Cocky the Fox (16)
December 16, 2010
HILOBROW is proud to present the sixteenth 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 Fifteenth, ministered to by a predictably grumpy badger, Cocky slowly recovered from the wounds he had sustained in the battle against the monster Jackpot: the loss of an eye, the ruining of a leg, sundry gashings. Lying there in the dark sett he cast his mind back to the Borough, his home, and reflected upon the demise of Holiday Bob. Then, helped by the loyal Shakes, he tottered outside to find Champion. It was time to return to the Borough, he suggested — to go home! Champion, to Cocky’s great dismay, announced that he preferred to remain with the badgers of the Black Pond.
Oh, bleakness. Late afternoon bleakness! Winter’s yolk has burst over the woods, into pale puddles of sunset – the light that is not light. And here we are, me and the Champ, saying goodbye. Saying goodbye to each other, but I feel like I’m saying goodbye to everything: to the cold squelch of the fields, to the hawthorn’s sharpness, to the sound of a tractor distantly toiling and the trees making their shatter-patterns against the sky. Oh!
‘This is it then,’ I say. ‘The parting of the ways.’
‘Sad, Cocky?’ says Champion. Two badgers bulk behind him in silent formality — an honour guard that has seen us to the borders of the Black Pond.
‘Just a bit,’ I say. ‘What am I going to do without you?’
He gives me one of his opaque pink-eyed looks. ‘You’ll be Cocky. Cocky with your vixen, with your cubs.’
‘Yeah? I mean — I s’pose.’
‘Be Cocky in the Borough. Be Cocky!’
‘I am Cocky though.’
‘Want to get on dont we,’ mutters Shakes in my right ear. ‘Want to get there before dark.’
And indeed I do feel the urge to slope off now. To leave the moment unconsecrated, and retire to a ditch somewhere to lick my griefs, same old Cocky. But no longer!
‘Hold your horses,’ I tell Shakes. ‘Uno fucking momento. I have to rise to this occasion.’
‘Speech, Cocky?’ says Champion.
‘That’s right, pal. Ahem. Badgers of the Black Pond!’ They all grunt and straighten. ‘Cherish this rabbit. For he is wise beyond his ears. Arf! Arf! Anyway… Protect him, I say, revere him. Cherish Champion! Cherish too your memory of me, Cocky the fox, handsome and elegant, the great destroyer of Jackpot, who was for generations your biological nightmare. Defend the Black Pond. You will always have friends in the Borough. Be decent with each other, eat well, and don’t take no guff. Champion, my friend?’
‘You look after yourself. Now on we go.’
‘Wait!’ says Champion. ‘Wait! I’m crying!’
Shakes, on my blind side, is a spire of shadow as we turn our backs.
Well, Cocky’s done it now, hasn’t he? One eye, three legs and a broken heart. I appear to have temporarily mislaid a dimension too – the dimension of depth. The sky is a flattened scroll and Shakes, crossing the ploughland ahead of me, has become an inkblot. Cold as a vixen’s tit out here: ice-streaks in the furrows catch the last dabs of day. Are those trees we see before us? They look like wires. Back there on the grassy headland we heard laughter underground. Laughter! I snarled and sniffed at a mound of earth and who should come jack-in-a-boxing out of it but a mole, a cheeky mole, enviably plush, hacking and chortling, clattering his claws and waving his large nude hands… ‘Clown of a fox!’ he gargled. I jumped six feet. I hate moles. Moles have no faces.
‘Just gunna go marchin in are you,’ says Shakes over his shoulder, in a dragon-twist of steam.
‘Why not? They’ll talk to me. They have to.’
‘Listen, are you with me or aren’t you?’
‘I’m with you, I’m with you. And we’ve arrived as it happens. This is the place.’
‘This…? OK. Wait for me here.’
‘Dont like it.’
‘Orright then I will.’
Still I hesitate, forepaw dangling, muzzle hoisted, at the edge of the dead wood. I smell refrigerated cardboard. ‘Ruff!” I say, testing the vacancy around me. The sound pancakes back, no reverb at all. Fucking hell.
In the Borough there’s a white van with no wheels, and inside it a tangy cache of empty tuna-tins, heaped up long ago by some seafood-loving fox. We call it the Tuna Barn. One night of sorrow found me installed there, wrecked, and maundering to Hughes of all people: this wasn’t working, that wasn’t working, Nora didn’t love me, why oh why etc. I went on and on like this until Hughes stopped me, sharp-eyed.
‘You’ve got that feeling, haven’t you?’ he said. ‘That feeling that you know too much, but you don’t know enough. Am I right?’
‘Yes!’ I said. ‘That’s it! What is that?’
‘It’s called being a fox. Now grow up, you cunt.’
Weak and unstoppable, I advance.
Scene: A conspicuously artificial wood, with assorted litter of bones and a sign saying WET PAINT. Tall trees to left and right arch towards each other over the centre of the stage, giving the effect of a proscenium, or a crashed spaceship, or the abdomen of a huge dead insect. A naked lightbulb hangs down, buzzing.
