The Saddest Thing

It was a cold and rainy December night, but inside the theater, it was bright and warm and happy. Christmas time was almost upon the San Diego area. Floods of people were coming to see the traditional performance of The Nutcracker, and my family was just one more group of people going to listen to the brilliant work of Tchaikovsky. The theater was illuminated by golden chandeliers hanging far above our heads, and the carpeting was lush and soft. It felt good under my uncomfortable dress shoes as I waited with my mom and my brother. The crowds were not yet allowed into the actual theater, but we waited in a large room. A huge Christmas tree, lavishly decorated, dominated one end of the long hall. Little boys and girls, dressed in toy soldier and reindeer costumes, wove through the crowd, asking for donations to the theater. I chatted with my mom, remarking on the splendor of the hall, enjoying the jolly atmosphere, relaxing and thinking what a wonderful life it was. I spied a refreshment table, and excusing myself, went over to see what they had.

On my way, I saw something that made me stop. A fairly attractive lady, perhaps thirty years old, was standing with two other ladies, probably gossiping, all dressed elegantly. But this one lady had, wrapped around her shoulders, a fox fur. It was long, probably six feet or so. On one end, resting on her left arm, was the tail, with its immaculate white tip that is the trademark of foxes. The tail was bushy and furry, looking like an unusually thick, soft, pipe cleaner, but tapering to a point with the white tip that stood out like a beacon against the lady's otherwise dark clothing. For some reason, the tail was darker than the rest of the fur: a darker, almost chocolate shade of brown tinged it, providing more contrast to the white.

The fur itself was quite long, much longer than the forty three or forty five inch length of an average fox. The fur was a rich, reddish, rusty color, the same color as the leaves are when they are ablaze with color in autumn. The very tips of each delicate, fine strand of fur was black, giving the fur a sort of shady, streaked look, although it was dominantly a fantastic, jaunty reddish flame. A close examination showed minute shifting in the patterns and shadings of the furs, revealing that several different foxes had all been slaughtered to make a single fur wrap. One area was slightly more orange than usual, but the borders of that patch was blended in with the adjacent, redder patch so smoothly, the break was almost invisible. The fur was densely grown, but where the wrap curved, the fur parted, showing underneath the dark grey, downy underfur.

As the lady turned to talk to another lady in her party, the head of the fox came to be pointed straight at me. The fox's head was lowered, having slipped down the lady's arm while she moved. It seemed to be spiritually crushed, the picture of despondency. The dark, pointed ears were pricked forward, but not sharply, as if it were searching for some salvation, but not expecting any. The fur on the head was much shorter than on the rest of the body, but still, it retained the fantastic coloring of the fox. The lady readjusted the fox casually, and her movement caused the fox's dead eyes to lock with my living ones. There was a deep, tormented look in those lifeless eyes. "The dead only know one thing: that it is better to be alive," said someone, sometime. This fox knew it. The careless, vivacious coat of fur that the wrap sported was totally at odds with the tribulation in the eyes. What about the eyes exactly that radiated such pain, I could not tell. They were amber colored, and the pupils were not round, like a human's, but vertical slits, like a cat's. Perhaps it was the entire face that was the source of the cold shivers that ran up and down my spine. The muzzle was long and sleek and handsome, with a shiny black nose perched carefully on the end. A white bib ran down from under the jaw onto where the fox's chest would have been. The head was amazingly small, only fractionally larger than a cat's. But that head seemed to be the embodiment of all the pain and suffering in the world. It seemed to broadcast the tragedies of its life. Perhaps the head was once a vixen, a proud mother of a litter somewhere in a warm woodland, sitting, watching her pups romp in the sunlight contentedly? Perhaps the head had once been belonging to a clever, sly, mercurial male fox, hunting food for his family and living a wild, free life. Whatever the fox had been, one thing was clear: she or he had died horribly at the peak of their lives. The eyes would not let me forget that.

Finally, the doors opened to admit the waiting crowds into the luxurious theater. The lady turned and walked into the spacious theater with her party, and was out of my sight in seconds. I turned slowly to the refreshment table, and picked up a glass of some drink that bit at my mouth, possibly apple cider. The fiery bite of the cider went largely unnoticed, as I was too numb from the fox fur to be responsive to the world. As my mom came to drag me into the theater, I was somberly reflecting on the lessons that the fox's eyes had imparted into me. I was stunned and shocked that such a thing of beauty could be killed in cold blood and made into a perverse garment for some insensitive human lady. What did the magic of The Nutcracker mean? What was the significance of petty human arguments? What did human miseries and suffering connote in the large scheme of things, as compared to the torment and suffering of a fox, a living, breathing, feeling thing that hunted, lived, made love, raised children, and lived and fought for life? What did it all mean when that spirit of life was turned into a piece of clothing? The incredible sadness of it all crushed me that night, a sadness not even the Sugar Plum Fairy could heal.

Essay by Jason Thompson