EXCERPTS FROM WOMEN BORN WITH FUR: A BIOGRAPHY
Hypertrichosis: An excessive growth of hair on the body, possibly as a result of
endocrine dysfunction, as in the hirsutism accompanying excessive adrenocortical
Hypertrichosis: specifically refers to hair density or length beyond the accepted limits of
normal for a particular age, race, or sex, and may be generalized or localized, and may be
lanugo, vellus, or terminal hair.
Hypertrichosis: Excessive hair growth at inappropriate locations, such as on the
extremities, the head, and the back. It is caused by genetic or acquired factors, and is an
androgen-independent process. This concept does not include hirsutism, which is an
androgen-dependent excess hair growth in women and children.
Hypertrichosis: Growth of hair in excess of the normal.
Hypertrichosis: A girl is born with hair, no, fur covering her entire body, everywhere but
her palms and the bottoms of her feet. Everyone calls it hair, but she knows it is fur. The
doctor calls it hair and says it will fall out when she is older, but she refuses to believe
him. Fur and hair are not the same things. She is only a child, but even she knows this.
Fur: 1. The thick coat of soft hair covering the skin of a mammal, such as a fox or beaver.
2. The hair-covered, dressed pelt of such a mammal, used in the making of garments and
as trimming or decoration.
3. A garment made of or lined with the dressed pelt of a mammal.
4. A coating similar to the pelt of a mammal.
Fur: 1. A piece of the dressed pelt of an animal used to make, trim, or line wearing
2. An article of clothing made of or with fur.
3. The hairy coat of a mammal especially when fine, soft, and thick; also: such a coat
with the skin.
4. A coating resembling fur: as a: a coat of ephithelial debris on the tongue. b: the thick
pile of a fabric (as chenille)
Fur: 1. The soft, thick hair covering the body of many mammals.
2. The skin bearing such hair, when stripped and processed for making, lining, or
trimming garments; dressed pelt.
3. Any garment, neckpiece, trimming, etc. made of such skins.
4. Any furlike or fuzzy coating, as diseased matter on the tongue in illness.
Fur: 1. The short, fine, soft hair of certain animals, growing thick on the skin, and
distinguished from the hair, which is longer and coarser.
2. The skins of certain wild animals with the fur; peltry; as, a cargo of furs.
3. Strips of dressed skins with fur, used on garments for warmth or for ornament.
4. Articles of clothing made of fur; as, a set of furs for a lady (a collar, tippet, or cape,
5. Any coating considered as resembling fur; as: a coat of morbid matter collected on the
tongue in persons affected with fever.
Fur: There have been many women born with fur.
He isn’t in love with her. How could he be in love with a girl like that? Richie is
attractive, a tall, wiry boy with strong arms and legs, blue eyes all the girls call
“piercing.” He is smart, but he doesn’t like to show it, and when he sits in class with his
arms folded, baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, he wonders what his life would be
like if he decided to try, if he raised his hand or bothered to do his homework. He’ll never
do it, but sometimes he wants to. Sometimes he thinks he’ll get out of this town, but
fifteen years will go by, twenty, then thirty, and he’ll still be here.
He isn’t in love with Mary, he couldn’t be, but he dreams about her. He imagines
them standing side by side, her small hand in his large one. He’ll imagine what she looks
like under the fur, like it is a sweater she can take off, and he imagines touching her on
her shoulder, her side, the small of her back. When he is fifteen and loses his virginity to
the school’s head cheerleader, he imagines he is on top of Mary instead, and this
frightens him. He can’t stop thinking about it, not even after he has slept with ten of the
cheerleaders (the pretty ones), the girls’ gymnastics team, and his 11th grade English
teacher. Ms. Fuller is tall and red haired, and Richie’s friends all fantasize about her.
They look down her shirt when she leans over them to explain passages in Macbeth and
watch her ass move from side to side as she erases the board. After she has sex with
Richie in the backseat of her car, she resigns from her job and moves away. Richie
doesn’t tell anyone what happened between them, doesn’t tell anyone that he ran his
hands through her long red hair and imagined it was fur, that he bit her lips and begged
her to bite him back, to make his mouth bleed.
