Then, one day, I came back to find no one else at home. I crashed out on the sofa, and to my amazement the cat came in, and he didn’t try to bite me. He sprawled on my chest and purred away. Perhaps I am easily flattered, but I began to see the point of the cat, and to understand that mysterious fondness that grips the human race. I began (secretly) to share the worries about where he was at night, and whether it was cold, and when some skanky drunk woman allowed her dog to attack him, I was ready to call the cops and have the brute put down.
But this evening it was clear that something far worse had happened. It wasn’t just the apparently missing eye, and the twisted ear, and the horrible pink cut. There was a rank smell on his fur. It was the smell of his assailant, no question. I could see them in my mind’s eye, as I saw them every night: padding insolently across the road in search of someone’s rubbish. It was those damn foxes that had attacked our cat, and I was going to sort them out. It was those cruel and cynical canids – and my mind spooled feverishly to fox horror stories: the poor babies gnawed in the crib, the couple who came down to find the decapitated head of their moggie.
Well, they had messed with the wrong cat owner this time. I started to plan the massacre. I knew where they lived, the mangy vermin. We would stalk them in the scrub by the canal, me with the .22 airgun, and another family member with the death-dealing .177. I didn’t care what the neighbours said. In fact, I might invite the rest of Islington to form a footpack, so that we could smoke the foxes out of their foul holes and blow them to kingdom come. Or perhaps we could all get up in pink coats and chase them with hounds and fixed-wheel bicycles. Stuff the RSPCA.
I fell asleep dreaming of vendetta. And just as well, because in the morning, the cat seemed to have staged a remarkable recovery. He had risen from his chair, and was demanding his noisome food. I decided to postpone the slaughter, and then I began to wonder.
My instinct tells me that foxes are everywhere, and that they are more numerous and bolder than ever before. But the deeper I dug into fox-on-cat violence, the more doubtful I became. Foxes go for vulnerable critters. They might go for your toes if you were lying in a stupor, but only because they failed to grasp that your toes were attached to a large and potentially violent human being. They might go (once in a blue moon) for a baby, but only because a baby is defenceless.
Would they really go for a fit adult tomcat – and one with a history of unprovoked aggression towards his much-bitten owner? I started to wonder if my initial reaction – so clear, so certain – had been completely wrong. What if the canal had given him that smell? What if he had got into a fight with another tom, in a dispute over who had the right to urinate over the buddleia? What if he had shown insufficient finesse in approaching some good-looking girl cat? Perhaps it was that blasted dog again.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I lay the facts of the case before you, and I suggest that the evidence against the fox is by no means conclusive. I am left with the mystery of that first eruption of rage, that chilling certainty as to the authors of the crime. There is a word for that misapprehension. There was something that made me finger the newcomers, the strangers, the ones who weren’t around when I was a kid. There was something that made me want to believe that the culprits were the recent additions to our urban habitat, the ones who make the spooky yowling at night. I think the word for that anti-fox feeling is prejudice. Or am I wrong?