THE ABCs OF A PECULIAR LIFE // V is for Valenki & Vanitarianism

The pursuit of vain things. That’s what Austin the Arctic Fox was all about. What was the point of having this lush blue coat of full-bodied fur if one couldn’t flaunt it on a regular basis? Big and puffy — that’s how he liked it, and that’s how he wanted the rest of the world to see him.

“Could you please get rid of these stinky valenki? By the Great Frost Daddy, I’m tired of stumbling over them every goddamn time!”


“Don’t argue. Please just do what I say!”

Disgusted, Austin the Arctic Fox kicked at the valenki with the pointed toe of his finely lacquered boot. His Mother clearly didn’t understand him and his need to be trendy at all times. How could he possibly bring himself to commit fashion suicide? Austin the Arctic Fox proudly clicked his tasteful heels toward exit of the igloo. It was time to get out of there.

It was the middle of a lovely polar night so warm and gentle. Only minus twenty-five degrees! Positively comfy! All the penguins and polar bears would be green with envy at Austin the Arctic Fox’s resplendent splendiferousness once they laid eyes on it. Eat crow, peasants! (Well, there were no crows around here, but still…)

So, anyway, Austin the Arctic Fox strutted his stuff. He primped, he preened, and he swaggered about like he was on a New York catwalk. He was making sure everybody knew that he was something, that he was someone of note. And, yes, everyone gawped at him, jaws all dropped and dragging in snow. Even the penguins and polar bears… and a hunter’s wife.

It wouldn’t have been so very serious if yesterday the Hunter had come back home sober. But he hadn’t. He’d bar-hopped half the polar night away, spent the whole family budget for February on drink, and lost his left mukluk. Then he’d walked through the door, hugged his Wife, and puked over her shoulder onto the sealskin rug in the hall. And so the Hunter’s Wife was less than impressed. And so he needed to do something extraordinarily romantic to win back her affection.

And so it was that the Hunter found himself out in the elements, his hands trembling quite a bit, and sporting a very sore throbbing head. He was in all of a muddle. He felt like death warmed over a cold stone. He had to find a way to get back inside and into bed where his Wife’s warm body would be.

What can melt even the frostiest heart? Of course, some new duds and yet another oath to stop drinking might do it. The Hunter thought a moment. It was probably best to start with the easier option. If he played his cards right the Wife would soon forget the second part of deal. And so the Hunter went hunting, a pounding skull, crooked hunting rifle, and wounded pride his only companions.

It wasn’t long before he stumbled upon the Austin the Arctic Fox who just so happened to be smugly parading himself before a waddle of starstruck penguins. The Arctic Fox’s lush blue coat of full-bodied fur was truly a sight to behold! Big and puffy was how the Hunter’s Wife liked it, so it was clear that he was going to have to kill the Arctic Fox. Right now. This instant. Snuff him and skin him. And then romance would ensue.

It’s a funny thing but only his first shot was close to the target — just two meters higher and a smidge wide to the left. Then after this… well, the longer the Hunter tried aiming, the worse his attempts were. (Even a Soviet astronaut somewhere had to change the orbital path of his vessel.)

Austin the Arctic Fox began to realise something was up when the third or fourth bullet came back down, nearly aerating a poor penguin’s brains. At first he thought it was hail, but then quickly remembered that hail was almost unheard of in the Arctic region. He whipped his head round, saw the Hunter trying to yank a rifle barrel out of the snow, and took to his heels. (In both senses.)

He ran like never before. He was falling, rising and falling again, scrambling like blue blazes to get away. Finely lacquered boots aren’t jogging shoes, you know, especially with heels. One heel broke off pretty quickly though, so that was a small mercy. The second got stuck in an ice crack. It was at this point that Austin the Arctic Fox got a terrible sinking feeling and his whole silly life flashed before his eyes. The last frame of that reel was him dangling from the Hunter’s Wife’s shoulders with a protruding tongue and plastic eyes.

With a renewed urgency, Austin the Arctic Fox howled, discarded what was left of his boots, and ran on all fours like the sorry fool he was. He scrabbled and scrammed all the way home, his blue fur matted and dirty from his furious flight. Sweaty and panting, he collapsed on the floor of his igloo and wept openly. Holy fucking ice grenades! He could have died because of those goddamned boots!

“I was wrong,” he said to himself between ragged huffs and puffs. With shaking paw, Austin the Arctic Fox reached over to the bureau and took the valenki off the footstool. “Never again…”

And what did the Wife say to herself when the Hunter solemnly presented “Amazing new boots just perfect for Paris” to her? Boots that were scuffed and scratched and broken? Alas, we should withhold this information. After all, this book could be read by children.

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