Mary leaves home for the first time at nineteen, because she is sick of her father’s house,
sick of watching television every night and listening to her sisters argue on the phone
with their boyfriends. She has no other reasons for going, no plans. She decides to hitch
hike across the Midwest to California, or at least Colorado. As she packs her duffel bag,
she imagines meeting a man to travel with, one who tells her stories about the people he
knows, ones she reminds him of, a man who will stroke her face and head to help her fall
asleep and will buy her French vanilla coffees and candy bars from gas stations while she
waits in the car. She thinks about making it to a small town near the coast and working in
an ice cream shop, of buying a tiny house that smells like old books and salt. Mary’s first
night on the road no one stops for her, so she walks until she can’t anymore and then she
sleeps in someone’s yard. A dog wakes her up the next day by licking her hand, and it
lets her pet it until its owners call it inside.
(Mary leaves home for the first time at nineteen, because of the book. It’s a small book,
thin, almost like a pamphlet. She finds it in the mailbox wrapped in brown paper with no
return address, but it smells like her mother’s perfume, like what Mary imagines her
mother’s bedroom smells like. Julia Pastrana, the cover says, and Mary doesn’t know if
this is the author’s name or the title of the book. She learns that it’s the title, and that the
book is about a woman named Julia who was also covered in fur. The author calls it
“hair,” not fur, but Mary can tell from the pictures that she and Julia are alike, and so
Julia has fur. It makes a difference to her. She reads the book in an hour, sitting at the
kitchen table with a cup of tea that gets cold, listening to rain on the roof. Julia lived in
England in the 1800s, was a circus performer. Her manager married her, and when she
died, he had her and her dead baby (also furry) stuffed and carried them on display all
around the world. Now she’s in a museum somewhere, or a hospital, somewhere in
Europe. The author didn’t know where, but speculated Oslo.
Mary thinks about the stuffed animals her father used to bring down in garbage
bags from the attic—some were missing eyes or limbs, with saw dust and cotton stuffing
falling out of the holes that mice had chewed in them. He would put them on the floor in
the living room and tell Mary and her sisters to look through them and make sure they
didn’t want to keep any of them before he brought them to Goodwill or threw them out.
“We need to start getting rid of some of this stuff,” he’d say. Lula made Mel dig in the
bags for her. She said the toys were filthy and she hated the way they felt on her hands.
She made Mel pick out stuffed animals one by one, to hold them up and show them to her
like she was trying to sell them, and never decided to keep anything. Their father would
take the garbage bags into the garage, and they would sit there until he brought them back
up into the attic. A few months later, he would bring down the same bags and tell the
girls again to look through them in case there was anything they wanted. Mary never took
things from the bags while her sisters were watching, but sometimes she would go into
the garage and look through them herself, holding stuffed rabbits and horses and frogs in
her lap, bringing them up to her nose and breathing in the smell of mildew and sawdust,
and then returning them to the bags. She buried a stuffed sheep once, because she
couldn’t stand the idea of putting it back in plastic.)
Mary gets a job at a library shelving books five hours a day. She doesn’t talk to people,
and sometimes she sits on the floor between the bookshelves and reads until she hears
someone moving nearby, and then she jumps up and pushes the book cart down a row or
two. She reads Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, but were Afraid to Ask
and makes notes in the margins.
One afternoon, when it’s nearly time for story hour, the children’s librarian gets
sick. Mary watches her run to the bathroom, hears her gag and vomit into the toilet. She
comes out wiping her mouth, and tells Mary that she’ll have to fill in for her. “There
shouldn’t be too many kids today,” she says, and hands Mary a large, glossy copy of
Little Red Riding Hood. “Good luck.” Mary can smell the barf on her breath.
The children begin to file into the library, and Mary sits down in the small chair in
front of a large rug covered in brightly colored ABCs. She holds the book open and looks
at the pictures, at Little Red Riding Hood’s long blonde hair peeking out from under her
hood, at the basket she clutches in a delicate pink fist. The wolf is large and gray with
unkempt fur, and he leers at Red and bares his teeth menacingly.
