The fox came to his patio his first night
at the absurdly named Augustus Gardens.
The beginnings of emphysema –
slight punishment for nearly sixty years
of cigarettes – had forced the exchange
of a fifth floor city centre apartment,
with a view of the quays, for a ground floor
suburban residential home ensuite,
and the abandonment of decades of vice
with Passing Cloud, Lucky Strike and Gitanes.
He had been weary but sleepless; wracked
by the faux Faustian deal he had made;
marvelling how strong the urge to live
at whatever cost to dignity
or truth; shunning the locked rooms
of memory he would never open.
Lines from Shakespeare parts he had played entered
and exited – ‘Sleep that knits up the ravell’d
sleeve of care…sore labour’s bath…balm of hurt minds…
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
to the wet sea-boy… and in the calmest
and most stillest night…deny it to a king?’
He had got up to make the breathy journey
across his expensive room to pee
when he briefly saw the fox – though at first
he thought a dog had strayed onto his small,
secluded patio with its pergola.
More cards arrived next morning wishing him well,
and texts, tweets, emails. He had opted for meals
in his room and, weather permitting,
to be pushed around the grounds twice a day.
On the afternoon ride he asked Dale aka
Datu about the fox. ‘Must be neighbour dog.
No August foxes, Mistah Worldly.’
Back in his room he researched on his iPad
images of the creature, words about it:
‘Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that
spoil the vines…our vines have tender grapes…If thou
wert the lion, the fox would beguile thee,
if thou wert the lamb, the fox would eat thee…’
Sleepless again that night he sat in shadow
near the window, and he was certain
that it was a fox which came, sniffed the air then left.
And so a routine developed: sleeping
a little during the day, staying up
for the fox to arrive – and, in time,
leaving a piece of fruit or slice of cooked meat,
and watching the animal eat, quickly, alert.
With rare guests – his uninterested son, his concerned
granddaughter, a knowing, ironic
old theatre friend – he would share his secret:
the nightly performer without words
or gestures – much better, he would joke,
than any ‘wilderness of monkeys’!
And would remember, as his breathing worsened
with each dramatic telling, of the time
he did the voice-over for a Larkin
documentary: ‘…how we live measures
our own nature…at his age having
no more to show than one hired box should make him
pretty sure he warranted no better…’