I came to the boot sale with a plan. I would sell the fox I had been carrying about in a covered basket for weeks, my own need for him never made clear. He had been priced right and would eat whatever roadkill I could find. Only a few people brought animals to this particular sale and most of them were of the dog/cat variety, though there was the one gent known for exotics—snakes and miniature cattle, primarily. Once, he had a two-headed chicken, which proved to be a hoax, the extra head merely a prosthetic device for chickens born without any head at all. I set up a table and put the basket atop it. That’s when the philosopher walked over. His table was directly across from mine and was stacked high with books written in languages no one cared to learn.
“What’s in the basket?” he asked, bending down to take a gander.
“Might be a fox,” I said. “Or it might be the idea of a fox.” This I knew would intrigue him, as philosophers are enticed by impossible riddles.
“Is it for sale?
“If the money is right, I could perhaps part with it.”
“May I see it?”
“When it’s yours, you can look to your heart’s content.”
“What is your price?”
“It’s quite high, but this fox—if it is, indeed, a fox and not merely the notion of one—has meant the world to me, and I can’t imagine going on in life without it. There would be no meaning, and I would wander the globe lamenting my decision.”
Seeing the philosopher cross his arms and stroke his beard drew others to my table. Some were vendors like myself, their wares abandoned. Others had come for the bargains, the odd treasure.
“So, what’s this?” asked a woman I took to be a shrewd customer. When I mentioned it could be a fox, she frowned.
“Dead fox or live?”
“Alive, of course,” I said. “Who would sell a dead one?”
More people came up until there was quite a crowd. The philosopher retreated to his books, but he kept a sharp eye on the proceedings. Jostling ensued, and I noticed a pair of fellows in peaked caps off to the side, whispering. I suspected they were conspiring to snatch the basket and make off with it, so I slid it closer and laid a hand on top. A boy with what appeared to be ringworm, though it could have been simply a hairstyle, tried to poke a stick through the wicker. I rapped his skull with my knuckles and warned him not to be a scamp. Just then the philosopher pushed his way through the throng and began to shout that there was nothing in the basket, not even the figment of a fox.
“Totally empty, I’d wager! The man doesn’t have the imagination to conjure up so much as an abstraction, let alone a concept.” Others joined in the derision, adding their two cents and threatening me with walking sticks. Finally, when the din was at its height and violence seemed imminent, I raised my hand. Silence fell.
“I shan’t be made to listen to this any longer,” I said. “I’ve come here honestly, but your doubts and accusations are exactly what I reckoned might be made of my presence, and you have not disappointed.”
With that, I set the basket on the ground, folded up the legs of my table, loaded everything in my car, then drove away, out of the field with its stalls and its kiosks, its assortments of merchandise piled high or spread out accordingly and in the direction of the motorway, a new plan forming.
Patrick Parks is author of a novel, Tucumcari, and has had work published in The Chattahoochee Review, Beloit Fiction, Another Chicago Magazine and elsewhere. He received two Illinois Arts Council artists' grants and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. For more, go to patrick-parks.com.