When the children see Mary, some of them begin to cry. They run back to their
parents and cling to their legs, say they want to go home. The braver ones stare at her and
ask her why she looks so strange. “What are you?” they ask, and reach their hands toward
her fur. “Be quiet,” Mary tells them, opening the book to the first page, “it’s time for the
story.” The children calm down as she begins to read to them, and by the end of the book
they are staring at her with wide eyes. “And so the wolf ate Little Red Riding Hood up,”
Mary says, smiling at them, “and no one ever saw her again.”
In the Library
(What really happens in the library is that the children’s librarian throws up and then asks
Mary to take over story time. “We’re reading Little Red Riding Hood,” she says, and
hands Mary a large, bright copy of the book. “It’s mostly pictures,” she says, and smiles.
“The kids love them.” Mary sits in a chair in front of the ABC rug and reads to the
children, who are polite and quiet. She growls like the wolf and says “Grandmother, why
are your teeth so big” in a high, sweet voice, and the children stare at her, rapt. No one
asks about her fur or says anything that could be considered rude in any way, but when
she’s finished with the book, they gather around her and try to sit in her lap. They put
their arms around her neck and bury their faces in her chest and giggle when the fur
tickles their noses. They look at her like she is beautiful, like she is something they are
imagining instead of seeing.)
(The children’s librarian throws up, but says she doesn’t need to go home. She is
pregnant, and is used to throwing up by now. She asks Mary to stand by in case she needs
her, but that she can read the story to the kids. “Little Red Riding Hood,” she says, and
smiles weakly. “My favorite. I always loved the wolf, even though my mom said that was
weird.” “I loved the grandmother,” Mary says, and the children’s librarian laughs. The
children listen attentively to the story and cheer when Little Red Riding Hood pops out of
the wolf’s stomach, clean and neat, not a hair on her head harmed. Smiling.)
Mary writes letters to her sisters and mails them from mailboxes in neighborhoods she
passes along her way. Dear Lula, she writes, have you talked to Dad recently? Are you
married yet? And Dear Mel, I passed a building on fire yesterday. The smell reminded
me of you. Her sisters never write her back, but Mary tells herself it’s because she’s
always on the move and they can’t find her. Sometimes she sends them packages—
photographs of sidewalks and street vendors, postcards, bits of tree bark and ballpoint
pens, and she always includes a card that says Love, Mary. Mary doesn’t remember what
her sisters look like, but she sees their faces in all the women she passes.
(Mary writes letters to her sisters and mails them from mailboxes in neighborhoods she
passes along the way.
“Dear Mel,” she writes,
“Do you remember when we were kids and you used to hold me on your lap? I was too
big for you, but you always tried. Lula made fun of you for it, but you did it anyway, and
I never thanked you. I passed a burning building the other day and thought about our
house, that stupid gas fire with the fake logs. I thought about you, how I’m not sure I’d
recognize your face if I saw you, but I swear for just a second that every woman I pass is
you. Give my love to Lula. Mary.”
I made this collage for you from notebook paper and magazine pictures. The girl
in the middle (she is missing a head) is you. She’s missing a heart, too, but you can’t see
I know you probably don’t want to hear from me (I wouldn’t if I were you), but
I’ve been looking for you for a long time now. Your father told me you move around a
lot, so I hope this gets to you. I think of you often, all the time, and I wonder how you
are. There is a lot to say, but I don’t even know if you’ll get this, so I’ll wait to hear back
from you before I say any more. If you don’t want to write back, I understand. But I hope
p.s. Here is a photograph I took in Hawaii of a volcano just starting to erupt. It reminds
me of you.
You must not be getting my letters, or else you don’t want to hear from me. I
hope it’s not the latter. I wish I could sit down with you and explain why I left—I just
can’t write it in a letter. I’ve tried, and it always comes out sounding so stupid. What I
can say is this: I wanted to take you with me and have always regretted not doing it. I
thought about coming back so many times, just to get you. You would have been
unhappy, though, at least this is what I tell myself. I’ve moved around a lot—all over the
country, and even to Scotland for a few years, and then to Canada. I think my next stop
might be South Africa. I think there’s a country song that says something like “I wasn’t
born for settling down,” and it’s a cliché but in my case it’s true. It sounds like it might
be true for you, too. I don’t regret marrying your father and having kids, but I wish I had
done some traveling first. Might have made it easier on everyone. If you get this, please
write back, even if it’s just to tell me to piss off.
p.s. Sometimes I do regret having Lula.
