Length: 1,600 words = 8,625 characters
Commentary on this story:
Michael Hase: 'What is postmodernism
or: What's the effing fox up to?'
First published in: PPHOO, Calcutta, Jan 2002, p 112-129
Postmodernism is an affliction
only at intellectuals.
Once upon a time there was a fox who fell in love with a hedgehog. Renard, the fox, was strong and clever and had long hidden his soft heart in a computer program and could be turned on only by the goto command which is very rare these days. But Hérissonne, the hedgehog, had discovered his heart and prised it open. He had never met a hedgehog before and thought there was nothing as clever, bright, beautiful and tender in the world. He was right, of course.
Renard had first noticed her at the end of an all-night ball in a forest glade when, daring and self-confident as she was, she had come dressed in nothing but her bristles with a dew drop at the end of each, and the light of the moon and the light of the rising sun had been refracted in them. "Is there anything more beautiful than bristles, than her bristles?" thought Renard.
He was beautiful and tender in his own way and, when she first met him, her bristles had melted away and had been replaced by down. Renard was therefore not afraid of her. She was happy to be loved by him, and even loved him back a little, for her life had been such that she did not find it easy to display her affection. But one day, when he was closest to her and was not on his guard, she, not realising how much he loved her, and that he was as tender and vulnerable as her, clenched her muscles, and all her bristles, which had grown again, suddenly stood erect and buried themselves deeply in his flesh.
He wanted to scream with pain but since screaming was Hérissonne's prerogative (he had learnt that by now), he buried his pain and resolved to write a diary, hoping that, one day, perhaps after his death, she would find it and understand how much he had suffered by her hands, or rather her bristles, and how much he had loved her. He picked up one of the bristles she had shed to use it in place of a pen.
He was bleeding all over his body, but Hérissonne did not notice it because by now her beautiful eyes were buried deeply among her bristles and she could see only imaginary enemies around her. She did not even recognise her best friend any more. Renard went to the vet and asked for ointment and bandages.
The vet was horrified when he saw him. Never in his life had he seen such a sight. Renard looked perforated as if he had been hit by machine-gun fire.
"Who has done this to you?"
"Your girlfriend? Who wants girlfriends like that! You have to report it to the police. What is her name?"
"You don't say!" said the vet, "you must be out of your mind to have her for a girlfriend. Can't you do better than that? Nobody wants her. She's a hedgehog."
"A hedgehog? What's that? I'll have to ask her, she should know best. She always does."
"You do that," said the vet, "but mark my words, whatever she says, don't touch her and don't trust her. She is very dangerous. She will hurt you when you least expect it and when you least deserve it."
"But she writes such beautiful poems. How can I not love a woman who writes such beautiful poems. She needs her bristles for writing them. Each time she writes a poem, she tears out one of her bristles to use as a quill. She writes them with her own blood."
"Then she'll soon have no bristles left. She has to recycle them," scoffed the heartless vet, who had no respect for poetry. "She will need to keep some to defend herself against other people -- but not against you, for you mean no harm. You could be her best friend, couldn't you! So watch her carefully, let her shed the bristles she doesn't need. Mind you, it will take a while. Then you can come closer again and love her without danger. Meanwhile you have to be careful with her. Don't fall too much in love, don't get too close, don't hug her too tight if you hug her at all. Why don't you show some bristles too, I could give you some, and she would be a little more careful with using hers."
"No, she would call me bristly, macho, arrogant, a typical male, inconsiderate like her father and her previous husbands. They were all men, if you know what I mean! Incurably bad! She will never recognise that others have the same rights as she, are entitled to use the same tactics, deserve the same respect. She thinks only of herself and how hard she has been done by, never recognises that here is somebody who could be so good to her. Even if I told her a fairy-tale to make it less offensive, she still would not see the point.
She will never see that she has ever made a mistake in anything. If I even as much as doubt any of her words she will hiss and snarl at me. Therefore I have long ago stopped expressing any doubts, stopped telling her about how she hurts me, stopped discussing anything controversial with her. She will not see, therefore she can not change, even though I am ever so ready to receive her into my arms."
