Litro: 150 Britishness: F/O/X/T/R/O/T


The creator sat at his window ledge smoking the third cigarette in a row. It was his usual solution to a usual problem. The deadline for next week’s cryptic was a few hours away and in time-honoured style he had a good five or six problems to set before sunrise. It didn’t help trying to work around what had been going on outside for the last few days. Kids running about wrecking the place, taking whatever they wanted and smashing anything they didn’t. He couldn’t blame them really. He’d likely have joined in if he was their age. At that moment in time however their hijinx were proving too much of a distraction to his creative flow. He unwrapped the next packet of cigarettes as he considered the drama below.

His attention became drawn to a small fox, a virtual lace handkerchief of orange and cream flirting with some bins. The little guy couldn’t have been older than a year – what did you call a baby fox, a cub? A kitten? He looked it up online in a second. The kit was darting about here and there, timid, jumping at ghosts in the alley shadows. Its ears were pinned to the back of its head, reactive to the constant sounds in the distance that carried over the rooftops: flames buffeted by strong winds, sirens and water cannon, helicopters buzzing, car tyres screeching. And the closer sounds too: the chatter of shouting crowds, breaking glass, crunching metal against metal, pounding footsteps closer and closer still. The confused animal would determine a direction only to be put off by one sort of threatening stimuli or another. In the five minutes elapsed it had made virtually no progress down the dim lit street, instead pausing, unsure, sniffing at a bin bag while it weighed its options.

The creator sat in his observatory above the butcher’s shop, working his way through his second pack of the night, interest in finishing his puzzle now a distant concern as his trivial interest was piqued by any opportunity for dramatic tension. Amidst all that had been going on the last week or so he no longer felt invested in the politicking or random outbursts of human violence on the streets. Yet as is often the case he instead felt compelled to empathise with the struggle of this skinny kit trying to get god knows where? Fundamentally, the thing was just dying to find some rest in a world that no longer seemed to make sense to man or beast.

In that moment a large group of boys came out of another alleyway. Any other Sunday night most of these boys would be at home getting ready for work or school the next day. The last few weeks there hadn’t been a great deal of learning or work for anyone. The government and press originally tried to put a positive spin on it, calling it ‘The Long Summer.’ How long this summer was going to be was anyone’s guess but it was certainly unlikely to be over by Christmas. The fox had noticed an approaching clamour and instinctively turned. As bad luck goes, the fox probably couldn’t have picked a worse spot to turn and jump backwards finding itself amidst a heap of crates and boxes, disturbing a stack of glass bottles in the process. The creator mouthed a little prayer that the boys wouldn’t notice. But boys looking for trouble always notice.

He sort of willed the poor creature to find some sort of escape route but through either ignorance or panic it didn’t. A drinks can was flung at its flank to test its nerve. Was it a killer beast? Wild and rabid with infection perhaps? Disappointing for the boys it sank to its haunches, tail tucked under its body and chin now almost resting on its front paws, coiled like a copper spring. Four of the boys in black, glowing white Reebok paws blazing through the dim light, lunged forwards. At that turning point of decided violence the fox darted straight and true between two of them. The boys roared in good humour, happy with a sporting challenge. It was hard to tell for certain from this distance but the creator felt at least one or two of the crowd appeared uncomfortable at the scene, standing somewhat apart from the main cohort and not nearly as animated. Nevertheless, several more figures got involved in the chase and soon just over a half dozen kids were lunging and stamping and throwing objects to disorientate the animal. One scrawny boy reached out and managed to grab hold of the tip of the fox’s tail which gathered as much celebration as a home team goal.
Going into the endgame the fox laid fully on the floor this time, survival bandwidth now fully exhausted. Its face looked slightly off centre with an injured calm, body rising and flattening out again with each pant. It sensed an attack coming from its right side and bounded straight into the path of a swinging trainer coming from the other side. The boy’s foot drove straight into its ribs which unleashed a terrible, miserable scream. The shockwave sent a flock of pigeons to the sky. They could have been doves, dirtied by the city’s grime, rushing as fast as they could to tell the angels what fresh cruelties His children had suffered now. The creator had the feeling that none of the boys were enjoying themselves anymore. He couldn’t imagine the quiet sounds the fox was probably pleading with at this moment in time but he was glad his imagination spared him. At this distance he saw the boys cynically finish what they had set out to do and he turned away into his flat. Blue cigarette smoke now drifted into his study but he paid no heed.

As the boys finished the job outside the creator’s imagination shifted into a more abstract interpretation of the urban violence below. He looked back at the mess across the street with an altered, more open frame of mind. The fox went into that encounter alive, breathing, 100% fox. At the apex of conflict it was maybe more of a fox than it had ever been, truly wild and alone in contrast to the millennial cruelty of man. As the attacks commenced, the fox bit by bit became something entirely different. It was no longer a fox, but instead a foot-induced dead fox, some bruised fox meat, broken fox bones and partially transplanted fox fur. As the shoes connected the single fox rib became a broken fox rib, and as the lung filled with blood it became something it was never intended to be. The creator thought of it as a unique collection of chemical and physical processes changed in that moment by introduction of kinetic force. Pieces of tarmac and gravel pushed into the animal by swinging trainers became as much a part of this new creation, bleeding on the wet ground, as the two eyes it had started its day with. Water and oil on the ground swirled and danced with fresh fox blood, suggesting fantastic new possible combinations of biochemical processes. What implications did this present the local ecosystem? Should the trashwater now swirling through not-yet-congealed blood simply be considered a temporary extension of the animals haemodynamic system, percentile proportions of fox tissue and asphalt irrevocably altered?There is more than one way to skin a fox.

The creator watched one of the quieter boys not entirely unkindly lift the dead animal with its foot and fling it almost elegantly over to some bins. At least it could rest a while on a refuse manger, some improvement on the unforgiving floor that was so willing to assist in its removal from the world. The creator considered the animal conundrum as the boys went off onto the main strip – likely looking for further carnage to fill their empty lives. The whole chaotic, desperately sad scenario that had just transpired could have been interpreted in so many ways depending on any number of variables: numbers, facts, words, colours, smells, memories, music, pain associations, experience – knowledge of both a folk and a scientific nature. The fox had become a living, now dying map of life. Its soft, autumnal hues and wiry frame perfected over centuries to serve its place in the world now carved up like the african continent, humankind so desperate to leave their mark on anything and everything. The magnificent creational powers of nature laid there atop broken glass and unwanted toys, its torn flesh and broken bones an everyday reminder of the crushing hopelessness of mankind’s dominion over earth. Born for no reason other than to suffer and die at the feet of children.

The creator turned away from the broken little thing, curiosity and imaginative path well extinguished with his last cigarette. He turned back to his crossword grid, empty spaces staring back at him.

Canine takes the wrong turning at a medium pace (7)

He smiled in spite of himself as the city outside refused to die quietly.

Michael Carver

About Michael Carver

Jesus without the suffering.

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