The Hunter returns from the forest to his home. It's been an unsuccessful day and he is tired, hungry and foot worn. But as he rounds the last bend and sees his house, all of his senses become alert again, like the act of hunting itself. A thin line of blue smoke curls from the chimney.
He should return to a cold, empty house. He should have to collect twigs, chop firewood before resting his weary carcass ... but there it is, smoke curling from the chimney, beckoning like a finger. In side the house he feels warm and something else. He smells meat cooking and the house feels inhabited. Someone has been here or someone is still here and that is a good feeling, this new feeling of being cared for.
Every day for a week it is the same. He returns on the dusk to a warm house with food awaiting him. He never sees her. He knows in his water it is a her. Like any hunter he uses all of his senses to divine the presence of another. On the seventh day he returns to the house earlier than usual.
She is at the fire place, tending a bubbling pot of what smells like hearty stew. She has her back to him and a wild, dream tangle of red hair spills down her spine. She, like all women, knows when she is being watched. She turns, the wooden spoon still in her hand and dripping at the feet. 'I will be the woman of the house now,' she says.
All the smitten Hunter can do is agree. They stand facing each other, appraising, reckoning, loving and longing. How long has she been watching me? thinks the Hunter as they fall into a bed of deer pelts. He thinks he may be dreaming into her hair, her soft skin, when she says, 'There is one condition.'
Of course he knows she is a Fox Woman and of course when she points to the fox pelt hanging inside the door and says 'This pelt shall always hang there, for as long as I am here,' he knows she is serious.
The honeymoon lasts six months, as all good honeymoons do. He brings home rabbits and deer and boar. She lights the fire and cooks for his return. At night they feast on each other's bodies, bringing each other home, again and again.
The pelt begins to smell, as all fox pelts do. It is a furtive, underground scent at first. The Fox Woman doesn't notice it. As the fox pelt's stench becomes more akin to a feral violence, the Hunter has to bring up the issue.
'I get it, I know you need your pelt dear ... and look, it's no reflection on you at all, but do you think we could put it outside, maybe even out in the forest. It will still be safe there.'
The Fox Wife stares at him and shakes her head. She puts his mistake down to inexperience and lets it go. But three months later and the fox pelt is smelling worse than ever. The smell gets into the Hunter's food, his hair, his mind. He is going mad with it and he toys with its destruction in his mind.
One night he is drinking by the fire. She sits in the easy chair beside him. Her obstinacy over the fox pelt strikes strikes him as a challenge to his authority. 'I told you!' he shouts. He slams his hand hard on the arm rest, right next to her hand. 'I told you, you stubborn woman. That pelt has to go. Get rid of it.'
Without a word, the Fox Woman takes her pelt down from where it hung, and leaves. She's not there the next day when the Hunter turns the corner to see his house where no blue smoke curls from the chimney. The man, tired from tumult, ached in his body, felt in his whole body the yearning for the Fox Woman's scent.
Image: The Fox Wife by Beatrice Deer, illustrated by DJ Herron. Translation by The Nunavut Bilingual Education Society