“In Shifts”, by Charlotte Hildebrand

I don’t know why I’m afraid to talk to my neighbor Thea about the commotion next door; perhaps because I talked to her last year about feeding the feral cats and skunks and raccoons and nothing came of it. My fear comes, too, from the fact that an old woman can be sharp edged as a knife, dangerous as a steel trap and unyielding to the point of chicanery.

Don’t get me wrong; my neighbor is a wonderful woman, but the busy schedule of the comings and goings of various animals has gotten out of hand. Something has to be done:

7 a.m.: Breakfast, Coyote, table set for one
7:30-8 a.m.: breakfast, seven skunks
noon-3: brunch, six rowdy crows
5 p.m.: supper again for the coyote, although in this part of the country I think you call it dinner.
5:30 p.m.-until dark: skunks in shifts, the occasional possum and raccoon

Note to self: The point of my argument (to make her stop setting out food) must be in the interest of the wildlife she’s feeding.

Who will get to the bowl first?

I’ll start out by saying, “Thea, you’re not helping the animals; you’re making them dependent on the food you give them. What will happen when you’re not here?”

Why would I not be here? she’ll ask.

Pause. Am I to say, at your age you’re headed for the big ballpark in the sky; anything could happen? But I can’t say that; it would be too cruel.

Well, what if you get sick, I’ll say. What will the animals do? The coyote might become aggressive and attack some unsuspecting child or small pet; maybe jump over the fence and bite me for interfering with its supper.

She’ll shake her head like last time and say she doesn’t agree with my assessment.

I’ll say, Okay, you win; let the skunks fill up the afternoon air with stink, let the coyote become a stalker, let the crows caw to their hearts content. I give up, I give up.

But it didn’t go like that. When I called her at noon to talk about the problem, she was all good graces; she said she had wondered herself if she was doing the right thing. As a child during the war, she lived on the edge of a forest, and it was only natural to feed the animals during winter. I gently reminded her, that here in sunny CA, an abundant harvest is always available; there’s enough little voles and moles to fill up Dodger Stadium. So, she agreed to stop. If she couldn’t feed one, she wouldn’t feed any. She promised, no more food.

But I feel a little guilty that she won’t have the animals to feed. She’s lonely up here on this hill since her husband died five years ago; her daughter lives in Pennsylvania and comes out only a few times a year. It must give her pleasure to take care of so many small creatures. I wonder if I’ve done more harm than good.

P.S. Woke up this morning and noticed three bowls in her yard, and a possum lurking about. What the…??

This posting follows from Charlotte’s posting on June 8: HOWL. For more of her writing, please visit her website: http://charlottehildebrand.blogspot.com/

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