Cocky the Fox (8)

By: James Parker
July 22, 2010

HILOBROW is proud to present the eighth installment of James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky the Fox, a serial tale in twenty fits, with illustrations by Kristin Parker.

The story so far: Cocky the fox, a handsome specimen of Vulpes vulpes living on the edge of an English town, is in trouble. His mentor Holiday Bob, top fox in the Borough, is dead. His family life has collapsed, and he’s moved in with his friend Champion, a distressed albino rabbit. His enemies are everywhere. And he’s been drinking a lot of aftershave.

In Fit the Seventh, Cocky and Champion took their roadshow into the countryside. Accidentally sober after some aftershave-free days at the camp of his pugnacious Aunt Patsy, our hero had a spring in his step as he went looking for Rumpy the badger, former top goon to Holiday Bob. But having tracked Rumpy to his lair, Cocky found the great badger unwilling to emerge. Popjoy the squirrel, meanwhile, was bouncing around like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. He declaimed a poem of crushing sadness, about the love felt by Rumpy for the deceased Bob, and Cocky was ‘in bits’. And now look what’s happened to him…


Knee-high in a stream, nosing shreds of scent above the water… This great and empty happiness. No more the old Cocky, the old flavours: the sugary medical taste of Red Bull and the tinfoil taste of rat’s blood. All I am today is golden spores of love. It would take nothing now, a touch, a puff. Blow on me, Death, and watch me softly detonate!

A fungus did this. Baked-looking and ruffle-edged, sticking off the tree like an enormous salt-and-vinegar crisp. ‘Full of information,’ she said, the sly country vixen. How to conjure for you her slyness, her slinkiness, her eyes with their exclamation-mark pupils? ‘Not bad,’ I said, munching away. I wanted to chase her, do the love-skips and the sex-flips, but that was five hours ago… two years ago… some time ago, and she’s gone now, and here I am, alone with my remembered darlings. My Nora, her face a torrent of bliss fixed between eyes like stars; the deep shuffle of Champion’s heart as he lay next to me in the hutch…

Bob was with me before, with holes for eyes and altered smell. Pond-smell, his fur rotted. Same old Bob though. ‘I don’t like your attitude, fox,’ he said to me. ‘I’m not surprised,’ I said. ‘I don’t like it either.’ Then he got freaky, told me that in the Borough in his last days he’d seen an overcoated man on a park bench turn into a raven. That he’d seen another man through an upstairs window, lifting weights by the light of a single lamp, lateral lifts away from the torso, and the shadow on the wall was raven’s wings. Told me, if you can believe it, that I had to take the rabbit to Barbecue Towers, the lightning-struck oak tree where the Twins live. ‘Champion?’ I gulped. My friend with the joke ears, the pink uncomprehending eyes?

I got home one morning and found the rabbit awake, crouched and concentrating on his favourite spot, which was in mid-air about a foot in front of the hutch-wire.

‘When you reach nirvana, let me know,’ I said.

‘Teasing me.’

‘Make way,’ And I clambered in and curled up for a kip. ‘I’m knackered, me. I’m fucking cream crackered.’

‘Chat, Cocky?’ said Champion. ‘Chit-chat?’

‘Sleepytime now, pal. Busy night.’

‘I know you, you bugger,’ said Bob, scratching at an eye socket with a falling-off back paw. I saw the white of his anklebone. ‘You’re on a one-way ticket to Barbecue Towers.’

‘And back,’ I added. The ravens. Those waddling tramps. Those weapons.

Rain hits the surface of the stream. A leaf floats by, incredibly poised. Soupy scatterings of thunder. Yes, I’ve been hated. Hated! Rocket-booted rats have launched themselves at my person, almost tearful with hate. But the Cockster was not rattled. In the dawn where the sparrows prattled, I came, I sniffed, I battled. Now let these tales get tattled. We ran across a Northside patrol yesterday. Miles into the country, a Northside patrol! Fast-moving, murky-eyed, unmistakable – we hid in a hedge while they passed. ‘Lost Johnny knows you’re out here,’ Bob told me. ‘He’s looking for you. He’s interested. You want to be a bit careful.’

‘Oh sod that,’ I said. ‘I mean really. Who’s Lost Johnny? I’ll kill him. I’ll scratch him. I’ll make him cry.’

‘That’s the spirit.’

‘I’ll twist his tail.’

The daintiness of the fox is his pride, he can walk on water. The slipperiness of the fox is his life, moving between realms on his fox’s press pass. The yawn of the fox is sharpness and heat, there are flames in it.

Steady rainfall now, it hisses in the trees. Fungus I love you wholly. Fungus I’ll never be the same. Champion went with the vixen, didn’t he, snuffling trustingly behind her.

I’m sure he’s fine.


Will Cocky sort himself out? Time will tell. Until 2 September —

In the meantime, get your Cocky fix


Read the eighth issue of The Sniffer, a COCKY THE FOX newsletter written and edited by HiLobrow’s Patrick Cates.

Our thanks to this project’s backers.