“I heard a bit of a commotion from the chickens, so I went out to have a look,” The Sexton explained.
“That’s when I saw him.”
The Sexton was leaning back in his wingback chair, the light from the flickered flames of the wood fire dappling across his face. He arched his back and laced the fat fingers of his large hands together across his chest. He gazed momentarily at the fireplace before continuing, aware that he’d attracted my full attention. Satisifed, he carried on in his fruity, West Country accent.
“He stood there, on top of the hill, silhouetted by the full moon. It was a clear, cold night and you could see the vapour of his breath wisp from his snout, a black shadow with ears that rotated this way and that, assessing, wary, prepared.
I wanted a closer look, so I made my mouse noise”, said The Sexton, his voice softening. He demonstrated, pursing his lips and making a high pitched squealing noise, like a rodent in distress.
“It works for attracting dogs, so I thought, why not?” he shrugged.
“Yes. So I made my mouse noise. His ears pricked up and I saw the shadowy figure of his head stiffen, snout in the air, looking for clues. He took one step forward towards me, then – hesitated. I called again – eeeekkk!
He stayed still for a few seconds, frozen in motion, his front leg in the air in front of him. Just as suddenly, he made his decision, pacing down the hill, deliberately, gingerly at first.
Now his tail was up, his ears working overtime. He broke into a confident canter, down the hill, across the shining grass, illuminated in the moonlight, straight towards me.
A few yards before he reached me, he slowed, head cocking to one side, still cautious. He paced forwards as if on a tightrope.”
The Sexton paused and straightened in the chair. Unlacing his fingers, he picked up his glass of beer and took a few large gulps, placed the pint glass back down on the occasional table next to him and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Slowly, he leaned forward.
“Then he was there, right in front of me. Beautiful, he was, magnificent, with the pure white of his fur around his snout, highlighting his small, perfectly formed black nose; twitching, checking, assessing.
His coat was a lovely, rich red – no, more orange than red, in the night light, the sort of colouring that makes it difficult to believe that something, someone, isn’t responsible for creating it.
His head was raised, along with his crowning glory; a bushy, upright, regal tail, twitching side to side, a victorious pennant representing these nocturnal creatures, so wonderfully attractive yet so capable of incredible destruction and cruelty.
There he stood and there I stood, only two feet apart. He searched the long grass for the phantom mouse, almost aware that he’d been mistaken.
He lifted his head and we looked at each other, the yellow irises of his eyes glowing brightly, the black pupils dilating as he stared back at me, recognition in his gaze; man and fox, understanding this moment, what it signified, the ways and laws of nature and the countryside acknowledged and understood by both parties. It was as if, in that instant, there was an acceptance of our roles in this world, the majesty and brilliance of life and the beauty of it all.”
The Sexton paused, a wan smile tracing across his face like a passing cloud on a summer’s day. I waited for him to continue, knowing it was always unwise to interrupt The Sexton during one of his stories. But the pause seemed to be taking an age.
“What did you do?” I asked.
The Sexton reached for his pint glass once more.
“I released the safety catch and blew his head off.”