"Perhaps you'd be better off without her, if she cannot compromise and does not appreciate what you have to offer," said the vet coolly.
"Perhaps she will, if only I can make her understand that there are things that she does wrong."
The fox went to Hérissonne. He was covered in bandages, but she did not notice these: she was too much preoccupied with her own fear and the memory of the pain she had suffered when she was young and before she had grown the bristles of which she was so proud.
"The vet told me that you are a hedgehog."
Hérissonne was wary of that question. She knew that there was nothing wrong with being a hedgehog, she was one after all, and that she had even managed to seduce Renard in spite of being a hedgehog. But that was not enough for her. She was not used to being wrong, ever, to being doubted, to being criticised: she wanted to be perfect, or to be considered more perfect than any other woman in the animal kingdom, and if anyone doubted her perfection, her bristles would go up, she would roll out her guns, pull up the drawbridge, and let the ice-age set in.
So when Renard said: "You are a hedgehog", (didn't he have the evidence all over his body?), she suspected an unwarranted attack and got ready to defend herself against this slur on her character.
"I shall refute this assertion," she said and got Linnaeus, Brehm, Gorgias, Aristotle and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a host of postmodernist impostors with whom you can refute anything, from her richly endowed bookshelves and mounted an overwhelming case against the vet. Renard let his head hang in shame at ever having listened to the vet, at ever having believed himself wounded. Of course, he wasn't entitled to be wounded, that was her prerogative. The books proved conclusively that he wasn't wounded, had no bandages and Hérissonne had no bristles and was not a hedgehog. Renard was hallucinating, and he knew it. What else do you expect of someone who had been as badly wounded as he was!
"Now I am foutu", mumbled bewildered Renard.
"No, you are refoutu", said Hérissonne triumphantly, took a handful of sea-salt and rubbed it carefully into his wounds.
"Doubly fucked, yes, I know," agreed Renard wisely.
Renard still loved her so much, and being German and having never lived under a dictatorship like the wily Portuguese, who do not believe in the printed word, he was impressed by her books and her looks and by her postmodernist learning, which even she did not understand, (but it was useful for reinforcing her bristles and for throwing dust into the eyes of those of her friends who had the temerity of wanting to 'understand' her, and believing that they could possibly understand her; God and Hérissone are the only two entities which, by definition, can only be understood by themselves), he was so impressed by all that cleverness, that even, while the pain of his uncountable wounds and the iodine she had injected into them, was still racking his body, he quite agreed that she was not a hedgehog, and that his pain, like the rest of our postmodernist world, must be imaginary, or even virtual. And that is really saying a lot. So he went to sleep in his basket on the balcony outside her bedroom, behind his closed eyelids a vision of beautiful and loveable Hérissonne, and hummed himself to sleep with the last lines of the Mac-The-Knife song:
"Denn ein Igel ist kein Igel,
wenn man's nicht beweisen kann."
(For a hedgehog is no hedgehog,
if one cannot prove the fact.)
And he loved her as much as ever, and if they have not killed each other, they are still alive today.
Note: je suis foutu = I am fucked, defeated, in a mess
(end of story)
© Copyright 1999 Klaus Bung
- 'The Hedgehog and the Fox', in: THE WORLD OF ENGLISH, Peking, No 161, Aug 2001, p26-33
- 'The Hedgehog and the Fox', in: PPHOO, Calcutta, Jan 2002, p 106-111
- Michael Hase: 'What is postmodernism, or: What's the effing fox up to?' in: PPHOO, Calcutta, Jan 2002, p 112-129
Notes for translators
These notes are not meant for publication. They are intended to help translators, especially those coming from very different cultures. However, if a magazine editor wants to publish any of them in conjunction with the story or use them to write an introduction, she is welcome to do so.
Most of the linguistic difficulties of the story, its references and its cultural background have been explained for non-native readers of English in:, or: What's the effing fox up to?' in: PPHOO, Calcutta, Jan 2002, p 112-129
Translators and editors are invited to draw on that essay if they wish.