The day after I found out about my cousin, the fox appeared. I had just got back from yoga. It was 8.30am. Everyone else had gone. I heard shouting out the back. “Mike! Mike!” the voice said. I ran outside. Leigh was leaning over the fence and so was his oldest kid Bailey.
“A fox has taken one of our chickens. It’s dead. Look! It’s there, the fox,” he said. I followed his finger along the fence line and saw that the fox was on the roof of the shed next to our chicken coup. It was watching our chooks peck and fuss about. The fox was as big as a kelpie. Its stance was relaxed, almost offhand. I’d like to kill these birds, the stance said. I’d like to tear their throats out, actually, but can I be bothered? It’s a bit of a leap and then how will I get out?
The fox’s fur was coarse and ugly and orange. “Oi, oi!” I shouted. The fox lifted its head to towards the noise. Its eyes were pale blue and they sparkled with casual menace. The fox stayed where it was for a few more seconds and then it walked away.
Bailey had spotted the fox just as it was about to kill a second chook. That bird was alive but limp with fright. Leigh said he would set a trap.
I went inside to make a coffee but when I came out to my room to start writing, I saw the fox had come back. There it was again, standing on the neighbour’s shed, looking down on our chooks with that same sort of relaxed, pleasurable concentration. To kill or not to kill, the fox appeared to be thinking. Coffee or tea? Brown bread or white? Two eggs or one?
“Fuck off fox,” I screamed. “Piss off you fucking arsehole fox!”
The fox sprinted off, leaping from fencetop to roof top with deadly grace. I was still shouting. Our dog was barking and so was next door’s.
I panted with fury. I wanted to crush the fox. I wanted to smash the fox’s head in with a rock.
The next morning, Leigh found the fox sunbaking in their backyard. The fox had killed the remaining two chooks. The fox killed the four chooks that belonged to the twins as well. They live a couple of blocks away.
The fox didn’t eat the birds. He just ripped their heads off and left it at that.
My cousin killed himself on the Saturday. I found out on the Sunday. On Monday night, I visited his parents.
Then on the Tuesday, the fox was there, cruel and indiscriminate, a creature made for killing, a pest, a hunter, an intruder with the most terrible intentions.
A common metaphor for mental illness is the black dog. Why? Dogs are loyal, obedient and loving creatures. When I hear the phrase “black dog” I think of a Labrador, an animal that is dopey and sweet, that carries a little too much weight and dribbles at meal times, an animal that does toxic smelly farts but also knows when to put its heavy paw up on your thigh and offer you comfort and sympathy, a gesture of unconditional companionship. Okay, so there are a few minor conditions, like a walk every morning and night, but still.
Why isn’t serious mental illness ever compared with a fox, a predator rather than a companion? My cousin had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I’ve got an uncle on the other side of my family who was diagnosed with that disease too. He’s still alive, despite several attempts not to be, but his life is very, very hard. Two other cousins, one a boy of 15 and the other a young man, have also committed suicide.
Their deaths ripped apart the lives of my aunties and uncles and my cousins and now the fox has struck again. I hate it so much. I hate the suffering it brings. I wish it had left my family alone. I wish it didn’t exist.
Rest in peace, Jeremy.