The Envy of Footprints
It was that fox again. The one with the limp. It nosed around the garden’s border, in the cold November dawn. The ears twitched as it hobbled, each step placed with a lurch, a dip, and the puff of new exertion carried on the breeze. The fields beyond the back garden fence offered a sanctuary to bolt for should I present a threat.
But I was no longer a threat to anyone or anything. Not to this fox. I watched it with envious eyes, as it left a trail of pawprints across the patina of white. I envied the gift of making footprints.
The fox froze. Every nerve and sinew alert. It raised its snout, searching about the air, hard-wired to the innate knowledge of the breed - not every barn offered shelter. Not every food wasn’t poisoned. Not every dog was a fellow kindred, some hunted in slavering packs to the tinny wails of December bugles. Or tearing buckshot fired from unforgiving guns. After a pause, the fox pitched with low intent toward my ancient hoare-frost decking.
I drew the curtains, creating a narrow line of sight. The effort of tugging exhausted me. Between the heavy drapes, the garden was washed pink from the sunlight. It danced on the russet fur of my visitor. I held my breath watching. I waited for the fox to ascend the well-worn treads. I remembered the loose rung third from the top; I worried about the climb. Two ears, two amber eyes, and the thin black snout appeared. The fox (my fox) ducked down, pressing its head to the wood. It was aware of my pallid face stitched to the shiny moon-head skull peeking out through the dirty glass.
After the slender vulpine muzzle came the torso and the full wagging brush as it stopped and sniffed the air. It gave a toothy grin as it surveyed my proffered scraps - the bones of last night’s meal. A roasted chicken, crisp-skinned, and over-cooked protruded from Milo’s bowl. Milo I should add is buried at the foot of the garden with his favourite chew toy and leather lead. The bowl with the burnt offering reminds me of the sixteen years of joy that he brought us. I believe every passing should have some kind of memorial. Bringing him home and burying him was the right thing to do; in the far right-hand corner of the garden, beside the rowan, a patch of wildflowers had taken root, nourished by his soul.
My fox circled the bowl and then selected the piece with the choicest meat. From my wheelchair past the leaden drapes, through the insulated glass, I could see the animal’s raw wound. It pulsed as deep and red to the rising sun. A hidden snare had gouged the front leg above the dewclaw. I fretted that it might become infected. My fox picking up on my thoughts, bent low and tenderly licked its wound. It didn’t yelp or whimper too much giving me some hope.
The fox’s breath framed the happy grunts as its teeth ground bone and meat alike. I read once that you should never feed chicken bones to dogs, but foxes are familiar with the skeletons of birds.
I had an idea my fox here was the culprit of old man Hargreaves’ slaughter three nights ago. The concrete yard was strewn with feathers and blood from the dilapidated coop.
“I’ll shoot the bastard yet,” he said from the bottom of the shot glass.
The veins on his nose glowed like lava streams flowing down an unshaven weather-beaten face. He shifted in his chair; eyeing the lowered countertops in my kitchen, making him feel like he was a visitor to Lilliput,
“It does what it does,” I said.
“Does what?” he replied.
He took another dram without invitation. He gulped it like communion wine.
“Eats, birds, and weasels, and not forgetting voles. It’s what a fox would do," I continued, "if you had built a sturdier coop, not taken so many shortcuts?” I said.
Hargreaves stared at the bottom of the glass,
“I think it’s time you found another parish,” he mumbled.
The bloodshot eyes reviewed my modified kitchen. They were as sympathetic to the fox as they were to my wheelchair.
“I see it again, I’ll kill it,” he decided.
My thoughts are broken by a sound, the clatter of Milo’s empty bowl. My fox gives a leisurely stretch, gives its wound another lick, it smacks its lips…
…and in a heartbeat is gone.