Today’s brief asked me to channel my pet and write from his or her perspective. I don’t have a dog or a cat – or even a goldfish. (Years ago, when my daughter was six or seven, we had a hamster but they’re not known for their longevity.) However, a few months ago, a vixen decided to make her home under the decking at the back of the garden and gave birth to four cubs. I’ve watched these little ones grow and develop and spent ten minutes or more this morning at around 5.30 am, standing by the back door and watching one of the cubs prance around, playing with a ball he’d found. They’re such playful little things and in my mind, they’r emy adopted pets – even though I know they’ll grow up and move on soon. (They’ll have to – they leave too many ‘presents’ on the lawn.) This piece, then, is written from the mother fox’s perspective and charts he rlife as a single parent.
Darkness descends as I trot along the hard, grey ground, following the scent of other foxes as I search for somewhere that will serve as a makeshift den. I am still not used to these solo journeys, but my mate went out some time ago and did not come back. The light in the sky overhead is a pale colour as it always is when I go hunting. I venture out little when the light is bright – there is not much food to be had then, and the strange two-legged creatures seem to be everywhere.
The trail leads me through a place with grass and trees and I sniff cautiously, wondering if I can find a burrow of some sort. My belly is too heavy with the young I carry for me to start digging a substantial hole, but my babies need to be born underground in a place safe from predators.
My heart sinks as I realise I have nowhere to have my kits. Surely there must be somewhere? I begin to run, trotting away from the soft grass and rejoining the hard surface. Strange shapes loom in front of me, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen them. Once, I saw another fox push one of these things until it toppled and spilled its guts on the ground – and what wonderful guts they were! Bones with bits of meat still clinging to them, and things that tasted sweet, and green stuff – like grass, only better. For a moment, I wonder if I could somehow climb inside and hide until the cubs are old enough to leave home; but even if I could make my way inside, my little ones could not climb in and out; and if I managed to carry them one at a time, picking them up by the scruff of their necks, I would have to leave them alone while I fetched the next one – and who knows what might try to eat them if I am not watching them all the time.
The wind changes and I catch a faint odour of something that smells good to eat. Letting my nose lead me, I come to a tall, hard structure with gaps large enough to squeeze between. My belly drags on the ground and I know that my time is near.
More grass, with funny trees that grow in long unbroken lines. I wriggle through branches to find more grass and more long trees. Repeating the process, I come to a stretch of grass that smells of something not-fox – some sort of animal that will be good to eat. My eyes make out shadowy shapes within a structure raised from the ground and a smell of fear permeates the night. I approach, but there is something hard and sharp preventing me from investigating these furry creatures. Diving under branches once more, I find grass – lots of it – and an interesting looking hole that disappears under something low and flat and hard.
My kits are finally here. There are four of them in total – two boys and two girls but they are all identical. Their eyes are still closed and they are as deaf as they are blind. I lick their grey velvety skin, hoping their hair will grow soon. They smell my milk and whine with hunger, so I wrap my body around them for warmth, letting them nuzzle blindly until they have found my teats. Once fed, they sleep – and so do I.
My babies are now balls of black fluff. I worry about how to find food for us all. My milk will not last forever. Several times, I have left them sleeping and crept out onto the grass when the light is pale overhead. I managed to dig up long, slippery things but they were gone in an instant. My belly moans for solid food. If my mate were here, he would provide for us, but he is not coming back. I must raise our cubs without him.
Their fur is now grey. They have followed me outside, wobbling on unsteady legs, and they blink in surprise at the light. Until now, they have known only the comforting dark of our strange den and the hard confining walls. I see the smallest scenting the air – they must all feel overwhelmed by the space around them, by the feel of the grass underfoot, by the cool sensation of the breeze. I watch them proudly, marvelling at their perfect black noses and their small, rounded ears. Their tails are covered with the same grey fuzz as the rest of their bodies. They will slip in and out of the shadows when I take them hunting later.
The first hunting expedition has worn me out. I could manage two cubs, but four on my own! It is not easy being mother and father at the same time. Still, I have showed them how to sniff the ground and follow the smells that lead to food. I pushed my way through the long trees and back again several times until they understood what to do, then led them away from the grass and towards the hard, grey ground. Trotting through the semi-darkness, we found strange food in a pile. It did not smell harmful, so we tasted and then ate. Perhaps the two-legged creatures left it there for later – I do not think they hunt as we do.
They are sleeping now, huddled together in a mound of grey fur. I watch them for a while, then close my eyes. It is unlikely that enemies will come while we sleep, but my teeth are sharp and I will fight to the death to defend my babies.
They are growing fast. Their ears are now more pointed and their muzzles sharper. They are losing their adorable baby-features, their fur becoming brown. Soon the brown will turn to red and the boys will look like miniature versions of their father.
They fight constantly, forever squabbling for more room in the safety of our darkened den. Then, when they get outside, they jump around in the grass, tumbling over one another as they play and wrestle, and yelping in excitement. I smile to hear their high-pitched barks.
One of them has already encountered another animal – much the same size but leaner. The not-fox appeared in the grass, a short distance from our den, and stood staring at my playful little ones. The oldest is the bravest and he bounced his way over to the strange creature, jumping around it as he tried to understand what it was. I have seen these lithe beasts before – they are like us but their tails are thin in comparison to ours and they do not share our long, pointed snouts. When they are afraid, they arch their backs and hiss – as this one did when confronted by a giddy, prancing cub. My poor little one thought it was a game. He tried to bat this stranger with his paw – the way he plays with his brothers; but it disappeared in a blur of black fur. They will learn who to trust as they grow older, just as they will learn which animals are good to eat.
I have been teaching them how to bark properly. They can imitate the growl I use when I call them to me or tell them to feed, but they need to know how to warn against intruders. The youngest raised his voice earlier and I thought he was in trouble, but he was telling me he had caught a small, squeaking animal with a long tail. I showed them how to tear the creature apart and eat the meat. They have been stalking the feathered things but without much success: each time they leap, there is a flurry of feathers and the things rise into the air – too high for any of us to reach. I have caught several in the past and they are plump and juicy compared to the little squeaking things.
Warmth spreads over the grass from the bright light above. I let it dance on my fur, thinking that soon we must return to the den, but my children are leaping around again, playing hide and seek with each other in the fragrant grass. Perhaps they will sleep for longer if I let them wear themselves out now?
Keeping one eye open, I let myself drift off to sleep.