Look out Look In
Chaos is the nastiest thought of all time. It's a scavenger tearing at
bits of flesh haphazardly. Mine. Strings of gut lie strewn across the
road. And I'm somebody who needs to have everything around them neat
and tidy. That isn't so easy to achieve when you're on the street; it's
a challenge. Another torment is my fear of foxes. Avoiding them is not
always easy either. This is what happened to me last week:
I'd been pulling the blanket this way and that, as usual, to get it
straight. I love the word 'straight'. Out here, in the wild of night,
it warms me. And warm is what you're always longing to be.
Another word I'm fond of is 'order'. You wouldn't think just words
could make you feel things but they do.
I don't like sitting in a doorway on my own. Sal, my mate, was taking
her time to get back and I felt sure there was someone standing by the
café window but I was too afraid to look. Instead, I said
the word to myself, to help me keep calm — Order.
I was a nurse once, believe it or not. Oh it's about a million years
ago, in a different life, but I've never lost that crisp need for
having things just right.
I was sitting there, a little bit tense, my back against the door, when
at last along came Sal. Café was closed but there
was still that burnt-fat smell and it made my nose crinkle
up. We put up with that on account of the extra warmth in the
café doorway. Sal had been through the bins along the Fulham
Road as far as Parson's Green. Stuff she's brought back with her you
wouldn't believe. Party food: Leftovers from a wedding; from a funeral.
'No, a christening,' says Sal. She can always tell by the snacks, the
type of occasion they're for. To me they look every bit the same.
So here we are, munching away contentedly on our cocktail-sausages and
mini-quiches when a shadowed form moves up close to us and makes me
shout out. The form runs off a little way then returns and hovers. Of
course we both know it is a fox. 'Well I expect he's pissed off I got
to the bins before he
did,' Sal laughs. 'Shall we share our haul? We don't want the animal
hanging round our doorway all night, do we.' But I just can't
speak — I am trembling too much for words. There's this desperate need
in me to I straighten the sides of my blanket but I'm afraid to move my
hand in case it alerts the fox; making it go for us. That can
happen. I've heard stories. Fox is even closer now. Its eyes glow
'Please, let's get away from here.' At last I find my voice.
Sal understands and starts packing everything up. She throws out a few
tasty morsels past the hovering fox, hoping he'll be off after them. He
scampers away but soon comes back. It is horribly clear his main
interest is ourselves. I am almost convulsed with fear and can't stop
shaking. At last we've packed up all our gear and are heading off down
the road, in the direction of Fulham Broadway. I would have felt
relieved about this if it weren't for the fact that foxy was coming
along too. Either he'd already eaten, or had not been tempted by the
bits Sal had thrown his way. But as I say, we
are his main interest.
Get nearly as far as the corner, close to the tube, fox runs off, back
the way we'd come. Thank God for that,
I call out to Sal, and I really do feel like saying a prayer. Then all
at once this posh car drives fast very close to us. Its windows are
pulled down and three or four faces with tongues sticking out target
us. 'Scum,' they scream out. 'Vermin, filth.'
I'm hurt by the malice; by the pain of what I'm hearing. But in front
of me too is the thought I spend my life avoiding: I am
what I fear.
Jay Merill lives in London. Her most recent book is GOD OF THE PIGEONS, a collection of
Detail of painting on main page: "Homeless Woman, Soho," by Maureen Scott (1992; oil on board).
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