“I could be in love with almost everyone,” Arthur Lee Love
My Ex lives in a house with two other girls. Even though we’ve broken up, we’re still friends, and I like going over there for all the same reasons I liked going out with her. The house is cute and comfortable and clean. You can see why we finished. There was a couple of months where we didn’t talk, and then she sent me a text. Just: Hi. I was in bed with my phone was by my head and I almost texted straight back, but thought better of it. Wait til morning. When I woke up, I made tea and had a fag, etc.. Then, at 10, I replied: Wassup. She didn’t reply until 2 that afternoon. I waited til 8.30 and so the conversation went on over a couple of weeks. We are gentle with each other. I know there are things she doesn’t tell me, and occasionally, vice versa. Finally, she calls.
“I’m actually passing yours this afternoon. Maybe I’ll drop by.”
“Some foxes have made a nest in our garden!” she squeals down the phone.
I could hear the flatmates behind her, also squealing.
“You gotta come see.”
An hour later, I am stood in her kitchen, a glass-ceiling extension at the back of the house, that looks out onto a garden that rises to meet train tracks that run to Victoria. Warm mugs of tea cupped in hands. Usually, the only visitors are rats. There’d been many a time when we’d wake to see a beady-eyed bastard raised up on it’s hind legs, triumphant amidst the remains of a torn rubbish bag; last week’s waste strewn guiltily across the lawn. I’d have to go out there, shovel in hand, to screams of:
I’d never caught one yet.
Today it is different.
“She’s pregnant,” says Flatmate No. 2.
“They’re in love!” said the other.
A look flits between me and The Ex.
The feral lovers are hiding in an arbour of stinging nettles. I can just make out a cross patch of red, and the waving tip of white tail.
“I want them to come out,” Flatmate no. 2 moans.
“They’re nocturnal,” I say, “and anyway, they won’t come anywhere near you.”
Flatmate No. 2 sneers at me, says something under her breath.
“I fancy a beer.”
We spend all day drinking. At dusk we creep into the kitchen and stand there with the lights out watching the prospective parents rub noses, frolic etc. At some stage, I fall asleep on the sofa. When I wake early in the hours of the next morning I feel sick and weird and disgusting. Holding my pounding head, I decide not to go back to sleep and instead let myself out before the girls come down. I love walking home at this hour, the mist still thick enough to disguise the postman on his rounds, and so quiet.
Two days later I get a call.
The girls are hysterical. They have named the creatures.
“Crosspatch, Rawhead and Bloodybones,” my ex-girlfriend sounds coquettish. “Screwtop, Cricket, Phyllis and Crone.”
“Good names,” I say.
I had stuff to do.
“Maybe I’ll come by later,” I say, but I wasn’t thinking of going over at all. I was going to wait til around the time I was supposed to be there, then text: Can’t make it this eve. Soz. But before time came round, I got another call. I almost didn’t answer it but then thought maybe I could make my excuses now, but when I answered the phone it was to a shriek.
“It’s dead. What do I do?”
I pull myself off the sofa, grab my keys and still on the phone walk out the door. Auto-pilot. That’s the thing, once you’ve had something with someone, you just know when they need you and whether you want to help or not, you go.
When I get to hers, the door is on the latch and the girls huddled together in the kitchen, looking at the guts of cub No. 1 smeared across the lawn like Marmite. Particularly vicious.
“Which one is it?” I ask.
“No it ain’t, it’s Rawhead.”
“How can you even tell the difference?”
“I just know okay?”
This was going to kick off.
“What do we do?”
I pick up a roll of bin liners from where they are lying on the side.
“No!” Flatmate no. 2 screams, knocking the tube out my hands.
“I think we should bury him,” says the other, with righteousness.
I let myself out of the backdoor into the garden and go inspect the corpse. The father is nowhere to be seen, but when I poke what I take to be a shank with the tip of my trainer, the mother hisses at me from her corner, curling her torso and tail closely around the surviving youngsters.
“What about this?”
The Ex has come outside holding an old wooden drawer.
“It’s from the chest we threw away last week. Council haven’t collected it.”
She sounds offended, loitering back, not wanting to come onto the lawn. I have a headache.
“Sure,” I shrug.
Using a spade I lift the pieces of fox into the drawer. Once Rawhead is entombed, the girls want to help dig. It takes us an hour until we made a hole big enough, then I lower the thing in. It pitches and lands at an angle.
“We should say something.”
“We should wait for his parents.”
For Fuck’s Sake.
I am tired. It is getting dark. Streak of phosphorus line the sky behind electric cables. I almost tell em to fill it themselves, but one look at the Ex makes me hold it. We fill the grave, spit some nonsense about rest in peace and rot in pieces, then I make my excuses before things descend into farce.
Three days later I get another call. Cub No. 2 has been attacked by a dog, then eaten by crows. If last time, the girls had some stoicism about them, this time it’s out the window. Flatmate No.2 throws up, and No.3 hyperventilates when she realises, after we’ve buried the little critter, that we have forgotten a mangled paw, left lying on the patio.
“Aren’t they good luck?” I offer, picking it up and holding it out to her. “Like a talisman.”
“He’s sick!” she addresses the girls first, then screams in my face. ” You’re fucked, you know that?”
I look to my Ex for back up, but she is just staring at the sick on the patio.
I get away with five days of being left in peace. In the meantime, it seems like everything in my life is conspiring to make me engage with the concept of fox corpse. The ban fox hunting campaign is just being won and all over the telly, and my mum is moving house. She sends a box of childhood crap over to mine; stuff I am sure I don’t want. When the box arrives I open it anyway, and first thing out is Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Cubs 3, 4, 5 and 6 fall like dominoes.
Somehow it has got to the stage where instead of a polite early evening call, my ex thinks any hour of the day or night (this time being 6 in the morning) an acceptable time to ring me. And if I don’t answer, to ring again and again and again. To be fair, I miss the first two, but still only answer after the sixth, wondering, finally, if something proper might be the matter. She could be …
The last surviving cub has been abandoned by its parents. They had tried to give it milk, but it wouldn’t come near them and over the past days, the girls have watched the creature starve ultimately to death.
“It’s just so tiny,” she whimpers down the phone. “Please come.”
I am fucking raging. I hang up. No way. No fucking way. But after lying there for 20 minutes, I am so razzed that I can’t go back to sleep anyway and I just, I just… I just wanted to fucking strangle her! I pull back the cupboards in a caricature of fury and stamp to the bathroom, then storm down the stairs and slam the door on my way out the house.
This 6am is the same as the one before, only I stupidly get on a bus. Once under the neons, I feel uncomfortable, noticing stains on my pyjamas and horrible faces set to gratuitous gurns.
By the time I reach my ex’s, I am calmer. Thankfully. The girls are out back. They have lit a row of candles.
“Please don’t tell me…”
I shut up and do what I came to. There are no drawers left now, so this one has to be buried without a box.
“Maybe it’s better, more natural.”
I despise Flatmate No. 3.
When I am finished, the girls insist on erecting crosses. Their spindly devices complete the garden’s transformation from urban nursery to pet semetary. I wanna be sedated. These will forever stare ominously in at them through the kitchen window as they do the washing up. And I’m glad. The days are getting short. There is talk of getting cats. I stop answering her calls, you know?