A couple I knew bought a house in one of those satellite locations. He travelled the long distance to and from work while she stayed at home to look after the kids. They didn’t actually have kids, but she was ‘rehearsing’, as she jokingly put it herself. She spent her days online and watching digital television. They were neighbourless so there was no one around for her to talk to. They were the only people to buy a home in a ghost estate, a vast maze of semi-detached houses that had transgressed the fundamental law of supply and demand.
Actually, they did have neighbours of a sort, foxes. Foxes would congregate around the couple’s house at night. The couple reckoned this was because theirs was the only building for a considerable distance that issued waste. The couple were buried so deep in the empty suburb that wheelie bin service providers stood to financially lose more than gain by sending out a collection truck (there’s that law of supply and demand again). So, the couple took to using one of those compost bins for food scraps etc. and that’s what brought the foxes. The foxes would surround the compost bin, jump on it and make strange noises at it. (Have you ever heard a fox? It’s an eerie sound they make – like a scream).
The foxes’ futile attempts to topple the bin and consume its contents kept her awake while he, exhausted from work, slept on soundly. She’d look out from the upstairs window and watch the creatures. Sometimes she’d see up to ten foxes. She became fascinated by them, often commenting on the feral dramas of love and hate she witnessed. She’d speak about the foxes as if gossiping about colleagues at work. She even bought a book about the species, but still couldn’t help anthropomorphising. A strange hint of admiration entered her fox anecdotes. ‘As if being a fox was an alternative lifestyle, rummaging around in rubbish and riding in hedges like knackers’, as her husband put it.
One Saturday the couple had a row. He wanted to go to Ikea again. She didn’t. ‘What do you want to do then?’ ‘Something else. Something different.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I don’t know.’
She’d been acting funny for a while and he finally snapped. Terrible things were said and she fled into the garden. She refused to come back into the house so he followed her outside. Then she shocked him by climbing the perimeter fence into the neighbouring garden. He followed her over the fence only for her to climb another fence into another garden. With a near infinite choice of gardens for her to escape to, he knew his only option was to go back to the house and wait for her to return. She didn’t. Come dusk, he was standing at their glass sliding doors calling out for her. She didn’t respond. Then he called the guards. They said they’d have a look around. They found nothing.
She stayed gone and he remained living in their house alone. He had no choice. In negative equity with a huge mortgage to pay, he was stuck in that silent maze of empty buildings and overgrown lawns. He went through a phase of thinking he occasionally saw her, darting between buildings or turning distant corners. He’d call the guards and they would sigh and promise to send out a car and then they wouldn’t send out a car.
After a while he stopped seeing her, unless it was her image looking out from the wedding album or staring out from one of the tattered missing posters he’d stuck around the place. Why he put up the posters was a mystery in itself. Who was going to see them? Maybe the intention was for her to see them and know that he cared. Or maybe he was just going crazy.
Late one night he rang me. He was in a terrible state. He was sobbing. I got him to calm down and tell me what was wrong. He said he was watching a DVD when he heard something out the back. He went to the sliding doors and pulled them across to see a multitude of foxes, fifty or so at least he said. They had successfully tipped over the compost bin and were feasting on the spilled out scraps. He yelled at the creatures to shoo them away. They fled into the centre of the garden and regrouped around a very large fox (about the size of a bike, he said) that was standing its ground in the gloom.
He told me how he turned on the porch light to get a better look at the giant and, well, then he broke down and said he wished to God he hadn’t done that. As he told it, the big fox just stood there peering at him with what, he assured me, were human eyes. Familiar eyes. Her eyes, staring at him just as they stared from the missing posters. The fox stared at him and he, paralysed by confusion and horror, stared back. Then the fox opened its mouth and, with what seemed to him like ferocious anger, screamed his name.
After the call, I immediately went out there. He wasn’t home. I never saw him again. I never saw either of them again. Ever. The estate is completely empty now. Plenty of foxes though.