I wish you would come home. It’s boring here and I can’t torment Mel and Dad
the way I liked to torment you. It just isn’t the same. Where are you these days? Have
you joined the circus yet?
A few weeks after Truck and the girl in the Stetson leave, Mary and the giant end up
sleeping together, and then they are together every day. They move into an apartment,
and then rent a house in a small town in Indiana where the giant used to have family. It
happens so quickly, and Mary didn’t expect it (she still thinks about Truck’s heavy legs
wrapped around her own and the way she smells, her breath), but she is happy. They
drink wine in bed, and he tells her she is more beautiful than any woman he’s seen.
“You’re an idiot,” Mary tells him, but he swears it’s true.
The giant is neither too heavy nor too light on her body, and she loves the way her
fur feels against his skin, almost like it is absorbing him. She tries to tell the giant this,
but he doesn’t understand. “It doesn’t matter,” she says. They whisper “I love you” to
each other over and over until Mary doesn’t know what the words mean anymore; she
just likes the sounds and the way they feel on her tongue.
It is time. Mary has been in contact with the curator of a museum in Norway, and Julia is
there. When she tells the giant she’s found her, he kisses her and says “of course you
have” like he always believed she would. They makes plane reservations for the trip to
Oslo, and the giant says it can be their honeymoon, but Mary isn’t listening to him. Her
body feels heavy now, and all she wants to do is sleep. She’s found Julia. She could have
found her months ago, but she is almost glad she waited so long. Now that the time has
finally come, she is terrified. What will she do with her? Why did she want her so badly
in the first place? You’re traveling to Norway to bring a dead body home with you, she
says to herself. She has never thought about how strange of an idea it is, and now that she
does, it seems impossibly strange. The giant books first class tickets, a suite in the Grand
Hotel. “This is the first time we’ll really get to be alone together,” he says. Mary is sitting
on the bed, and he jumps on it and drops down next to her. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Yes, but we really won’t be alone together,” Mary says. “We’ll have Julia with
Oslo is a city of brightly painted houses. Electric blues and reds and yellows. They look
like they’ve been colored with crayons. Most of them are strung with Christmas lights,
even though Christmas isn’t for months yet. The city is so dark, their cabdriver says, that
people are obsessed with light. They burn candles in their houses all the time, cover every
open surface with lamps. “Every once in a while, we get a letter from the public works
saying we need to cool it with using so much electricity,” he says, “but no one listens.”
The giant takes photograph after photograph of the houses, of all the buildings they pass.
He thinks they’re beautiful, but Mary thinks the city is tacky, like a miniature city in a toy
train set. “It’s like it’s trying to be beautiful,” she says, but she feels bad after saying it.
The giant just frowns and takes more pictures. Most of them turn out badly, just smears
of colored light and indeterminate shapes, but Mary loves them. She can’t take her eyes
off of them. “This is the real city,” she says, “you’ve captured it.”
(The giant loves Oslo. He asks Mary how she would feel about moving there one day,
and shows her photographs he took in the cab and on the train. The houses are painted
bright blue and red and yellow, and they have Christmas lights strung over their windows
and eaves, even though Christmas is still months away. The photographs come out
badly—just smears of red and green and pink light over shadow—but Mary says they’re
beautiful. She tells the giant that when they get home she is going to print them out and
frame them. She wants to hang them in Julia’s room.)
City of Bright Houses
(The citizens of Oslo are obsessed with light. They burn candles in their windows and
keep Christmas lights hanging from their roofs even in summer. Most of the streetlights
are always burning, even in the morning and afternoon. “It is because there is so little
natural light,” the cab driver tells Mary. “Most of us suffer from vitamin D deficiencies
because the city is so dark.” Mary tells him he should take vitamins, and he pulls a bottle
out of the glovebox and shakes them at her. “Every day,” he says.)
Beth Couture’s work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, The Yalobusha Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. She is an assistant editor with Sundress Publications, and teaches composition at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.