Call of the Wild
Dream, if you can, a courtyard. An ocean of violets in bloom. The moon hangs bright in the sky like a shiny 10p coin in the gutter. The night breeze drifts gently across the garden and through a window someone has neglected to close, ruffling the curtains on the inside. There you are, quietly reclining in the reading room, catching up on some Dickens, or perhaps enjoying a gentlemanly backgammon match with the visiting Sir Wumbletwigger. The little replica of the Palace of Westminster rests on the mantlepiece, and as the night reaches 10pm, the little Big Ben tolls out the hour.
Sir Wumbletwigger, if he is there, insists through his bushy moustache that he must be away. You put down your pipe and walk him to the door where he replaces his top hat and monocle and after a brisk handshake steps out to his waiting carriage. You stand in the doorway a moment, watching the horses clop over the cobblestones and the back of the carriage swaying off into the blackness until it has dissolved entirely in the murk of London town at night.
Back in the leisure room, you have sunk into your favourite armchair and having replaced the Dickens tome carefully into its correct alphabetical location on the shelf, are reflecting on the way the upbeat but cheeky urchin you saw around Charing Cross last week looks strikingly similar to the prostitute you’ve often seen outside the Badger & Barrowboy public house in Whitechapel – when suddenly the still air is rent in twain by a blood-curdling shriek.
The high, sharp scream makes you choke on your Earl Grey. But now all is quiet again. Did you really hear it? But there it is again, another scream, like a banshee just without your window, a demon in your garden. Has someone been attacked? It sounds like a call of distress, and yet something hellish, not quite human. Suddenly the house feels large and ominously empty, the world outside wide, dark, and filled with unknown terrors. Another scream, louder and more urgent than the others, prompts you to come to your feet, and approach the window through the cold silence broken only by the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. Pulling the curtains aside, you try to peek out, but the light from the flickering oil lamp reflects on the glass and it’s difficult to see. This time, the shriek feels much more intimate as you feel you should be able to see its source – it must be right there! – and yet you can not. The noise stabs at something deep down in your subconscious and terrifies you in a way beyond articulation. Your blood turns to ice and you shiver.
And this is how it feels when you first hear foxes mating. And then every other time you hear foxes mating. I’d heard about this phenomenon from other people, but hadn’t experienced it myself until this Spring (since that’s apparently what season we’re in – someone needs to tell Winter to shove off). It’s the creepiest sound to hear randomly in the middle of a dead silent night, a sudden scream that pierces the air and is then repeated with intervals of several seconds. Depending on who you speak to, it’s either the mating call of the female vixen, or the noises made by her in the coital act itself. Jesus. I can’t even imagine the poor male fox trying to stay on task when all that’s going on, it must be the biggest mood killer in the animal kingdom. Or maybe they’re naturally a little sadistic. I’m no fox sex expert. All I know is that it’s super uncomfortable to listen to, and impossible to get used to. It happens on and off throughout the night, you may even wake from your nightmares to it. Why do they scream at each other? This is what it sounds like when foxes cry.