…before the foxes came I’m told wild areas still grew – before the foxes came and towns gobbled up the ground. Towns gobbled up the ground, bit by bit, stone by stone, building after building, till the wilderness was eaten – chewed, swallowed. Gone. And from concrete shadows in artificial jungles around the globe, large predators picked up the scent. I read about people who protested. Can you imagine that? After the foxes came everything was fine for a time. They came from the south and moved north through Wythenshawe, Stockport and Altringham and into Chorlton, Withington and Didsbury, where I live.
I turn the unit on and open the back kitchen door to smoke a small spliff. I’m old fashioned that way I guess. Girls in my class at school gas me about it – part of five percent global Incompatibates, but I don’t mind – guess there always has to be a minority. I’m already feeling sleepy. I’ve brewed a coffee. It’s waiting inside. I’m careful like that. My dad says I’m always thinking ahead. The sky is glowing muddy orange – all clouds and electronic pulses. It’s not from the moon. It’s Manchester city. You don’t see the moon much anymore.
Three more fatalities last night are reported on the news; a pregnant teenage mother outside Kwik Save in Salford, a businessman on his way home from the train station in Didsbury, and jogger along Birchfields Rd.
I’ve seen stars twice I think – glimpses of tinsel twinkling through the haze. Once I was too young to remember. My dad told me a pinch blacked out the whole north of the country. For two whole nights Manchester lay under a clear, blanket of white sparks. Beneath steel and concrete roofs, my dad said families sat inside, cowling in the dark while he spent the nights outside in the garden, alone in the summer chill looking up at the cosmic spectacle. He even got out granddad’s pair of analogue binoculars. Mum says it’s the only time he’s ever used them.
I couldn’t be sure the second time that it wasn’t space hail or satellites or a rock shower. I bragged about it all the same at school the next day. I hope you won’t think too badly of me. Jessica’s dad lets her use his Digiscope so she can watch the stars during the day. She’s always arriving at school with a precocious mouth full of chocolate and boasts.
Mum bought dad a digital set of binoculars for his birthday two years ago – an expensive pair I helped mum choose. He took them out of the box only to give them a home in the dust on the top shelf of his wardrobe. ‘Too complicated,’ dad complained. ‘I just want something I can point at and look through.’ Mum was upset and he won’t let me use them. But that’s dad I suppose. He said he doesn’t want me to lose focus on our own problems. But I reckon that’s the reason to look up.
A light wind blows across my face. This is a nice night to die I think. And I really believe that. I hope I don’t. Of course I hope I don’t – at least not while I’ve still got stuff to write about. My life is… humdrum. That’s it. I don’t quite know exactly what it means but somehow it sounds exactly how I feel. Maybe I heard my grandparents use it once before.
Domestic animals and pet creatures were allowed before the foxes came – before the towns gobbled up the ground. Even after what happened to mum dad disbelieved – Is that a word? It doesn’t sound quite right. But Dad’s opposition was tolerated by neighbours and friends out of pity. That was before everyone knew.
It is peculiar the way grief acts as both your friend and enemy and makes you second-guess the most certain details and memories. Dad accepted grief like a scientist. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say dad wouldn’t believe. And he wouldn’t allow grief to interfere with his own analysis and conclusions.
Kids always say their dad is the smartest but I’m right when I say mine is. He was a biologist before the foxes came. Neighbours and friends say I have my mother’s fairness and my father’s prudence. I don’t think I’m smart although I get good grades – except religious education because I don’t think you’re supposed to ask questions, which dad disappoints dad even though I thought he would be appreciative.
When Livingston strayed and was found limping along outside the local newsagent Grandpa was arrested for non-compliance and was jailed for two weeks. In the prison shower he slipped and broke his hip. I hear adults say, ‘It’s the beginning of the end.’
Dad said it’s common for people to pass quickly away after their companion is gone. ‘It was because of that insipid dog your granddad stayed with us for so long I figure.’
‘What about you dad? I asked.
He gave me a strange look. It’s the same unsettling look that creeps over his face when he catches me looking at old virtuals. I use them for class assignments. The creatures stored in them are all so colourful and wonderful and weird and playful. They are given names and have adventures and made sounds a lot like us.
Then he smiled and ruffled my hair with his delicate fingers. I pretend I don’t mind but I really hate it now when he does that.
When I’m upset and catch my reflection it reminds me of the look mum gave dad sometimes, although hers was softer and more delicate. And it hung on her face all day framed around a pensive frown. I know it one of those things I will have to grow up to understand properly.
The smoke is getting to my head. It’s funny how I notice the peculiarities and details when I’m stoned. They sit up while everything else falls suddenly asleep and dance before me – entertain me and try and please me so I’ll permit them remain in my company a while longer.
I sat, staring at a rose bush the other night in the rain. It was white in bloom. One rose bud was caught yawning docile praise for the mild autumn, and a dozen more stems were budding sleepy eyes.
The white rose stares at me.
I blow smoke into its face, hoping it will feel something near to how I feel. And I think my life is like that rose.
I’m talking nonsense now, but in the moment I believe what I say I feel it must be right. I still find it hard to see how things can grow in all this misery – ignorance I suppose.
Bans on parks and gardens lifted a year ago. There’re still not many parks open. The security of a concrete lair is a difficult to discard. Everyone knows this now. Piccadilly Park in Manchester city just reopened where people go to feel safe.
Dad says time might be right in eighteen months to start his own gardening business. Everyone thinks he’s mad except me. He hordes everything which always made mum holler, ‘I’m throwing out anything that’s not tied down.’ But the lawn mower and hedge trimmer survived.
I reckon he could easily charge as much as bicycle couriers and window cleaners and postmen. I see the way he is when he talks about the outside and it’s the dad I like the most. His shoulder blades stiffen through his pale worn shirts and his tall body stretches up and out into a scimitar. His bearded face fills with zeal and the spectacles rise on his nose from the energy he emanates. I won’t lie and say the idea doesn’t scare me. But dad needs the outside. I’m lucky we have a garden. It’s my favourite thing about the house. They’re still very rare in Didsbury. I guess I don’t blame people. Everyone fears nature as much as their neighbour.
They caught one by the way. I just heard it on the news. Authorities tracked it from two further fatalities, a young boy in Withington Village and a student outside King Kebab in Fallowfield. It was cornered in a car park and swiftly terminated. Tests would have to be completed before confirmation can be announced. One eyewitness said it was upright like a man when it attacked. Others said it was black. They always sat that. Authorities warned against complacency. They suspect it had a shadow and asked for continued vigilance till its pairing is caught.
All the rose buds are dead now. They have wilted like frozen teardrops hanging off the stems – dry, brown and dirty tears. The single white rose is still in bloom. I like to think my smoke helped it live.
Sometimes when I’m stoned and the weather is calm I can isolate the silence in the air. I hear it arrest the noise, late at night when it takes the advantage. It sails in a noiseless vessel over lulls in traffic along Wilmslow Road. But it’s not true silence. It is the sudden loss of noise which mixes with the smoke and makes me maudlin and heavy in contemplation. Then I can’t help thinking something is about to go wrong. Silence. The predator has murdered noise. I am certain I will be next.
That’s when the game stops, when the silence becomes too unbearable. I’ve come to treasure the silence, like the glimpses of star, like a junkie of fright or confrontation. I get up to walk inside. A young fox the size of a retriever with a healthy cinnamon coat saunters across the garden. I freeze in my step. It sniffs about the tree in the middle of the garden and prowls about a couple of fallen Bramley apples rotting in the grass. It suddenly stops. I know it’s caught my scent. It glances at me, briefly, but then turns away in disinterest and trots away.