By Stephen McCabe
I recalled the full image of her while I sat in silence:
Her bone-dagger claws pressing into the grassy verge, deadly but relaxed.
Her beady eyes inside those iconic black thunder-stripes, reflecting the light of the full moon.
Her wide back showing off its salt-and-pepper fur cape.
Her ash-stump of a tail. It was like a small witch’s brush (an undignified backside, as if the badger-creator got bored).
The European badger is not extinct. But I am not telling anybody about it. I’ve sat here in the dark going over it until my head has pounded with pain, and that’s my decision. I’m going to leave her be. The world must not interfere.
When I heard that the last living European badger had passed away, it hit me hard. Despite my fascination with nature ever since I was a little boy, I’d never taken it upon myself to go out badger-spotting at night. In my ignorance, I hadn’t realised that badgers had slowly become one of the rarest creatures in Great Britain.
You’re not going to believe this, then, but I saw one. Yesterday, I mean. I saw a badger—here, in Scotland. It was unmistakable. Couldn’t have been anything else. This old man finally saw a badger!
I’d spotted a muddy mound on the roadside a few weeks before I saw the badger herself. It looked like a monstrous molehill. (They used to call them ‘badger holes’ back in the day, didn’t they?) I’d never dreamed that it was the entrance to a badger’s sett. Why would I? They’re supposed to be extinct, aren’t they?
I was driving into Carrington Village at night when I saw her, just at the end of the country road. The whole encounter took no more than twenty seconds. She was a few metres further up from the badger hole, leaning over the left grass verge, nose twitching out onto the road’s tarmac. I gently swerved to avoid hitting her. Her neck strained a little as she pointed her black leather snout upwards, detecting something in the icy autumn air; it twitched from left to right, creating a curious hmm face.
I slowed my car down to get a proper look. I didn’t feel shocked or confused—that came later. It felt natural. It was natural. I felt a deep, calm joy. I was awake, alive. Endorphins tickled the skin on my head.
I nodded, smiled at her, and then drove on slowly into the village. I didn’t look back. The moment of privilege had revealed itself to me, but it also requested that I wasn’t greedy. Thank you, I whispered.
There had been a power cut by the time I got back to the cottage. I lit a fire in the stove and relaxed in the armchair with the remains of this morning’s joint (it’s for my arthritis).
In semi-darkness, the dim light of the fire created little badger shapes in the smoke.