It’s about 8:30. My cats refuse to come inside, and I slam the front door in frustration. I hate leaving them out after dark. After my little fit, I reopen the front door. I am working in the living room. I hear a loud growl outside. My cats have had too many fights and too many injuries over the years. I spring into action now at the first hint of a problem, clapping and yelling, whether I hear a growl or a full-blown fight. I jump up, heading toward the growling without thinking, pounding on the metal screen door on my way outside, part of my technique for scattering strays. I am yelling, too. “Stop it!” On the patio, I freeze. Sable, my compact black boy cat, is making the noise. He is near the eastern hedge, turned away from me, his growl loud, deep, constant. He is facing down a raccoon four times his size. The light from next door spills through the pyracantha. I can see Sable’s small sleek back. He is not stepping down. He is my brave boy, and I am rended by the sight of the two of them inches apart. I don’t stop yelling. “Get out of hear!” I wave my arms. They ignore me. Do they think I’m dancing? “You’ve got to be kidding!” Sable moves off toward the front of the yard.
The raccoon watches me. I grab a broom and wave it in his direction. It has no effect. I retreat, fill a plastic pitcher with water. I go back out, the pitcher in my hands, and the raccoon moves toward me. He is intent. I splash water at him, again and again. He decides to go back through the hedge, but he doesn’t go far. He lurks a few feet away, and my cats still refuse to come inside. “He could have killed you,” I scream at Sable, over and over. I go out through the gate, talk to the raccoon on the other side of the hedge. There is something odd, something tentative about him. I worry something is wrong. “Are you okay?” I ask. He looks at me, and my tender question affects him more than all my crazed flailing. It is the first time I am present. He moves further away into the neighbor’s bushes. I still can’t talk sense to my cats. I throw the plastic pitcher on the kitchen floor. It is a relic from Mexico, and I am sad when it breaks apart. “He could have killed you,” I tell my cats again when they come in for dinner. “What were you thinking?” I am no longer a raving lunatic. I am shaken by what might have been. I am grateful I reopened the front door. What if I hadn’t heard his growl? Days later, I replay the moment the raccoon comes toward me. This time, I recognize the look on his face. He isn’t challenging me, as I’d thought. He is eager for what I am bringing out to him. He thinks I am about to feed him. Someone must have fed him before. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, maybe I would have understood. It makes me sad, this cruel twist. He thinks I am bringing him food, and I splash him with water. Still, I hope he won’t come calling again.
[Editor’s note: I found this photograph on Scott Neese’s blog: http://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2009/04/articles/animals/other-animals/raccoon-roundworm-in-new-york/. I couldn’t find a reference to the photographer or the copyright.]