Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Hen Hell

I have to tell you this first.

I was washing my hands. The extractor fan was buzzing over my head when it stopped for a second, the light too, then came back on. I went to the front door to check the electrics and saw dark shadows crouched on the other side of the frosted glass. I opened the door and a figure scarpered onto the path to join two others. They had my saw and an old pole of mine, about 10 foot long, that used to be at one end of a line of flags made by local kids that stretched across the old back court.
They dropped them and ran but turned and stopped in the middle of the road.
Three of them, about fifteen, I suppose, just kids, two lads and a girl. All in black trackies, one with two yellow stripes down his arms. We stared at each other while I fumbled for what to say.

‘What did you do to my electricity?!’ I yelled.

‘He did it and he’s sorry,’ said one, thumbing his pal.

I went back inside and then five minutes later the guy over the road came over and a woman from up the street. Never seen her before. They said they’d called the police and was I ok? Well, I was shaken. Got a fright. Anyway they’d seen these kids peering in my front window, which is weird because the curtains were shut so there was nothing to see. I suppose they were trying to work out if there was anyone in. They’d been checking out my little 24 year old campervan too and arguing over doing something to that, probably smashing the window. There’s nothing to steal inside. You can see that through the uncurtained windows.

Anyway turns out the woman from up our street lives next door to a big empty building which used to be a hotel until about twenty years ago and has been shut ever since. There’s always stuff happening to it. This crowd of guys has been going in regularly and stripping it of everything they can move, anything that’ll sell and she and her husband always yell out that they’re calling the police and then when the police arrive they’re gone and never get caught. Same lot every time. Then one day she was out and they came again and when her husband yelled out they took a crowbar to his head and battered shit out of him. She said he died three times and was brought back three times. I don’t know how they know these things. But apparently they do. She thought he died for a couple of minutes but the ambulance people told her it was more like 7-10 so the brain damage is very severe.

‘Did they get the guys?’

‘No, they didn’t.’

There’s a gang of twelve of them. The police know this and they know who six of them are but they’re after the ring leader and haven’t arrested anyone.

‘Probably the same crowd that killed the other guy two weeks ago about a mile away right outside his own front door in full view of his partner.’

‘The very same.’

‘How many people have to die before they arrest someone?’

There was a body found down our back lane a couple of weeks ago too. I saw the police tape. I saw a police woman in a car guarding the area afterwards, probably looking for body parts, same as after Moira Jones in Queens Park. The policewoman was crocheting. I got my binoculars out to see because I thought she was knitting, certainly not paying attention, another boring job. Apparently there’s been lots of rapes and other attacks in the area recently, but this street is the worst.

Fucking scary. I thought it was all ok now that the Parkview is shut, an old hotel that was a dumping ground for anyone any local authority didn’t want. I’ve not been scared for two years now. No more ferrying people to the station, only five minutes’ walk away. Plenty of walking out in broad daylight and dark night the same. Fucking scary.

Eighty-four year old woman attacked at 9am.


While we were chatting, me and the woman from up the street, the three in black trackies split up, one heading back down. The other a guy and girl disappeared into one of the gardens of the big houses up the road. We were still waiting for the police, and as we stood there chatting making friends I saw this big fine fat fox trotting out from behind my little twenty-four year old campervan and heading towards the lane beside the house, brave as you like, pausing only minutely and surprised to see us there on the pavement where clearly only foxes should be. He disappeared beyond the hedge and I, already aghast by strange events, noticed and thought no more of it.

Twenty minutes passed and me and my newly found neighbour are still waiting for the police and she’s gasping for a fag. My phone goes and she heads to the shops.

Phone call over I’m back at the desk trying to work. I hear the two hens in our backcourt making a racket and look out and here’s Mister Fox chasing one of them round and round and pinning it down to the ground by the neck. And I’m shouting and rapping at the window so hard I’ll put my fist through it if I’m not careful and I open the window and shove my head out and shout but it’s too late. So I go next door to the other ground floor flat to the owners of these damned hens and bang on their door so hard my knuckles feel like they’ll burst. Nothing. Silence. Bastards aren’t even in. Left their hens out and not even in. I rush back to the window and see the fox disappear behind the steps, hen heavy in its mouth. In for the kill. I’m shaking. I don’t know what to do. Are foxes dangerous to humans? The other hen is lingering by the hutch. Should I go out? What would it do if I did? How would I catch the damn hen and where would I put it? In our kitchen? What about my cats? And then what would I do? So I don’t go out and rescue this hen but instead pace the hall wondering. But then I hear it screaming and run back to the window and see the fox giving chase and the hen finding its wings and swooping over the fairly useless barrier they’ve put up between the two ends of the garden. I’m cheering inside for half a second as this bird flies possibly for the first time in its little life. I’m so amazed I don’t see how the fox follows but it does and they race towards our end and down towards our back door. I bang and bang on the window then run downstairs and bang on the window there, but the fox is dragging her back up our little steps just opposite the door. He’s dragging her by the neck. I bang super hard on the pane of the back door. He stops and lifts his head, and hers too, and looks at me with his little orange eyes. Stares. Checks me out. Am I dangerous? No. Do I understand, with my soft human ways, the truth of life and death? No. Carries on.

I’m thinking this hen’s dead. Has to be. But it’s not. He’s got it in the middle of the grass and he’s pulling at the feathers. I’m wondering whether to open the door but, again, don’t and go back upstairs. It’s got to be dead now.

I’m helpless so I get out my phone and start videoing. Then a flock of magpies and crows appear and are cackling out their warning and the fox is worried so he leaves the hen and climbs the wall and scans the environs to make sure he’s safe, then he comes back down to the hen and he bites her bum and she isn’t dead! She isn’t dead at all and races over to our door again but he follows her and drags her back by the wing and plops her back where he had her. The magpies are bothering him so he goes up on the wall again, to the highest point and sits, calm with his beautiful tail curled round him the the magpies in the tree above his head. The hen raises her head. Why is she still alive?

The first hen is belly-up at the other end by the steps.

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