While searching the barn for the ax, I discovered a wire mesh fox trap under an old tarp. I wiped away the dust and set it up by the barn, hidden beneath a row of shrubs. I searched the fridge inside the cabin for something to bait the trap with and decided on a whole chicken.
Blair nearly caught me hanging the chicken inside the trap. She wanted to take a walk to the frozen pond at the bottom of our property line. We walked there holding hands. Snow gathered on the tops of mountains in the distance. I'd never noticed before, but the leafless branches of the trees that formed a circle around the pond had a way of gravitating toward the water like skeletal fingers reaching out.
We were startled when an old barn cat leapt from shore onto the ice. The cat's legs splayed out and it slid across the surface.
"Oh, no," Blair said. "That's mittens."
Mittens. Jesus. The stupid thing scratched and scratched at the ice.
"Josh, save it," Blair said.
"You must be insane," I said. "I'm not going out there."
She glared at me, so annoyed, and for such a length of time it became amusing because the truth was, she wasn't going out there to rescue the fucking cat either. So how much could she care?
"Mittens is going to wish it had mittens because that ice isn't getting any warmer," I said, and laughed in a morbid way.
When we got back to the cabin, Blair went inside, and I started to chop wood.
I soon got lost in the chopping.
I chopped until I could barely stand from the physical strain. I won't go into what I imagined the logs were.
"Josh, I think you've had enough," Blair said, watching from the porch with a hand on her hip.
I gazed up at a pile of wood that rose taller than me.
"I didn't realize I'd chopped that much."
"Why don't you come inside?" Blair said. "They're saying the weather is about to turn."
Blair is from the Carolinas, not far from where we live now. I didn't think about that much when we met in L.A.
This actress I managed had taken a role in a late night Skinemax flick. I had joined her at the post studio that day for A&R pickups. Blair's dad did the scores for those things. It had made it difficult for him to branch out into more artistic fare.
Blair was there performing a song for the show's soundtrack.
I stood in a corner watching Blair in the recording booth. She sang with her eyes closed. Soft-core smut played on a giant screen. Blair's dad stood in the back paying close attention to the scene. A pair of weary sound mixers, one tall and slim, one short and round, watched Blair and slowly moved dials on the soundboard up and down, causing red and yellow and green lines of light to dip and climb. Smoke curled around their heads from cigarettes burning in ashtrays.
Blair did the song far more justice than it deserved. She held the last note brilliantly and opened her eyes.
Blair's dad told the sound mixers to bring up the next scene.
The tall sound mixer sat in a daze and didn't seem to hear him at first. Two tears rolled down his cheeks. He didn't bother to wipe them away. My client took Blair's place in the booth.
Blair left the studio, and I followed her. As I closed the door, I could hear the sounds of my client trying to line up her character's moans with the next scene.
I found Blair behind a dumpster. She tried to hide the cigarette but took another puff when she realized I was nobody.
"You're an amazing singer," I said.
"Who are you again?"
"I manage Amber Ames."
"Oh, God, really?"
"She's actually an amazing person and an incredible actress," I said. "It's hard trying to support two kids in this town."
"Wait, are you serious?"
"I am not… she's a terrible actress," I said. "Truly awful."
We endured the silence until Blair pierced it with a polite laugh.
"Everyone is phony out here," Blair said. "I hate it."
"Why live here then?"
She stubbed out her cigarette and said, "I have to go sing another one."
"Hold up." I handed her a card,."Call me sometime."
She glanced at the card
"I don't need a manager, Josh," she said, and walked away.
She called a week later. The more I didn't ask questions about her, the more attached to me she became. She enjoyed me badmouthing my clients. She hated L.A. and confused my general disdain for people with me hating the city, too.
Seven months in I popped the question. A month later, Blair hit it big with a song on the soundtrack of an animated blockbuster. Residuals roll in weekly now, and she has no reason to ever work again. She called Hollywood a wrap and convinced me to move to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The snow started to fall around dusk. A muted magic hour carved orange slithers into an otherwise impenetrable blanket of snow clouds. The fire I built roared. Flames crawled out along the bricks of the fireplace. Wind swirling in the chimney sucked them back in. Blair stepped out of the bedroom and stood in the loft above me.
"Josh, that fire seems a little excessive, don't you think?"
I was annoyed she hadn't agreed with my suggestion to get a room down in Asheville to wait out the blizzard, so I didn't respond. I just stood there in it.
