It was a running around kind of day today. An eat in the park, errand, exercise, wash the dog day. The kids were swimming right before dinner and I had Henrie in the rinse cycle when Miss Linda popped over. She's stealthy, Miss Linda is, and I startled when I looked up from Henrie's tail to Miss Linda's face.
"I came over to tell you that I have a happy for you over at the house. I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate you."
I twisted off the hose and leaned in close to hear. Cigarette smoke has erased a good deal of her voice. It's deep and gravelly and almost a whisper. We talked for a while over a wet dog leashed to the fence about vitamins and minerals. We're both subscribers to their medicinal value.
"Thanks. I'll pop over sometime after dinner. We miss the kids."
"So do I. The house feels empty. Well, be sure to come by."
Then it was showers for the kids and dinner and dishes."
"Get your shoes on. I have to pick something up at Miss Linda's. You can come if you want." Of course, they did and we arrived on the doorstep, two doors down, in a herd an hour after the sun set. It matters that you know that the sun had set.
"Hey Linda. Everybody wanted to come. Are the raccoons out?"
"Well I don't know. Come on in and we'll see."
"What do you mean are the raccoons out, Mama?"
We walked through the hall and the kitchen and came out in the sunroom. We breathed shallow breaths on account of the smoke. Mr. John was lying on the sofa. All the lights were off. All the lights in the sunroom that is. But the floodlights in the backyard were on. We looked through the wall of glass into the bright backyard at a wading pool sitting in the dust, and two large dishpans.
"Watch," said Mr. John.
The children were silent. Absolutely silent in a row on the floor. We watched. Pretty soon a raccoon came to the dishpan, his back curved like a kangaroo's. He reached his little hands into the dishpan and wrapped them around a piece of dog food. He rubbed the food between his paws and put it in his mouth and then rubbed his mouth clean. He waddled over to the pool and lapped some gulps of water. He washed his hands and his face, rubbing them fastidiously, and went back to the dogfood diner.
More raccoons came. One. Two. Six. Ten. Out from the shadows. Out from the trees to the diner and the water. We watched in the dark.
"Watch that guy over there. He gets his food and takes it to the pool and washes it. He's the only one that does that. Watch him. He'll hop on his hind legs to the pool with the food in his hand." Sure enough he did.
"There's one, I don't see him here now. We call him Fat Albert. He comes and climbs in the dish and fills it. The other raccoons have to scoop the food out from under him." We never got to see Fat Albert but we wanted to.
" A fox! Look!" We just got a quick glimpse because twelve raccoons can take on one fox. They circled and pushed him back into the shadows. He didn't return.
Sometimes the furry bandits startled as we watched. They scampered into the shadows under the trees in a pack and sauntered back minutes later. One. Two. Five. Nine... In and out, they went from light to shadows, shadows to light.
Projects were calling at home, though we wanted to stay. Charlie waved goodbye to the ring tailed rascals. "Good night, raccoons. Good night."
Linda put a big box of handmade greeting cards into my arms, beautiful ones. "Thanks again. The kids have been asking about you. They miss you," she said. She gave Lauren a plate of cookies to carry home but Charlie carried them instead until he dropped them out by the road and John carried them the rest of the way. Chocolate Chip. We ate them in the light of our kitchen and wished out loud that there wasn't a big fence around our backyard so that we could feed the raccoons too.