It was that fox again—the one with the limp. It stared in through the patio doors, swaying a little from side to side as if on the verge of collapse, brown stains running from eyes to muzzle like tears. I wanted to let it into the warmth, or at the very east to throw it some scraps from the kitchen. But I couldn’t. That’s how they got you, if the news stories were to be believed. And I believed them.
I pictured the poor thing limping across field after field, squirming through hedgerow after hedgerow, desperately searching for food despite its twisted limb. It had left its babies back home in its den, small and pink and blind and growing skinnier by the hour, bleating forlornly for milk. Milk that would only flow if their mother could eat. And she hadn’t eaten for days. I could see it in her eyes while she stood there gazing at me through the patio doors, a silent communication from one mother to another.
We’re not too different, humans and animals. All we want is to feed our kids. We’ll cling to life with whatever meagre strength we have, holding on just long enough to raise our offspring into childbearing adults so that the whole cycle can begin again. Almost seems futile in a world like this, but we do it anyway. And I felt as if I knew that limping fox’s struggles as intimately as if they had been my own. I had been in her very same position not too long ago. I’d failed, but not without giving up, not without losing hope. Not until my pink, skinny, bleating baby had turned grey and there was no use trying anymore.
The fox coughed a dry, desolate hack, chest hitching as steam billowed from her nostrils. Her feet were sodden with dew. She must have been chilled to the bone and still she didn’t give up or lose hope. Even with that twisted leg. She was me, before it all went wrong.
But I could help her keep her pink babies pink, I thought, as I retrieved a chicken carcass from the fridge. I had been saving it to make broth—these aren’t the days to be throwing things away—and there was barely a morsel of real meat left, but it would tide her over until she reached the next house at least. It was all I could spare.
I opened the patio doors wide. The fox flinched but held her ground as I unravelled the package and threw her the bones. She sniffed at it, licked her lips, and looked at me.
“Go ahead,” I whispered.
She nosed the air in my direction. Smelling me. Sensing my heartbeat and the blood pumping through me. A far better prospect than a carcass of bone and gristle. She has milk to make, after all.
I nodded. “Okay. If it’ll help you keep your babies.”
She went for my throat.
This story was inspired by a prompt from Curtis Brown Creative’s Weekly Writing Workout – it’s free to sign up and there have been some fun little challenges and ideas so far – would highly recommend.
And here’s a track by Altered Beats that sort of fits the mood of the tale, because we all need a little music in our lives right now.Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com