"Whatever," she said, and slammed the bedroom door so hard the cabin shook.
I turned on Van Halen's "1984" very loud and sat in a chair by the window listening to it on repeat. I realized if I turned my chair at an angle, I could watch the fox trap in the glare of the spotlight that hung below the roof of the barn.
After several hours, I turned off the music. The upstairs TV blared from the bedroom at a decibel level that could have only been intended to make a point.
I tossed more logs on the fire, dropped ice in a glass and watched whiskey curl around the edges of the ice cubes. As the night turned a desperate black, I sat in silence watching the fox trap. I nodded in and out of sleep.
Roused, I sat straight up, sure I was dreaming.
A red fox tiptoed toward the trap. The fox's paws barely sank into the snow as it inched forward. Its fur shone bright red in the spotlight that reflected off the white, creating a soft, pleasing glow just for me. The fox poked its head in, trying to reach the chicken. It opened its mouth, got a grip on the end of a leg, but lost its hold. The fox backed away and pawed at the snow. Then with great trepidation it entered the trap, bit into a juicy part of the bird and yanked.
In soft silence, the trap shut with the fox inside.
I had given zero thought to what I would do with a fox if I caught one.
The most successful talent I ever managed was this actor who ended up booking a great part in a comic book movie. The fourth guy to play that particular superhero kind of part. He looked frighteningly like a grown child.
The night he got it we drank champagne at a club on Vine. I'd netted 200K off the deal. Easily the most I ever made. I was something of a playboy poser then. I don't have much of the 200K left. It cost a lot to act like you did nothing in Los Angeles. God damn, I miss it.
I had my buddy Brian join us since I knew the actor would be buying. There were a few A-listers and an army of wannabes. We partied late in the VIP. People trickled out until I was alone with the actor. Brian had gone to the bathroom to do cocaine with a model I wanted to manage. The actor kept thanking me for helping him get the part. I hadn't done that much.
Before I could object, he unzipped my pants and took me in his mouth.
He knew what he was doing. Brian came back in, searching for a bottle. Our eyes met and he backed out of the room.
I haven't seen Brian since, though we were friends for years.
When I was finishing, I felt like I was filling that actor's head with bad ideas. He would soon be a household name. He dropped me as a manager when he realized the meteoric nature of his impending rise to stardom. I didn't blame him.
I saw the comic book movie with Blair. On the ride home, she gushed about how he was a terrific actor. I couldn't help but agree.
After the thing with the actor, I started dating troubled women. I don't know how I attracted them, but I enjoyed them. There's nothing better than someone so devastated by the spin of the globe that they make your disposition seem enviable.
One woman, a struggling folk singer who moved into my house because she couldn't pay rent, left me for another singer I managed, this neo-crooner who looked like he could be Rob Lowe's son. He didn't seem to have a light on in his head. I only worked with him because I thought teenyboppers would want to fuck him and that he might eventually change his image. There were never many teenyboppers, but he got plenty of the folk singer.
The two of them revealed this to me while I sat on my balcony watching the sunset paint the Hollywood hills. Standing before me in silence, they looked like they'd been caught making out under the bleachers. I was eating a turkey sandwich on pumpernickel with just the right amount of mayo.
The crooner stepped forward with his hands clasped.
"Hey, look, man, you're a good manager, and I don't want to lose you." He motioned between himself and the folk singer. "This just sort of happened."
I gave him the thumbs up and took a good long look at the folk singer. She stared at her shoes with what seemed like a vague sense of pity. It must have been for me. It should have been for the crooner. He was worse off than both of us. I took a bite of the sandwich and turned my back on them. There wasn't much else to say.
That crooner's music was awful. I kept managing him. Miraculously, someone paid for him to record an album. It flopped. I couldn't get him gigs at weddings. He became a slave to his decision to sing in a genre no one cared about. He was anathema, and I drank up his failure with glee.
I agreed to let the folk singer stay for a few days while she pieced together a new living situation. I blasted music at absurd levels, 24/7, until she left. The crooner's music. And I did thousands and thousands of jumping jacks on the floor above the spare room where she was staying. She lay on an air mattress with headphones on the entire time as far as I could tell.
Blair shook me awake and handed me a cup of coffee. I'd fallen asleep in the chair.
"I'm going for a walk," Blair said.
"I think I'll stay here a while longer."
"You're scaring me," Blair said. "Why didn't you come to bed?"
"I like watching the snow."
"You hate the snow."
