The screen door closes softly. I wish I'd turned on the porch light. Gingerly I make my way down the warm brick walk, watching for the gray granite slab that marks the edge of each step.
My barely visible black cat joins me in this evening task. He is only a shadow. I leave the path, and my bare feet sink into the damp grass. Terrence waits on the bricks, finally enjoying the heat from the day.
I wonder if the arc of the sprinkler will catch me by surprise before I can reach the spigot. Following the route over the prickly bark mulch, onto three still-warm stepping stones, I reach the corner of the house, clutch the furry branches of the clipped yew, and swing around to reach for the shutoff.
Just at that moment, we both hear rustling in the dark-night bushes. Terrence moves stealthily toward the noise. I spin around to watch, hoping all the local birds are safe in their nests.
Suddenly, Terrence leaps into the bushes, but no scuffle ensues. I watch, wondering what drama is about to play out in the dark shrubbery. In a moment, I see the white markings of ...
He quietly emerges, unperturbed and focused on his mission. He continues on his self-assigned path through the undergrowth.
Terrence quickly retreats. We watch the skunk saunter to the clearing below the bird feeders and rummage in the fallen sunflower seed hulls, hoping for an overlooked morsel.
My cat, no longer eager for an ambush, retraces his steps and hunkers down on the top step, close to the door.
Having decided that the skunk is best left to his own business, I scramble back around the big yew, stride quickly over the stepping stones, and cross the bark mulch, through the wet grass to join Terrence on the porch.
We look back at the late-night nosher, busy with his foraging. We go inside; the screen door closes softly.
And I still hear the water running.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor