Their throats are torn and bellies ripped open.
Tubes and organs, red and purple. Fat green blowflies crawl and swarm in their low army hum.
The other sheep are on the far side of the paddock. They’ve all turned away, facing the road.
Maybe they saw the whole sorry mess, but are pretending it never happened. Maybe they feel guilty for not stopping it, for letting the slaughter go on.
But there wasn’t much they could have done.
And my father doesn’t say a word.
We come at night. Once, then a second time.
I hold the big hot light against the windscreen. My father stands outside, leaning against the bull-bar, the rifle hard at his shoulder.
All I can see is sheep, with bright fire eyes, wondering why we are annoying them so late.
We come a third time, but the fox has figured our routine. We stay till dawn, but she has made other plans.
We go to the old house in the second paddock. It has no electricity, no water, and we sit inside with sleeping pigeons and scuttling mice.
My father lets out a long sigh.
There is a noise on the roof. We both look up. A slap on the iron. Then more. Rain.
Soon it’s a cascade, and it comes pouring and flooding like I’ve never heard before. My father stands up. He looks out through a broken window, and he smiles for the first time in ages.
We walk across the paddock to the reservoir.
Thick streams flow down its steep banks, muddy water already pooling at the bottom. It isn’t full, nowhere near.
But he says it is the start of something great. And he wants to go there—to see the water up close, feel it on his skin. He leads me slowly down the stony bank. It’s slippery, and his eyes tell me to be careful.
We’re halfway when I see it—out on the far side, hidden away, where it’s much too steep to walk. A hole. A burrow. But not a rabbit’s burrow. It’s much too big for that.
I have never seen such a thing, with its arched steel and vicious, rusty teeth.
My father tries it first with a stick, and we both jump as it snaps violently, splintering it in two. He picks it up carefully, as though it can’t be trusted, and he tells me to wait at the old house.
Better to go on his own.
Three days pass.
Four more sheep. Two of them lambs. Their bellies are shredded, soft organs glistening.
The crows have come and eaten their eyes—that’s what my father says.
Light rain begins to fall.
I watch him walk slowly across the paddock, and I know where he is headed.
I look again at the lambs, and I wonder if the other sheep had watched this time. I wonder if they are glad it wasn’t them.
I hope it happened quickly. I hope the lambs were already dead when the crows came.
My father returns. The rain now comes steadily, soaking us both.
He is carrying something in his arms. He is smiling.
Its fur is thick and dark, with eyes like black pearls, and ears pricked in sharp alarm. It’s so small and delicate—I can’t believe it has done something so violent, so horrible, to those sheep.
‘Just a young one,’ my father says. ‘Got caught in the trap.’
He holds out her back leg and I can see the matted fur—an open wound. Her tail swooshes all lazy and elegant, dark eyes sparkle.
Dry thunder breaks somewhere in the distance. And I wonder what my father has in mind.
No talking on the way home—only the sharp squeak of wipers on glass, the slick black road, and smell of earth and musk.
On the kitchen table he cleans her wound and dresses it, wrapping her leg firmly in a bandage. The fox twitches, squeals, struggles, then finally relaxes in my father’s hands.
He feeds her small pieces of chicken. Tells her she is a good girl.
‘You will look after her’, he says, ‘until the leg is better.’
Her new home is the rosella’s old cage. The rosella never got a name, not like Joe the Cockatoo. Joe the Cockatoo had a bigger cage than the rosella, and my father decided once to move them in together. He thought they might be happy like that, with the company. But Joe the Cockatoo didn’t like the rosella so much.
So the fox has the rosella’s old cage all to herself. I put an old potato sack inside, and a bowl of water too. She paces up and down, and each time she gets to the end of the cage, seems surprised.
She stares at me with those eyes, licks at her bandaged foot. I’m not sure if she is happy or not.
I wonder if my father has re-set the trap, and if he is trying to catch her parents. I don’t think we’ll be taking them home.
I take good care of the fox. I rush home from school each day and I feed her more chicken. I even take her out of the cage. She walks slowly around the back yard, careful not to put weight on her leg.
Her fur is wiry and harsh, not soft like I’d imagined. But her tail is beautiful—lush and dark like night. She smells sweet like fruitcake, her teeth like small needles.
I don’t give her a name. And I don’t really know if she is a boy or a girl. She is just ‘the fox’.
It is my father who notices.
I probably knew it too, but pretended not to see.
I take her carefully out of the rosella’s old cage, and I hold her to my chest. My father slowly unwraps her leg.
It is dark, smelly and thick with pus. Flies buzz heavily in anticipation.
My father breathes deeply in, then out. ‘Flystrike,’ he says.
It’s a long drive out to the farm. We don’t speak the whole way there.
I hold the fox in my arms. I think she likes the car, the warmth and vibrating hum—the soothing static of the radio as the signal fades.
Her breaths are fast and shallow, her scent rich and sweet. I wonder if we might keep driving—I wonder if we might just stay on the highway. We could keep going, maybe forever.
My father shields his eyes as we take the turn-off. He winds down his window—the cool air a sudden relief against my skin.
The car groans reluctantly up the hill. Towards the farm. And the fading sun beyond.
He tells me to wait in the old house. To stay inside, and not to come out.
He takes the fox from my arms.
It’s dark in there, and I sit on a rusty petrol tin. Pigeons flutter from the mantle of the fireplace we have never lit, and the mozzies whine at my ears.
A cool breeze whips inside, and I lift my knees to my chest. I hear the hustle of mice, looking for warmth, and I close my eyes as tight as I can.
I cover my ears and squeeze them shut, so nothing can get in. But still, I hear.
When he comes back, I am shivering. He wipes my cheeks with his hands, squeezes my shoulders, and sighs.
In the car, on the road back to the highway, I can smell her. She is in the wool of my jumper, she is on my skin. I close my eyes and am filled by the richness of her underworld—the warm place in the earth, deep inside her den. Her mother and father, brothers and sisters. Where she belongs.
Headlights sweep the grey bitumen as we turn onto the highway. And my father looks at me, eyes sparkling, black as pitch.
Sometimes you have to do the most terrible things in life. ‘Sometimes’, he says, ‘you just have to.’