As Blair faded into the distance, I watched the big, puffy snowflakes dance and flutter to the ground. I tried to focus on those closest to the window. To watch them land and attempt to differentiate between single snowflakes and the whole white blanket, but each became part of the rest before I could notice.
Inside the trap, the fox writhed and shook wildly. It almost lifted the trap off the ground. It attempted to run in a circle but could only get halfway. It jerked back the other way and got stuck halfway in that direction. It went on for five minutes or longer before it gave up.
I wasn't going out there.
There's one memory from my childhood that sticks out more than any other. My dad took me to a playground. I was five. I stood at the top of a slide waiting to go down, when an old man in a filthy trench coat, carrying a detergent bottle with the top cut out, stumbled to the bottom of the slide and held out his arms. He just looked kind of sad to me, and I felt no fear, so I slid.
When he grabbed me, I caught an overwhelming whiff of gasoline. I pulled away. He didn't try to restrain me. He stood there patting my head until my Dad ran up and knocked him down so hard, he rolled over three or four times and got up drenched in gasoline.
The old man slammed down the detergent bottle. My dad pulled out a lighter, held up the burning flame and told him to get lost.
At some point, I noticed Blair's Jeep wasn't in the driveway. Deep tire tracks led to the road. It somehow didn't seem that surprising. I wandered upstairs to the bedroom where her drawers were emptied. I admit there was at first a desire to chase. But then who would watch the fox?
It's been a strange two days since this revelation.
I can't picture the yard and lot before the snow. What exists underneath it. It's like fuzz crawling on the line between my mind and body. For an instant, it feels possible there has only ever been snow.
Through the frosted window trees appear painted white. I can see the tops of the mountains; I swear they're laughing at me. I can't think of anything better to do, so I laugh back.
But not the fox; the fox finds nothing funny at all.
My dad didn't discuss the incident with the old man on the slide until a decade later. I had both ears pierced, half my head shaved and the other half long. My wardrobe consisted of skinny jeans and plunging V-necks. We hadn't seen each other in years. I played soccer and wore Polos last time he'd come around.
We met outside at a coffee shop in West Hollywood. I guzzled quadruple espressos and fiddled on the MacBook he'd bought me for Christmas, fingers shaking from the caffeine like the old man's fingers on the detergent bottle.
My dad arrived late, chain-smoked Marlboro lights, and watched the West Hollywood types parade by, closing his eyes and shaking his head.
"The fuck do you like living here?" he asked.
"These people don't care what you think about them."
The barista, a guy with a mop of brown hair, a holey white shirt and black jeans with a wallet chain hanging from the back pocket, started bussing the table next to us. He glanced at me. I held his gaze longer than my dad would have liked. The barista blushed and brushed his hair out of his eyes.
"I always knew there was something strange about you," my dad said.
"That old man on the slide knew."
"Freaks like that can tell when there's something off about a kid," he said. "You weren't even scared. You were like a lamb going for the slaughter."
It seemed unimportant to argue since I wasn't sure I could disagree.
"Do you need any money?" he asked after a long silence.
"Sure," I said.
He handed me a few hundreds and stubbed out his cigarette.
"Okay, kiddo," he said. "I gotta go. I don't know when I'll see you again."
"Yeah?" I said. "Well, what does it matter?"
I watched him walk for blocks and blocks and finally disappear down a side street so far away he resembled a pixelated dot sliding off the edge of a screen. He'd made a point to park outside the boundaries of West Hollywood.
I introduced Blair to my dad years later. His eyes lit up as she bounded over like a dainty deer.
"And who is this?"
"I'm Blair," she glanced at me, "Tell me Josh has told you about me."
My dad hugged her for longer than seemed decent.
"There are a lot of things Josh doesn't tell me."
He gave a fine speech at our wedding. With a whiskey buzz and sweat beading on his forehead, he held up the mic.
"I'm proud that my son finally realized life is about choices," he said. "Everything is a choice, not an impulse. Josh, you've made me proud today."
I can think of no reason to free the fox. The thought terrifies me, like losing something precious I never knew I needed.
I tried the TV, but there's no connection. Snow fuzzies on it.
The window and the fox provide all I need.
It's a waiting game now. For me and the fox.
When the snow ends and a path melts, I will find a way off this mountain. Into town to rent a car and drive for warmer weather. I will drive until I discover a comfort no fire can offer. Far from these painted trees and laughing mountains. To some place where I can stop pretending, or at the very least start to forget.