(stimulus words from Won Ho Lee)
In the middle of the street, a poke of fur pops up, flashes white, then whips away. Off and around a garden path. City fox. The footpath gleams black with the oil of another day´s exhaust, exertion and weariness. Minor crunch underfoot from loose gravel, mixing with tepid rainwater, a cement gruel. An overlay atop old hardened gum, frontyard topsoil, and crumbling asphalt. It´s a slow, begrudged, trudging march back home through a winter evening, and I´m staring downward. The air is sharp enough that I´m imagining fighting tiny needling battles with every particle of my skin, that I am noble and heroic to brave this hostile walk at all. The protagonist in a non-existent story.
A movement in my periphery causes my head to turn, but I scan the scene and find nothing.
`Another fox´, I think.
They own the streets in the early hours of the morning, when they can drop their facade of shyness, and are free from territorial tension with the steady traffic of humans that stream by during the day. They threaten to outpopulate the residents, so the council recommended people cull them at will. For the past twelve weeks, locals have been constructing elaborate pit traps, erected razor-wire fences, metal jaws, spring-loaded mechanisms, weight-controlled pulley-operated cages descending from trees, hair-triggered shotguns, rigged machetes and left poisionous bait in their frontyards, backyards, rooves, windowsills, and porches. The suburban landscape consists of rope, netting, edges, ditches, mounds, boxes, enclosures, potato sacks, punctuated with scowls, muttering, and white porcelain dishes filled with rotting meat. Children sit indoors in front of computers.
Each morning, a flatbed truck drives around on carcass duty, and rubbergloved fists curl around limp, furry, white and orange tails, swinging thin brown frames in an arc onto the back of the truck. The arcs are carved out by small triangular faces: eyes closed, and ears pointed and alert, but hearing nothing. The trucks fill to capacity at around midday and trundle 2km out of town, to the 200 metre-long trench, four metres deep, dredged and cauterised by excavating machines. The same rubbergloved hands hurl each animal into any crevice of the trench. After the largest flesh flies swarm, the tractor pushes the displaced dirt back in to fill the trench, to make a long, rectangular mound.
As my double-brick fence finally comes into sight, I fish into my pocket to have my housekeys ready in my hand. I run my thumb over the key shape belonging to the top bolt, and pincer grip it before I arrive at the door. Draw it out, slide it in, and the deadlock shucks open smoothly. I find the key for the bottom latch and it unlocks without resistance. I lean on the door, pushing with my shoulder, but there is no give. I barge again, firmer, and it budges only half an inch. I make believe I am an emergency response unit member, and someone inside needs me to their rescue pronto, and this time I pummel the door with my entire body weight. I hear yelping and whimpering as the door opens wide enough for me to stumble through. I reach for the light switch to turn on the overhead bulb. I anticipate seeing the 70s geometric carpet, my second-hand shit-brown tweed lounge set, but the only form I comprehend is a thick shag rug layer of a height of almost a metre high, covering everything all around me. It is a mix of white, brown and auburn-orange.
I realise slowly that the shag carpet is pulsating, swimming before my eyes and I am feeling slight pressure around my ankles. I look down and make out rodent-like faces in white and orange. Black eyes and whiskers peer up at me. I bend down to get nearer to this frowning face, in an attempt to communicate with the mind behind it. I reach out to touch feather-light tufts of hair, slightly coarse, but very fine. I look out over the sea of faces, backs, tails, bodies crammed together in my living room. This is the softest surface I have seen in a long while, in a neighbourhood of vitriol, and it moves me to find that I want to respond to it. It breathes like bricks don´t breathe, and I am gasping emptily for a full inhalation. My home has not been this alive before. And I would like to become the softness, too.
I move to make space on the floor for myself, and sit cross-legged. Three foxes stride into my lap, lightweight and innocent. I slowly lie back, not to hurt or impose weight on any foxes behind me. I sprawl out, arms above my head as more creatures gather on top of my belly, my chest, my knees, my groin. My hands and arms are not pinned down so I stroke them. Some are walking on my neck, and my face, and as I try to clear them away from my larynx, one sniffs and bites my index finger.
`Hey!´, I say and while trying to shoo it off, another nabs the end of my finger and starts gnawing. I can feel its teeth slice through and wet tongue lapping up the layer below my epidermis, its mouth on the icy moist bits below the outer skin. The pain is numbed by the newness of the sensation, and my curiosity is fed by its alienness. I notice there is nibbling at both my hands, and also at the bottom of my jacket. There is increasing weight on my thighs and shins, and as I look down there are what seem to be thirty foxes pressing onto and walking over my bottom half. It becomes clear that they are seeking out a prize near the right of my pelvis.
Then, I understand.
The stench I can´t sense is emanating from the gloves stuffed in my jacket pocket. As I lie there, getting crushed by wet snouts, suffocated by wispy orange and brown hair, and chewed on by hungry gullets, I remember what I had heard and saw as I was undressing from my work coveralls this afternoon. It had started off as the quiet clucking and chirping noise of a nesting fox at peace. The noise multiplied, exponential, to a grating crescendo of guttural throat sounds. I hurried my jacket on and shoved my gloves into its pocket, as I scuttled to the office window that faced out to the trench. This was where the noise was at its loudest. What I saw was confusing at first, as is any unfamiliar sight. There appeared to be over a hundred foxes with their heads buried in the freshly-made mound, burrowing hard and fast. And behind them, in a definitive perimetre, another row of foxes had their noses turned up at the waning twilight. The accumulative sounds that I had heard from the office dressing room was coming from this protective outer ring, the gunning engine of a rapidly decreasing community. As they sat on their haunches and cawed at the dusk sky, I watched quietly from the window. A few turned to look at me, light and movement catching their eye. I was reminded of my grandmother, earlier this year, at my grandfather´s funeral. Lying across the casket, pounding its top with her palm, wailing and sobbing. No discernible words, just a continuous howl and deep heaving oscillation. It had not seemed like she, or they, would recover or cease.