Size / / /

I saw a fox in London,

standing stock still

on the cobbled roadway

that runs under London Bridge.

I had been walking too late,

looking for London—the one Dickens

wrote, the one I crossed

an ocean to find. It was late,

after midnight, and the steps

beside London Bridge were old

and steep and cooling—

here Noah Claypole eavesdropped

on Nancy in Oliver Twist (betrayal

and darkness and the river-mist).

Earlier I had wandered the Borough,

found the old Marshalsea wall,

laid flat my pilgrim hand—

cool stone on my hot, hot palm—

but here I was, hours later,

still walking, still looking.

London compels us to walk,

forces us flaneur, voyeur,

strings us along and shifts us

somewhere in the seeing.

Deep in that labyrinth, our feet

are quills in an urban inkwell,

rewriting myth and memory

until sunset and skyline plunge

us down rabbit-holes where

we quicken into possible.

When I came down off

Nancy's steps in the wee hours,

feeling the lateness, the river chill

of a big foreign city, apprehensive of

course, but not yet ready to train

it back to the B&B in the suburbs,

there was this fox. The cobbled

street under his paws was a slice

of Victoria, a pocket of time trapped

beneath the bridge, older than I,

and grittier. The fox stood profiled

against darkness, staring at something

off to my left. To my right leaned

the smoking slope of a man,

glow of cigarette, cap pulled low,

shabby and native and dark-inured.

We three held the street. Tableauxed

in the streetlight shadows, we

fellow travelers held breath,

held potential until I took the last

step into the scene, and the soft scrape

of my foot served a suitable

spellbreaker and the fox vanished.

I mean, of course, that it ran, sprinted,

into the darkness of the underpass,

a dirty little fox with a grimy

matted tail. I turned to the troll

under the bridge, overcame

my fear because I felt the need

to capture and quantify, to reify

the moment by saying something

profound. I said, "Was that a fox?"

and the swarthy face lit up

as he inhaled. Without looking

at my question he barked a laugh.

"Yeah," he said, "that's central London, innit?"

And I understood him. It was only later

I learned that foxes are a common

urban blight, scavenging Soho trash bins

and thriving on rats and refuse. That what

my Cockney Marlin Perkins was trying

to tell me had nothing to do with wonder,

was more a knowing shrug about vermin:

"What you gonna do? We're overrun."

That I hadn't stood for a moment

in a fairy tale, that Reynard

hadn't looked me in the eye

before scampering off to commit

trickery and literature. And what

I felt at this knowledge was not

chagrin but disappointment

and confirmation. The world

is solid and seeable and everything

else is fiction. Don't let them outfox

you—the writers—they dream

and dream and can't feel

the concrete under their feet.

And then, eighteen months, four

thousand miles away, I took

the trash to the curb in suburban

South Carolina and stood

barefoot by the big green bin,

working my toes into the gravel

at the edge of my driveway.

On the fresh blacktop

of the warm soupy night

stood a fox. He was in front

of the neighbor's house, still

and staring in the twilight.

And though I knew he was no trick

of failing light, he seemed

insubstantial as coal-smoke. I stood

straining my eyes long after

he vanished, the gravel cobbling

into the sole of my pawing foot.




Jamieson Ridenhour (http://www.jamiesonridenhour.com) is the author of Barking Mad: A Reginald Spiffington Mystery (Typecast, 2011). He is the creator of the award-winning short fairy-tale horror film Cornerboys, as well as editor of the Valancourt edition of Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 vampire novella Carmilla.
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18 Jan 2021

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