One evening a fox was dying in my back garden. Its fur was patchy, its eyes were sad and watery, and it sniffed pitifully amongst the bushes.
I have mixed feelings towards foxes. One part of me, the idealistic, romantic side, likes them. They are beautiful, shy creatures of sharp senses, swift and playful, with lustrous fiery fur, the stuff of Belstone, and The Fox and the Hound. This part of me wants to stroke them, tickle the white patch under their chins and give them a lamb chop and a saucer of milk for their dinner, for their lives are a continual strife, a constant fight, an incessant forage.
The other, rational part of me, sees them with revulsion and trepidation; with their verminous, cunning ways; nemesis of chickens; the doom of rabbits; thief of shoes; tramplers of my herb garden; those sharp teeth dripping with rabid saliva and fur itching with mange, diseases and fleas. This part of me want to avoid them like the plague, because of … well, their plague.
But towards this particular creature in the twilight I felt pity. I didn’t know those were its final hours though, I thought it was just having a bad day, you know, like a fox hangover, or bingeing on too many bones from boxes of Chicken Cottage. But then, when I drew the blinds on Sunday morning, the fox lay still on its side, right in the middle of the lawn.
By early afternoon it hadn’t moved an inch. The reality dawned on me – I had a dead fox in the garden and I had no idea how to get rid of it.
I phoned the management of the housing development.
“Nah, sorry mate, it’s in your garden. That’s private land. Not our problem.”
“So, if it was on public land you would take it away? Like if it had died at front of the house?”
A brief image entered my mind of me tossing a dead fox over the house, swinging it by the tail above my head like a lasso. I dismissed this idea for being both irreverent to a dead creature, and a feat of gargantuan strength well beyond my flinging capabilities.
By the afternoon, with the sun out and the fox started to attract flies. I phoned the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), a charity full of kind and benevolent souls who help animals of all sorts, dogs, cats, voles, moles, weasels, pigeons etc. with everything from toothache to piles. I was sure they’d help me dispose of the fox.
“I’m awfully sorry,” said a voice that sounded like the queen. “We are the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to LIVE animals. Not DEAD ones,” she said. “And how do you know it’s dead?”
“It’s not moving.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s dead. Look, have you tried the brush test?”
“The British test? What’s that got to do with this?”
“The BRUSH test, You get a broom or some kind of large brush and stroke the animal the wrong way, from its tail to its neck. If there’s a trace of life in the little bugger, it’ll certainly move I tell you.”
I got a broom from the shed and approached the fox with stealthy caution. I stroked it in the manner as advised. The little bugger didn’t move one iota. It had failed the ‘Brush Test’.
‘Yes I’m pretty sure it’s dead. It’s an ex-fox.”
“Awfully sorry. In that case we can’t help you,” she said and hung up.
I considered burying it. In the middle of the lawn? Might have problems growing the turf again. Or under the borders? Roses are so fussy these days with their feed. Or under the patio slabs? Too sinister.
I found a big plastic bucket with a lid which looked like it was just long enough for the fox. I lifted the fox’s corpse on a spade. It felt heavy and maggots at work on its underside fell off it like flaking plaster. I eased it head-first in to the bucket, in a slow respectful manner – it was being interred in to a plastic mausoleum. This was a ceremony for its final resting place.
Once its nose hit the bottom, I realised its tail stuck out of the top of the bucket, vertically like a car aerial. Not a problem, I thought, I’ll just bend the tail back in. Simple right?
As I got the lid ready, its brush tail pinged back to the vertical, stiff with rigor mortis. Each time I tried this, the tail sprung back, erect like a punch bag. You see, even in death, a fox’s cunning endures.
My neighbour Adam was looking out of the window, smiling and offering to help, but mostly smiling.
I got a big cardboard box from the shed, one used to package a large electrical appliance, and placed the fox inside it. He fit snugly on his side with room for his tail. He looked peaceful. At one with his self. His tail was still pointing up, as if he was giving a final gesture to the world, a sign of defiance. The fox was perhaps giving the bird.
I sealed his cardboard box with rounds of duct tape, took the box through the house and then Febrezed it – the next day was a Monday, the day for the bin men to take take the box away.
I hoped a passerby wouldn’t think there was an electrical appliance in the box so I wrote a sign on it that read, “Fox in the box.”
In the morning the box was gone. I really hope it was the bin men that took him.