St. Francis of Assisi

One night last week I walked through the kitchen and glanced through the sliding glass door where Brian was sitting reading on the deck. I noticed one of our three cats, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, eating from the bowl of food by the backdoor, just a few feet away from where Brian sat. But I looked again at the cat—his tail looked a little fuller and fatter, and I moved around to see his face. It wasn’t Fyo, the calico cat, it was a RACCOON! I rapped on the window to get Brian’s attention—he turned around and then yelled “Hey!” The critter looked at him calmly for a minute, and then stuck his face back in the bowl. “Hey, get out of here!” Brian yelled again, and got up to chase him off. The coon reluctantly ambled over to the steps and down. Leo, the big yellow tomcat, (that’s Leo Tolstoy) who had been sprawled out under the table got up when Brian yelled, and walked placidly down the steps with the coon….

The raccoon tried to come back again later, but was again chased off. But the next evening after dinner, when Brian was again sitting out on the deck with his book, he felt something brush up against his leg. Thinking it was probably Leo, his favorite cat, he reached down and was very surprised to find it was the RACCOON! The other cats were on the deck, not a bit bothered by the newcomer. We’ve decided Brian has picked up on the St. Francis of Assisi anointing—or perhaps Noah?

Brian came in to tell me, and I said if we were going to have another pet, he needed a name. I suggested Sparky. He objected, and said all our pets needed to have literary names. We have Leo and Fyo, named after the Russian giants, and then there’s Buechner, (pronounced Beekner, after Frederick). And so I amended my suggestion from Sparky to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But Brian preferred to name the raccoon Salmon Rushdie.

We were telling some friends the story the next day, and the day after that, got an e-mail from someone else who’d heard it. He was concerned the raccoon might be rabid, and suggested we shoot it. We don’t have a gun, but we haven’t seen that coon since. Salmon Rushdie has had death threats before, and once went into hiding for several years after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. We figured that coon didn’t want to take any chances.

A week went by, and then one evening while I was out watering some flowers, I found a huge snapping turtle in the yard. I went inside and got my husband, St. Francis, who said it couldn’t be a snapping turtle. He came out and looked at it, poked it with a stick, and it about snapped his hand off. He now agrees it is a snapping turtle. And while we were standing there looking at the turtle, I saw Salman the raccoon lope across the backyard!

Philip picked up the turtle and carried it down by the woods from where he’d probably come. He was just a few feet away from the road, and we really didn’t want him to get smashed by a car. He still had the stick Brian had poked him with clenched between his teeth, looking like a big stogey. All three cats joined us then, Leo, Fyo, and Buechner, who took turns sniffing him and jumping away when he jerked his head.

I assumed he’d be gone the next morning, but when I woke up and looked out my bedroom window, I saw three cats in a row, their heads poked through the rails in the deck, standing at attention, staring intently at something below. I couldn’t see anything, but a few minutes later, the turtle emerged from the irises. And Leo, the brave one, trotted down the stairs to investigate. When he was about twenty feet away, he began to creep up on the turtle, like a lion stalking his prey. But he stopped ten feet away, and then was afraid to come any closer. Fyo and Buechner were even less valiant than Leo, and stayed safely up on the deck, totally mesmerized by our new family member, the stone that moves.

I’ve named him Herman Melville.