We were already running late. Stay in the house, I shouted as the kids craned their pale moon faces past me at the prone slip of fur just beyond the drive. A tawny stole, legs jutting angles, a dusting of frost on its coat, blood pooling from the mouth. A bump in the night. The kids’ backpacks jammed them together in the doorway, a comedy of congestion and confusion. Peter elbowed Edie into the house and held her back as she struggled to get free.
Once I’d walked them in a wide berth past the dead fox, Peter shielding his sister’s eyes (his own wide open, drinking in the gore) and put them on the school bus, I’d made up my mind to call Tom. I had first considered gifting this nice bit of drama to Next-door Nora but her hip and heart were especially bad since the weather changed, it might just be too much for her. It could take all day to get through to the council and neither their website nor that of animal control specified what to do in the event of an unexpected carcass. Ring a vet? There might be a charge. I couldn’t bring myself to touch it, even if I could figure out where to put it. Tom it was.
Why don’t you call him? That was his first question, an audible sneer on his lips.
I sighed. Never mind, I’ll do it myself…
OK, he agreed, ten minutes.
I fixed myself a multi-sugared coffee and wondered why Tom was within so short a distance? He should be at his sister’s in the town, at least 30 minutes away. It had been over two months since he left, weeks since I’d seen him. When he arrived, he looked almost chipper. He was wearing a fresh shirt, though his black-lashed eyes were rimmed in red, as if he’d been up half the night, letting reams of smoke filter through his skull.
We went to the shed for a shovel. Shouldn’t we report it to someone? Bury it?
We stood and stared, wallowing a long moment in its strange lifelessness. The fox’s eyes were open just a sliver, a fleck of brightness still in them. It gave me the sensation that, somehow, this was temporary, that the thing might twitch, leap to its feet, sudden and panting, up into the air, and skitter off down the lane, pelting towards the churchyard with a flick of its scrubby tail. I looked at Tom, his slack expression another kind of mirror.
The thrum of an approaching car nudged us out of it. Tom scooped the body up deftly onto the spade, paraded it a few yards, then launched it over the tall hedge backing on to the river field. The fox’s limbs flopped in mid-air, a parody of panic, and dropped out of sight with just a slight rustle. Tom handed me the shovel, his expression a throwback to last Christmas when he’d assembled Edie’s scooter all by himself.
A reddish patch on the ground, shaped like a little map of France.
I’ll put the kettle on, I said.
OK, I’ll have a cup, he said.
I shrugged and turned for the house, thinking: I meant, to wash away the blood.
Fi Smith is a Dublin poet, journalist, screenwriter and blog editor for firstfortnight.ie, the annual festival of mental health awareness through the arts. Her work has appeared in The Incubator Journal, The Blue Nib and The Molotov Cocktail. @fifilebon.