The cat is lying on the kitchen floor like a spreading spill, soaking up the underfloor heating. The tortoise has found its way under the washing machine, where the floor isn’t heated, and will probably be there until March. We are all just waiting out the winter now.
Except the fox. The fox is busy. On my way to the shops the previous evening I saw him coming the other way, down the centre of the road, dragging a dead pigeon by one wing.
“Did you kill that?” I said. The fox said nothing, only stopping briefly to reposition the bird in its mouth before carrying on.
“Fine,” I said. “We’re not friends.”
I make coffee, step over the cat, open the back door and crunch my way across the frozen grass to my office shed. The portable electric heater is already on, but I can still feel the cold of the floor through my shoes. The sun has yet to rise over the frost-rimmed rooftops. I sit down in front of my computer, fold my arms and watch a squirrel hanging upside down from a bird feeder while he tries to figure out the latch. Then I go back inside.
“Where are you going?” my wife says when she finds me standing in the kitchen.
“Nowhere,” I say.
“Why are you wearing a coat and a hat?” she says.
“Because it’s freezing in my office,” I say.
“But you’re in here,” she says.
“I know,” I say. “I just came in to put all this stuff on.”
I return to my shed. Eventually the sun finds a gap between the houses and melts a green stripe across the grass. The dog walks by. The cat comes out and stares at me through the glass.
“Miaow,” it says.
“You want to come in?” I say. “Are you sure?”
“Miaow,” it says. I open the door and let the cat in, along with several cubic metres of freezing air. The cat sits down on the cold floor, stands up again immediately, and walks back to the door. “Miaow,” it says. I open the door and the cat exits, along with several cubic metres of expensively heated air.
After lunch my office heater is set to shut off for a few hours, but I override the timer so I can continue typing without gloves. In the late afternoon the office finally gets warm, and then a bit sauna-like. Long before it occurs to me to turn the heater off, I fall asleep at my desk, mouth open, and drool on my collar.
It’s dark outside when I wake up, just after the security light on the front of my shed snaps on, in response to some kind of motion in the garden. Peering into the gloom, I see the fox rounding the corner on the brick path. It appears to have an unhusked ear of corn in its mouth. I think: do foxes like corn?
“What are you doing back here?” I say. “Your territory is the streets.” The fox walks past the door, pausing to look in.
“That’s right,” I say. “It’s me.”
The fox takes a step backwards and sits down on the bricks. That’s when I notice the thing in its mouth isn’t an ear of corn at all.
“It was a headless parakeet,” I tell my wife a few minutes later.
“Ugh!” she says.
“Then he dropped it right in front of the door, like an offering,” I say.
“What did you do?” my wife says.
“I was like, wait! Don’t leave that there!” I say. “I don’t need a headless bird!”
“Quite,” she says.
“But you know the fox,” I say. “He doesn’t give a shit.”
“No, he doesn’t,” my wife says, her eyes shining. She loves a first-hand account of my cowardice more than anything.
“So then there was a bit of a standoff,” I say. “He was about to just wander off, like, ‘Your Package Has Been Delivered’”.
“Ha!” she says.
“And I was like, I did not order this!” I say. “Finally, he picked it up again, climbed up on to my office roof and disappeared.”
“Oh my God,” my wife says, dabbing the corners of her eyes with a sleeve as she turns back to her computer.
“So I thought I’d come up here and work in your office with you,” I say.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” she says.
“Please,” I say.
“No,” she says. “I’m too busy.”
“Just until winter’s over,” I say. “I can’t be sitting there in the dark, surrounded by wild animals.”
“It’s only 4.30,” she says. “Get back out there.”