by Marcus Speh
It had stopped raining. I saw a fox in the garden hide something. From where I stood it looked like a shoe with a foot still in it. I thought perhaps the fox wanted to hide the foot for his brood and he wanted it to rot a little because, who knows, perhaps foxes like their meat somewhat rotten. Or perhaps he liked the shoe and wished to wear it but being a fox he had four paws and needed four shoes and he only found one. And while he waited for more chewed off feet in shoes, he had better hide the one he’d already gotten, because a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, you know. While I was having these dark thoughts, a butterfly settled on the tree, a butterfly with green wings large as the ears of a small elephant. It was slowly swaying in the evening breeze and it dampened some of that darkness on my mind. When the fox was gone, I went out and dug up the hole. How silly I’d been! It was nothing but an apple or some round, solid vegetable matter. I couldn’t quite identify it yet because it was covered with black soil, wet from heavy rains. I wrapped it in a cloth and took it with me to the house. It was quite large and heavier than I’d thought. I put it in a pail and poured water over it to get it clean. It wasn’t easy, but I succeeded. And then I recognized that it wasn’t an apple at all, or a vegetable, or a root. It was the head of a child or a small person with its eyes closed and with short curly hair. I realized that the butterfly was probably an evil fairy or a nasty demon that made things appear and disappear at will to drive you crazy. I decided that I must have been hallucinating and I wrapped the round thing again, put it back in the hole under the tree and covered it as well as I could. I didn’t really have any tools and when I was finished, I was breathing hard and my hands were all covered with black earth. It looked as if I’d never get rid of it, like ever. It began to rain again.
(Excerpts from the flash novel “Gizella” can be read online at Red Lemonade.)
Background: I spent all summer writing a novel whose protagonist is Gizella of Hungary, a ten year old princess who lived around the year 1000 in Europe. The novel turned into a novella of flash pieces & this is one of the fragments, narrated by Gizella. This story was prompted by the accompanying drawing which was made by my daughter (who’s also ten). When I wrote it, we were both sitting on the terrace of our weekend house, which is located in a nature reserve outside Berlin; there’s an astounding amount of wild life around, which informs anything I write out there. The imagery and symbolism here is is used in many of the Gizella stories—there are butterfly demons to be reckoned with, foxes who bury heads, and the rain washes away nightmare. The boundary between life and dream isn’t all that firm and clear as we’d like it to be. The narrator is a very brave girl with an extraordinary fate and a story-teller’s imagination. It’s quite possible that the whole thing never happened as she tells it here. Then again, perhaps it’s all true down to the last raindrop. As a writer, I like ambiguity, I like digging something up and being surprised by it, and I’ll keep digging until I die; as a father, I stand in awe of the slow awakening that is growing up; as a man, I both love and fear the forest and the wild, and I never look at a creature without wondering if it isn’t enchanted.