroughly
infiltrated our ranks. More than once, when I found myself talking
to a stranger, I found myself studying their eyes, amused at my
own flights of imagination. And, when they speak, I check their
teeth. Then, one day, long after I had given up hope of ever seeing
him again, I spotted the fox in the alley beside the ice-cream shop.
I was with my friend Mitzi, and I pointed to him and told her to
look. He was mangy and thin, looked as if he was nearly starved
to death. “It’s a huge rat!” she said. “No, it’s the fox. Don’t
you remember him?” I said. “It’s dangerous, it could kill us,”
she said. “It’s sick,” I said, “it’s dying.” The fox was crouching
and making a barely audible guttural sound. I started walking
toward it. “Don’t, Neil. It will bite you,” Mitzi said. I held
out my hand toward it. “Neil!” Mitzi shouted again. “It’s a
giant rat, and you will catch the plague.” I put my hand on its
head. Before my own eyes, it began to shrink, and then it disappeared
until I held only a few red hairs in my hand. “What was that?”
Mitzi said. “I guess he went home,” I said. “Is that far from
here?” she said. “No,” I said, “I think he lives in that apartment
above the funeral home. I think he’s writing a book.”


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