June 25, 2002

Who sent him?

He showed up on our porch three days ago. Well, not exactly. We don't have a porch really; what we have is a set of steps that go straight straight up to the front door. See if this gives you the picture. If you walk out the front door, there's three steps, then a landing, then five steps, then a landing, then maybe eight steps, then the ground.

I say this not to scare off the vertigo challenged, but to tell you that it isn't such an easy feat to "show up" on our porch. But he does it. Every time. I've started to go out looking for him, trying to decipher his origin. I scan the other yards, our front yard, our side yard, peer down under our steps from up high. And sometime during my obsessive scanning, he appears, always about half way up, bounding the rest of the way to say, "Hey, Beautiful."

He's a tom cat that doesn't belong here. He's not from these parts. I've asked my neighbors, and I know the neighborhood cats--five of them live next door, two across the street, one halfway up the block, and so on. No, this is not one of our street cats.

He is maleness personified, perfect head and golden eyes, thick neck, big paws and strong claws, grey and big with a tail striped like a snake. And he knows he is "it," swaggers around the top landing, wagging that snake tail up in the air, ssssssssssssssssssssssss!

I've started to call him ashes. Partly because the ashes from my cigarette dapple him as he squirms around my calves. Partly because he is the color of ash.

Don't want a cat, don't need a cat, especially one who likes to bite my calves, this drifter turned possessive and jealous:

"Get back up on the step, woman!"

But there's something comforting about him for me, nearing my third month with my man gone to China. Ashes is fierce. The cats who used to eat my aloe plants and sneak in my garage to piss don't cross Ashes' boundaries. And when they do, they pay the price. Even our two dogs, on duty in the back yard, seem to have relaxed since he came around. They're off high alert. They're not barking, no more watching for any crackling branch or falling leaf to signify attack mode. Nope, they're hanging out on the deck, looking pleased as can be that Ashes has come by to pick up the slack.

So, last night I fed him. Now his infatuation with me has turned to obsession. And it's not just the food. He flops down half way up the stairs, crosswise, my feline gargoyle taking up an entire step, not letting me down, or anyone else up, he looks up at me and says:

"This is my place. I make the rules. Don't worry, baby, I'll take good care of you." blink. blink.

As I write this, he's outside, stretched out on the fourth step, on the night shift, making sure we're safe and sound.

Thanks, Ashes.

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