Miles from field or farm, as far from its familiar dens
and furrows as the pin-eyed deadbeat drunk-stumbling
through the 3AM streets is from Mars, the fox assesses
the crescents and cut-throughs of the estate,
the back yards and lock-ups and rat-runs. Nose
lifted to the night air, senses fine-tuned to threat,
the fox is shadowed within shadows, dead still,
ready to transmute every inch of itself into response.
Cars and vans stand sentinel, stolid shapes
to jink between or under at the first sign of anything.
The deadbeat is stalled in his zig-zag path, confused
by the canted aspect of a bollard that came second
in a territory debate with a single-decker bus. Or maybe
it’s the human condition that gives him pause to stand,
swaying slightly, eyes like glass slathered with drizzle,
in the grubby penumbra of one of the few streetlights
still shedding sodium enough to see by. The fox looks
beyond him, finds nothing to snarl at or scurry from,
nothing moving but a scattering of litter clouted
by the cupped hand of the wind from pavement
and gutter to fetch up in gardens or snag on gates.
Every window is dark. There is no sound but the sound
of the wind. The estate is a held breath, a minute’s silence.
Where the deadbeat is standing, still perplexed
by the bigger questions, is where the lad was stabbed
last year, when the estate woke to lampposts corralled
by crime scene tape, technicians in full body suits
scouring for traces. The fox moves millimetrically,
second-guessing the commotion: the deadbeat lurches
and falls, tangled in his own feet, as the wind
tumbles a wheeliebin. A security light snaps on.
A cat streaks down a driveway. Sirens shriek into being
somewhere near the hospital. The night has found its voice.
Litter swirls and gusts under cars. The fox takes off.
© Neil Fulwood
Neil’s first collection No Avoiding It is available from Shoestring Press; they are publishing his follow-up Can’t Take Me Anywhere later this year. Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham.