The fox and the bear
A story from the children’s book Sorsa norsun räätälinä (‘The mallard as tailor to the elephant’, Otava, 2008; illustrated by Christel Rönns. Introduction by Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen
Back in the days when mallard still had horns, earthworms, claws, and the bear had a long tail, a bear was trudging dejectedly along the road.
Up drove a fox in his van, studded tires crunching, for it was winter and freezing cold. The fox was coming from fishing and his van was bursting with fresh fish. When he saw the bear, the fox stopped, rolled down the window and called, ‘Why hi there, old honey snout! Where’re you coming from?’
‘I was playing cards at Badger’s. I lost all my money and now I’m starving,’ the bear replied.
‘Jump in. No need to suffer in the grip of this cold,’ the fox said. The fox and the bear were good friends. However, the fox envied the bear, because Mr Honeypaws had a much longer, more handsome tail than the fox did. The bear clambered into the fox’s car and saw the enormous catch of fish.
‘Wherever did you get such an incredible amount of fish?’ the bear marvelled.
‘The lake. That’s where you get fish,’ the fox replied. ‘Last week I caught such a big pike that I made snow shovels out of its scales.’
‘I wish I knew how to fish,’ the bear sighed, his stomach growling with hunger. Right then the fox’s van blew a tire and the fan belt snapped.
‘If you get this thing fixed, I’ll teach you to fish,’ the fox promised.
The bear, who happened to be a car mechanic, fixed the problems in no time. ‘Come to our place at six tomorrow morning and we’ll go fishing together,’ the fox thanked him, and drove the bear right up to his door.
The next morning the bear clattered up the fox’s steps at five already. The fox peeked out the window of his bedroom, his eyes squinting.
‘You’ve got to be kidding. It’s just five in the morning and you’re waking me in the middle of my dreams,’ the fox yawned.
‘I thought I’d come early so as not to be late,’ the bear explained.
‘All right. Wait there. I’ll brush my teeth,’ the fox said, rubbing his bleary eyes. A moment later the fox strode into the yard. He had with him a shiny new ice fishing rod, an ice auger and a fishing stool.
‘How will I fish, since I have no rod and line?’ the bear asked with concern.
‘You don’t need a line. You have your own fishing gear on you,’ the fox answered.
‘That was a little over my head,’ the bear said, puzzled. ‘Where is it you think I have fishing gear?’
‘Peek behind you. There swings your fishing line,’ the fox enlightened him. The bear glanced at his long tail.
‘You want me to fish with my tail?’ the bear asked.
‘The tail’s the thing,’ the fox replied, smiling to himself.
They arrived at the lake. The air was bitter cold, and stars twinkled in the sky.
‘Looks like a great day for fishing,’ the fox remarked, stopping the van beside the dock.
‘How can you tell it’ll be a great day for fishing?’ the bear asked.
‘From the angle of your tail,’ grinned the fox.
‘But how will I fare without even any bait? You have the very latest and best gear,’ grumbled the bear.
‘You ask too many questions,’ growled the fox. ‘Real fishermen don’t ask, they act.’
The bear and the fox walked across the ice to the edge of the rushes. The fox took the auger and drilled a hole in the ice.
‘Stick your tail through the hole. The fish always bite here next to the rushes,’ the fox said.
The bear stuffed his tail through the hole and sat waiting for whatever would come next.
‘What should I do next?’ the bear inquired.
‘Nothing at all. Just sit and wait for fish to start coming,’ the fox replied from a short distance away where he was drilling a hole in the ice for himself.
The fox fed his fine ice fishing line into the hole, let out the line and began fishing.
‘We’ll see what Old Bruin has to say when his tail freezes tight to the ice hole,’ the fox snickered softly to himself.
‘Any bites?’ the fox called to the bear.
‘Not yet – but here comes one!’ the bear yelled. He pulled out his tail. From it dangled an enormous perch.
‘Got a perch!’ the bear announced. He detached the perch from his tail and put his tail back into the hole in the ice.
It wasn’t long before the bear jumped up again with a metre-long whopper clamped to his tail.
‘Got a pike, now!’ the bear chuckled. ‘Do you have many fish yet?’
‘Not a single one,’ the fox replied, and had barely got the words out before the bear was already whipping his tail out of the ice hole. This time a handsome pikeperch was fastened to it.
‘Got a pike-perch!’ the bear exulted.
The fox began to feel cross. He tossed away his fishing pole. He was fuming.
‘Don’t worry, dear brother. You have a tail, too. Try the same trick,’ the bear advised.
The fox threaded his tail into the hole in the ice and waited. The bear kept whisking forth fish, but the fox did not catch even a minnow.
‘I’m sitting here till I catch a fish!’ the fox snorted to himself.
A half hour passed. The bear had heaps of fish, the fox had not a one.
‘This is ridiculous. I’m going home to make some pea soup,’ the fox hissed.
He tried to pull his tail out of the ice hole, but it would not budge. His tail had frozen fast to the edge of the ice hole. The fox was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
‘Stop fishing and get over here on the double!’ the fox yelled to the bear.
The bear trudged over to the fox and saw that he was indeed in a predicament.
‘Now you are in a tight spot,’ the bear said, scratching his head.
‘I guess I know that much!’ the fox shrieked. ‘Don’t stand there gawking, do something! Call the fire brigade!’
The bear ran like lightning to the nearest house and called the fire brigade. It was not long before firemen raced to the beach in their red engine.
‘What’s the matter?’ the fire chief asked.
‘The tail,’ the bear answered. ‘The fox’s tail. It’s frozen fast.’
The firemen sprayed the ice hole with hot water and the fox was freed from his predicament.
The bear scooped all his fish into his enormous arms and trundled after the fox to the van.
‘Thank you, Fox, for teaching me how to fish. My heartfelt thanks,’ the bear smiled.
The fox said not a word. He was sulking. But the bear was in such grand spirits that as he clambered onto the van seat, he closed the door on his tail, still swinging on the outside. The tail snapped in two.
‘There went a good fishing line,’ said the bear.
And ever since that day, bears have had short stubby tails, and foxes are no longer envious of bears. On that same day, wild ducks lost their horns, earthworms their claws, and in Hungary a chicken emerged from an ostrich egg sporting a baseball cap and a tie.
Translated by Jill G. Timbers
(First published in Books from Finland 4/2008.)
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