The body was unmarked, undamaged, laid out in such a way that it might have been asleep. He started and hesitated when he saw it, for a moment thinking that it might wake and run away. But something about the way the fox was stretched out on its side, its felt-like ears pointed forward and unmoving, made him realise.
Someone had obviously moved the corpse, placing it on the grass verge of the narrow path over the railway bridge. It was a strange place for roadkill – the side of a footpath, where the only roads nearby were through a small housing estate on one side of the bridge, and the town’s church car park on the other. A car in the night, perhaps, had swung through the estate too fast, seeing the darting fox too late – but why carry the body so far from the road? He thought of poison, but this was somehow too upsetting to contemplate. The swift blow of a car bumper, the sudden stunning flash of the bright headlights, before everything went dark – it seemed more dignified. The thought of a slow, choking death was too gruesome to contemplate.
He had been living in that suburban housing estate for over twenty years, and was accustomed to the autumn surge of wildlife activity. Foxes would regularly steal across his garden, going unseen but for the flick of a tail as they dashed through the fence. And in the past couple of years there seemed to be a new colony of grey squirrels furrowing their way into the landscape. But he had never before seen a dead animal in this neighbourhood. These tragedies usually belonged to motorways and dark country roads – badgers, rabbits, and the occasional unfortunate cat.
He was not a sentimental man, but something about this poor animal brought a sting to his eyes. The thick, healthy coat, perhaps. The perfect turn of its ears and the thick sheaf of grey whiskers.
On his way back home, made slightly lopsided by four pints of Guinness, he forgot about the dead fox until he reached the apex of the bridge. With a half-stumble, he briefly contemplated turning and going around the long way. Then he raised his jumper sleeve to cover his mouth and nose, and stepped past the body into the light of the street lamps.