In a tree apparently made of used matches sit our two ravens: RANDALL DU NOIR and his twin brother CORVIN. Their talk is accompanied by coughs, squawks, burps, clacks of the beak, spittings, skeptical head-tiltings, side-to-side shuffles, sudden booming wingflaps and inflations of the feather-ruff. These phenomena not strictly expressive: they manifest more in the manner of neurological symptoms.
Enter COCKY, a fox with one eye, limping. Despite the limp he moves purposefully and aggressively at first but then seems overwhelmed by the raven-vibe.
Seeing COCKY, the ravens rattle their pinions.
RANDALL (disapproving): What’s this?
CORVIN: What’s all this then?
RANDALL: Don’t know about this. As a scene I mean.
CORVIN: I agree. As a scene it seems off to me.
RANDALL: Sure you should be here, Cocky?
CORVIN: Breaking the old fourth wall a bit aren’t you?
RANDALL: Characters talking to authors and all that. Could get tricky.
CORVIN: Could get tricky, Cocky.
COCKY (looking around dazedly, as if he’s forgotten why he came): What… What is this place anyway?
RANDALL: Barbecue Towers? Think of it as a creative space.
CORVIN: Our little workshop.
COCKY (coming back to himself, slowly): I know what you’ve been doing. I’m onto you now. I’m not a character!
RANDALL: Oh you’re a character alright.
CORVIN: You’re quite a character, Cocky.
COCKY: But I know what you’ve been doing!
RANDALL: Us? We do almost nothing.
CORVIN: Very little.
RANDALL: Drop a carcass or two in the Black Pond. Wake up a monster. So what.
CORVIN: Give a rhyme to the baby badgers. Big deal.
COCKY: What about Bob? What about Holiday Bob? He was meeting Blandley on the towpath, before he died. Did you set that up?
CORVIN: Set it up? Nah.
RANDALL: Not our style.
CORVIN: Not how we do things, Cocky.
RANDALL: Blandley is one of ours though.
CORVIN: He doesn’t know he’s one of ours.
RANDALL: That’s what makes him one of ours.
COCKY (fearfully, as the thought occurs to him): Am… Am I one of yours?
RANDALL (to CORVIN): What did he just say? No!
CORVIN (to RANDALL): He doesn’t get it. What? No!
RANDALL (turning back to COCKY): That’s why you’re fun for us!
CORVIN: Good old Cocky! Good for a laugh!
COCKY (quietly, almost inaudibly): Carnage.
CORVIN: You what, Cocky?
COCKY (louder): Carnage! That’s what you’re into, isn’t it? Pure carnage. That’s what you’re all about. That’s the point of all this.
RANDALL: Carnage? I’d say carrion.
CORVIN: More like carrion than carnage, Cocky.
RANDALL: The thing about us is, we don’t do the killing.
CORVIN: We like to watch.
RANDALL: We eat the dead. Once they’re dead.
CORVIN: Once somebody else has made them dead.
RANDALL: But we do like to watch.
CORVIN: Big badgers ripping.
RANDALL: A nice Borough fox putting the kill on a Northsider. Mmmm.
CORVIN: Dead rats in a garden.
RANDALL: Dead cats in a garden.
CORVIN: And pain. Mental pain. Yum yum.
CORVIN: That’s entertainment, Cocky.
RANDALL: That’s entertainment!
CORVIN (to RANDALL): Its’s good to see him though, I must say.
RANDALL (to CORVIN): He’s a dear old friend.
CORVIN: We’ve been in your head, Cocky.
RANDALL: Not very nice in there, is it? Bit hot, bit cramped.
CORVIN: You might have heard us rattling around.
COCKY: What do you mean?
CORVIN: Some of those voices. You know. We do them.
COCKY: What voices?
RANDALL: This voice. [Does coarse but accurate Cocky impression.] “Go on then have some more who cares.” That’s us.
CORVIN And this one. “Bastards I’ll take ’em all on.” That’s us too.
RANDALL: “No one understands me. I’m alone.”
CORVIN: “I’m going bonkers.” That’s our favourite!
RANDALL: Quite amusing, you and the rabbit. The wily one and the dopey one. A double-act not unknown to the great storytellers.
COCKY: Champion’s my friend. Nothing amusing about that.
RANDALL: Flopping along, the pair of you! Your scornful comments! His ears! Ha ha!
CORVIN: “Bloody rabbit!” Ha ha ha!
COCKY: We’ve come a long way together. We’ve known hardship, danger.
RANDALL: Oh dear. Has the ride been too bumpy for you?
CORVIN: Too many lumps and bumps, Cocky?
RANDALL: Making you jump?
CORVIN: Sending you into slumps?
RANDALL: Poor little fox! What a trial!
CORVIN: The scenery’s been good though, you must admit.
RANDALL: You’ll admit that, Cocky. Some very imaginative backdrops.
COCKY: I can’t stop you, can I?
CORVIN: You can’t, Cocky. We can’t be stopped.
RANDALL: I wish we could, sometimes. Do you have any idea how old we are?
