Those around me blew smoke rings from their cigarettes and commented on her tawny complexion. A Japanese scholar said her skin was the shade of a lightly toasted rice cake, an English professor said European women with apricot hair were known to be dangerous, and those that overheard this laughed. I stayed passive and silent knowing little about art and not wishing to encourage their clever remarks.
Bored of their conversation, I moved to a corner of the room, where a middle-aged woman was huddled with a younger female companion. Their eyes glued to the figure of Madam Monet on the wall while the middle-aged one whispered in the younger one's ear. Her more loudly declared, “Fox spirit!” caught my attention.
“How so?” I asked.
She looked at me with disdain, “I know a fox spirit when I see one!”
“Fox spirits are cruel, very cunning,” She insisted to the girl, “They can change themselves into wicked, beautiful women.”
“So because this woman's beautiful, she's wicked?” I interrupted again, “A-what-did-you-call-her, a fox spirit?”
The middle-aged woman glared, her cheeks flushing red with indignant anger and turned on her heel, dragging her young pupil with her.
*My thoughts return to this strange exchange for I think I've now met a fox spirit. A woman capable of luring men into scandalous affairs and persuading women to try promiscuity. A woman who could be vulnerable and manipulative. A woman lost, who had embraced what she was and didn't want to find another way. A woman who didn't want the fox exorcised from her spirit.
I was introduced to her first in a dream where I came across her wandering alone in a deep, dark forest. She had only a red silk negligée on and her loose apricot hair framed her heart-shaped face. Although, she was cold and shivering like a wind-blown leaf, her eyes were wild and her coy smile was seductive. Coquettishly, she beckoned me over. She didn't tell me her name, but told me usually nobody comes to save her. She was about to lead me further into denser forest when the trees perilously swayed and there, unfortunately, the dream abruptly ended. I woke bathed in sweat, my chest pounding as if my heart was about to leap to another man's chest.
For months I tried to enter that same reverie, but the forests I dreamt up were impenetrable. I was never allowed beyond their perimeters and yet I couldn't forget that woman in red. Why was I being denied a second chance to meet her?
Imagine my surprise when I found myself consciously walking beside her: the same apricot hair, heart-shaped face and tiger eyes, but dressed like a normal female civilian on her way to work in a blouse and pencil skirt. Her musky odour had attracted me before she had asked me for directions to the university where she had an interview. Being a student there I proposed to take her.
From there, a dependency grew: she manipulated me and I let her. I needed her more than she needed me. She drove me to distraction! She called me up at all hours and then disappeared for weeks with no explanation; she excreted tears of deceit and I easily forgave her.
She wore a beautiful, treacherous mask, which, like a dream, one day vanished laughing. She'd hoodwinked me but she'll always be my Michelle, my belle, the rarest of precious red foxes.
*Inspired by the works of Pearl S. Buck, Soseki Natsume and Haruki Murakami