Jacob Gardner

Mrs Blakely’s Foxes

The problem with today, thought Mrs Blakely, is everybody’s nittery nattery.

She glowered at the TV, at the young man talking from the screen.

They’re all the same, she thought. All natterers. All nattering about their little lives, and their children’s lives, and the lives of their cats and their dogs.

She smoothed the blanket over her legs, and reached for the remote.

Mrs Blakely didn’t want to hear about other people’s children. What did it matter to her whether they did well at school, or lost a wallet on the train? Not another wallet, she'd think to herself. It’s always a wallet, or a handbag. Or those phones that all the youngsters carried in their pockets. Awfully expensive, those phones – or so Manda used to say. (And, despite everything, Manda would probably know.)

That Manda! Gone and married far, far too young, the silly girl, and then the career and the divorce, and… that was about it. Over.

Oh, what a waste it all seemed now!

Percy, by comparison, had always been far more understanding; but Mrs Blakely couldn’t help herself.

It's not what we brought you up for, she'd said one Christmas Eve. We wanted things for you, wanted you to be happy. But this... it's pointless.

And Manda had walked out without her suitcase, got into the car and driven away.

It was dark with the tele off. Dark and quiet. Mrs Blakely sat and listened to the wind. Goodness, but she could hear it! Raking at the windowpane, guzzling in the chimney. She rather fancied there was a draft from somewhere, setting the cards aquiver.

Mrs Blakely closed her eyes.

Percy would be awfully disappointed, she thought. Just four cards this year. Four.

And nothing from Manda.

It didn’t feel like Christmas Eve.

My, it’s rolled round quick this time!

Percy had always said that. Every year.

Silly old Percy. She wondered about him so often now. Far more often than when he'd been right there, sat in the empty armchair. There were so many things she wanted to ask him. Like quite why he'd stopped getting up in the morning.

Mrs Blakely always prided herself on her ability to get up in the morning. Even when her hips ached, or when she awoke to find nothing in the day worth getting up for. It didn't matter, she told herself, didn't matter whether there was any point to it or not. She was going to do it anyways. Get up. Wrap herself in her dressing-gown. Put the kettle on. Turn on the TV.

She peered at the clock. It was too dark to see the time.

The wind had intensified.

“Must be cold out there,” said Mrs Blakely to her living-room. She shivered.

When had Percy stopped getting up? It had been sudden, she remembered that. One day, he just wouldn't anymore. Lay there and told her it was too early, and that he’d wait until lunch. Well, lunch wasn't until one-thirty, so that was it. The morning gone. And it can't have done him any good. It's not the kind of thing that does anyone any good. Not even those very ill people in the hospital, or in homes.

Perhaps she aught to have told him that…

The wind blew the window open, and snow came through the gap, and Mrs Blakely turned her head at the noise.

That window, she thought. Always opening and closing and blowing about.

Percy would have fixed it for her, had he been around. He had been good like that.

From outside, Mrs Blakely heard a vixen scream.

Getting up, she walked to the window, pulled it closed, and then looked out. An awful lot of snow already. Yellow snow, glinting under the glare of the building's security light. She could see the little indented paw-prints where the fox had been.

She sighed. It felt too early, despite the dark. Maybe they were coming earlier now. Earlier every night.

Wincing at the pain in her hip, Mrs Blakely took herself to the kitchen.

Percy wasn’t fond of the kitchen. She had to keep reminding him how they never used it anyway, just heating up readymade things in tin-foil trays that came three times a week. It wasn’t as though they needed a big kitchen. Or even a very nice one.

The freezer was packed, the fridge was empty, and four tin-bowls were lined up on the work surface. Mrs Blakely opened the freezer door, tugging at one of the storage units. Little fragments of ice showered the floor as she did so. She muttered crossly to herself, prodding the mess with her slipper.

The chicken was solid, and all stuck together. There had been a time when she cooked it for them – sometimes even made gravy. But it was a bit much, especially now, with the hip. And they weren’t fussy.

It took a few knocks with the rolling pin before the chicken pieces came apart. Mrs Blakely divided them up into equal portions, hoping the little one wouldn’t have his filched. She worried about the little one sometimes. He was ever so small compared to the others, even this late in the season. It was a wonder he hadn’t had the foresight to grow a tad more before the cold weather set in, let alone the snow. Too late now, she thought. Far too late.

With the chicken ready, Mrs Blakely went to open the front door, tightening her dressing-gown against the winter outside.

One after another, the foxes loped through the doorway.

The white-faced dog wandered about the living-room, snuffling at the piled newspapers. Sometimes he seemed to be reading them, but this evening all he did was nose them across the carpet, then look up, meeting Mrs Blakely’s eye.

The other three went straight to the kitchen, sat on their haunches, and tipped their faces towards the chicken.

Mrs Blakely mumbled something, and followed them.

Holding the bowls in one hand didn’t work any more. They wobbled too much, and there had been several occasions when she’d made a right old mess on the kitchen floor. So she always lifted them now, one by one. Before she did so, she plonked an extra piece into the little one’s bowl.

They were good foxes. Good at waiting. Sometimes, Mrs Blakely wondered whether they’d done all this before. Was there another old lady somewhere? Another old lady who had foxes in her kitchen? Who’d maybe trained them to be so good? Was there another Mrs Blakely?

It was a horrid thought.

“My foxes,” said Mrs Blakely.

She rummaged in the pocket of her dressing gown for a tissue. The dog fox cocked his head at the sound. He scrutinised her, ears twitching when she blew her nose.

“Silly brute,” Mrs Blakely said softly.

She watched them gnaw their lumps of icy meat for a moment longer, and then returned to her sofa, where the blankets were.

To the sound of gentle ticking, Mrs Blakely closed her eyes.

Later, much later, she woke up. The small fox had his head rested on her lap, while the vixens curled at her feet. The dog sat in Percy’s old armchair.

“Ahh, Percival, you handsome devil,” Mrs Blakely smiled. She shivered slightly. The front door was still open, and the wind had blown white flakes into the room, brushing them against the carpet.

The clock was striking. A first cold chime of midnight. Christmas, thought Mrs Blakely. Christmas Day.

She creaked to her feet and went to close the door. Breathless silence hung over the snow. Blended moon and street light, and a chill steel touch, deadened by the hour.

Mrs Blakely stood looking at the night, foxes crowding at her ankles. Then she shrugged off her dressing gown, bent to take off her slippers, and walked, naked, out into the snow.

 

 

Jacob Gardner was born and brought up abroad, living in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Cornwall. After a stint studying history at the University of St Andrews, he’s now an English and Creative Writing student at UEA, Norwich. He primarily writes prose. Mrs. Blakely’s Foxes is about an elderly lady’s Christmas Eve.