CORVIN: You can’t stop us. (Shrugs.) What can you do?
COCKY: I can do this. I can tell you the name of the story.
Moment of astonishment. The ravens beaks fall open and then shut with a clack.
CORVIN (to RANDALL): What?
RANDALL (to CORVIN): He said what?
CORVIN: What did you say, Cocky?
RANDALL: The name of the what?
COCKY (starting to strut): Yes. Yes! Are you listening? Pay attention, the pair of you. Are you sitting comfortably? The name of this story is —
RANDALL: No! Shut it! Don’t say it!
CORVIN: Shut that cakehole, Cocky!
COCKY: The name of this story is The Return of Cocky the Fox. Once upon a time there was a fox… (Ravens flap, shuffle, exhibit great discomfiture.) And he was a mess! And he left his home! But then he went BACK —
COCKY: Do you see? Are you getting the point? No more wandering hither and thither, bouncing off things. No more floundering, sorrowing, wanking about.
RANDALL: But — the hither and thither?
CORVIN: The wanking about?
RANDALL: We simply adore all that!
COCKY: I don’t care.
RANDALL and CORVIN: But —
COCKY: No buts! I’m digging in. There’ll be killings, yes. There’ll be killings and there’ll be carrion. You’ll get your ration, don’t worry about that. But I’m running the show. Do you understand me? This isn’t your story anymore. This is my story. And if you meddle in it, if you muck me about, I’ll know. Because I’ve paid you a visit, haven’t I?
RANDALL: No you haven’t!
COCKY: I’ve spoken to you now.
CORVIN: Not likely!
COCKY: I’ve had a word.
RANDALL (enraged): Telling us what to do? Think again!
CORVIN (similarly enraged): Come at it from another angle, Cocky!
RANDALL: You’re onto us? We’re onto you.
CORVIN: The lies of you! The hoax of you! Someone’s got you sussed.
RANDALL: You’ve been clocked, Cocky. Remember that for the rest of your life.
CORVIN: Which will be shorter than you think.
RANDALL: And we’ll be watching. We’ll stay tuned.
RANDALL and CORVIN (screaming): Now fuck… the fuck… OFF!
COCKY stares. The ravens stare back. Exit COCKY.
Fug… Raaaar… Urruuuuurhhh… JACKPOT! Isn’t it Jackpot? Coming for me with, uh, with shotgun nostrils? His mouth smokes, a grille of acid drool… And now there’s yelling, lots of yelling at Cocky. Applause? Complaints? My organs jolt and I open my one eye, whereupon my thoughts pop feebly into the sky like a toy rocket.
‘Who killed me?’ I say.
Fresh clouds, fresh colours. I’m on my back. A squad of geese is honking along, spearhead formation, through the first rinsings of dawn.
‘No one killed you.’ Here’s old Shakes, sitting by me in the frosted clods. ‘Your not dead.’ Shakes the boar badger, big-pawed, broad-nosed, dark eyes solemnly separated by a seam of white. There is ice in his fur.
‘What happened then?’
‘Dunno really,’ he says. ‘First your in there for hours. Like all night. Couldnt hear a thing. Then you come crashun out yellin about your the king of the woods, your the king of the woods, la la la.’
‘Then you run around a bit. Then you fall over.’
I hoist myself onto one elbow. ‘King of the woods.’
‘Swot you said.’
‘Shite… I feel awful. Actually no I don’t. I feel fantastic.’
‘Cant tell eh.’
‘I feel comme çi comme ça.’
‘Ravens innit. Up you get now. Nice and slow.’
He nudges me to my feet — what’s left of them. I erect myself creakily. I exhale rhetorically.
‘Phew! You’re a good man, Shakes. Yes you are. You’re a good old moody old badger. You know we’re heading into the thick of it, right?’
‘Yurp.’ The fur along his body is ridged like scales.
‘And look at me.’ I display for him afresh the scrunched eye-socket, the crooked leg. ‘My fighting days are over. But there’s fighting to be done, isn’t there? Wrongs to be righted and slags to be scourged. We’ll have friends, but not many. Are you ready to do some serious damage?’
He snorts, lets out a chuff of badger-smoke. ‘Me? Cocky I’m made for it.’
‘Attaboy.’ One-eyed I examine the milky sunrise, the trees, the fields — these things not exploding or flying away, but held superbly in place. ‘Attaboy, you big fat bugger, you. Now look lively, and tuck in on my right side here. We’re going home.’
Frost has made a bell of the air. The air rings. So I howl it, clangingly, for the living to hear and the dead too. My departed darlings.
‘TO THE BOROUGH!’
Are the ravens beaten?
Was that the philosophical core — or *caw* — of the whole story?
And how can a one-eyed limping Cocky hope to triumph in the Borough, even with Shakes at his side?!
Find out in the next episode, on Thursday, January 6th. (Yes, we’re taking a week off.)
THE SNIFFER: Current and recent issues of The Sniffer, a COCKY THE FOX newsletter written and edited by Patrick Cates, are available only to subscribers. The first ten are available here: #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8 | #9 | #10.
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