Old story… finally finished with the revision. Third person, eeagh!

On a cool April day—the sun shining with a softness of color that pastelized the world—Kohath was shopping. Just by looking at him you could tell he was touched by love; he was humming “45’s Earthlight,” and his usual trudge was replaced by the unselfconsciousness that only comes from focusing on someone else.

He moved alone, though, down the street of shops, stopping every now and then to look at things in the windows that caught his eye: colorful glass sculptures, a chocolate fountain, a dance lesson—until he caught the warm scent of bread baking and knew what he wanted. He followed his nose to the bakery and approached the counter.

“Good morning, wolf,” said the baker, a short boar in a flour-covered apron. “What can I get for you today?”

“Bread!” he said, grinning. The baker only rolled his eyes at the joke. “Uh, one of those sweet loaves. And half a dozen of… nah, just that.”

He paid two nummi for the bread and headed back out to the street, putting the loaf in his bag. The wind brought a luxurious smell of citrus, of apples and grapes, making Kohath’s belly rumble. Time enough for eating later, right? No… let’s see if we can find something good. He went down to the square at the end of the street where the fruitsellers were set up.

The first stall he saw belonged to a very small tiger selling very large berries. He picked up a raspberry the size of an orange and looked it over, somewhat impressed.

“Biggest berries in the province,” the tiger said. “I have a certificate from the general saying so.” It was framed and hanging behind him; he seemed pretty proud of it. “All natural, too.”

Kohath considered the fruit for a moment, then put it down. “Maybe next time,” he said, and moved on. New food can be hit or miss, and today was not a day for taking risks.

In the next stall, a raven was busy shooing children away from pyramids of melons meticulously piled, and in his frustration nearly knocked them over himself. The avian was cursing like a walrus and Kohath decided to pass him by.

The third stall wasn’t selling fruit; it shaded an elderly wolf lady sitting on a halı, surrounded by racks of bottles. She sniffed the air as he approached.

“Come for juice, young wolf?”

He smiled and sat down in front of her.

“I’m having lunch with someone special, teyze,” he said. “And I thought fruit would be a good idea but nothing here is really grabbing me. Juice sounds like a good idea…”

“Much more convenient,” she said. “No messing with seeds, or rinds, or sticky paws.” She laughed to herself. “And no need to worry about carrying the other half of the strawberry you couldn’t finish because someone decided it should be the size of a melon…” She shook her head and reached for a bottle on her left. “For someone special you’ll want something special,” she said, pulling the bottle from the rack and running her paw across the label. “My son makes this from his best grape. For a boy in love, one nummo, and I’ll throw in cups for free.” She pulled two tumblers from the top of the stack behind her; one was blue and the other pink.

Kohath took the colors as a good sign and paid the nummo, thanking the her sincerely. Bottle and cups went into his bag and he was back in the street. A simple lunch being provided for, he set off towards the park where he was to meet his fox.

On the way there he got distracted by a used book store near the edge of the mahalle that he’d never noticed before, a tiny place called “The Joli Raja’s.” Since he had plenty of time, he figured he’d stop in and give it a look.

Just inside the doors was a bargain bin—ten books a nummo. The attendant told him they were worthless because they were so heavily marked, and if he just wanted one, it’d be free.

Kohath burrowed through the pile. There were elementary math books with the answers written in; a copy of an Ayn Rand book where every page had been marked ‘Nonsense,’ even the blank ones; a Koran and two Bibles with torn pages and clipped passages.

The gem he ended up walking away with was a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets that someone had heavily annotated. The text itself was unscathed, but the margins were full of drawings—simple icons—and thoughts of love answering to and illustrating the poems. It was perfect.

He reached the grove in the park with plenty of time to spare, and laid out his blanket. He had wanted to find a traditional picnic cloth, the kind with the red and white checkerboard pattern, but hadn’t been able to find one for some reason; he was making do with a rather garish rainbow plaid.

He set down his bag, leaving it closed up to keep the bugs off the food, and sat back against a tree to wait, thumbing through the book.

He had only known one of the sonnets before, and he looked for it first. It was the one that began—

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…

In the margin surrounding this poem, the annotator had written:

Not because you’re beautiful, not because you shine, just because you’re real, that’s why I am thine

A bright orange tabby and a bright orange fox walked by him, paw in paw. Kohath took a deep breath, enjoying the cool air and the scent of the food that somehow managed to escape from his bag, and, once they had passed by, read both poems aloud.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

He flipped through the pages and picked another at random.

The other two, slight air and purging fire…

He read the sonnet through, imagining the elemental influences. The page on the left, facing it, appeared to be unaccountably blank, until he noticed it was a loose sheet, folded to fit the page, that the annotator had inserted. He pulled it out and unfolded it.

It was a fairly decent drawing, done in colored pencil. In it, two foxes were standing at opposite sides of a canyon, reaching out to each other. He felt a doubled loneliness from the poem and the image, and checked his timepiece.

His fox was late. No sign, no word. He pulled his phone from the bag to make sure; no missed calls. He considered calling, but figured it might come across as a bit smothery. It was only ten minutes so far, after all.

He went back to the book, hunting for a more uplifting message.