There was a time when we left shelter and gratitude for recklessness and debauchery, when ears twitched with antipathy, when you wore stupidity like a medal. We were tricksters back then. We chomped MacBook cords, gnawed on baseboards, ate the corners of car registrations. We fucked each other in the face and blew off the days, the sun warming our hinds, the wind blowing the fur from our cheeks. We ate all of the roses and got drunk on fallen fermented plums. We were kits, in love, and looking for trouble. And the best trouble could be found in Cully’s Patch.
It was an easy ruse, to make like you were sleeping and get the little girls to forget to latch the hutch. Through the chicken wire door, down to the lawn, and then to the far corner of the shed, the celery-crisp light from our people’s house giving way to the smell of dusty plum leaves and torn dandelion greens beneath our claws. The soil was wet down there, near a busted sprinkler head. And that was how we dug the dirty tunnel under the fence to Cully’s Patch, where the moon shadows were blocked by a dead pine routed with beetle bores that housed a crooked rook of loud and slouchy oil slick crows who dropped bits of chicken bone and the gristle from carnitas. The little birds called the patch The Bath, in reference to the once glorious cement Botticelli. Now the statue dripped condensation from mottled mossy tits into a few inches of water held in by its seashell, surrounded by a constant static of mosquitos.
There was a rotten toolshed near the back fence where the floorboards had been penetrated by the woody insistence of ivy, and it was as good a place as any for a hideout. But for all of the fun of untamed tangles we were really there because Cully kept a garden. We wanted to gorge ourselves, eat dripping sugar until we got diarrhea, have sex among the half-eaten tomatoes, rub our scent glands on the trunk of the peach tree, lick each other in the grass, hear the cats shriek in heat, and leap to the tired soughs of the J train down the hill. This was nature.
I was there one night with Mimi, my scarred up girl who had a languorous dewlap and long brown ears that she preened when she wanted to fuck. She was sexy and raw, with a tiny patch of pink skin on her lip where the skin had to be superglued back together after a particularly vicious fight. And also there was Piggy, an ex lab rabbit with blood colored eyes. Those two could run off a cat silently, with flashes of front teeth like nails, butterfly-knife claws, and Kung Fu hind kicks should a feline get any funny ideas, like the pampered puss Cully fed out back. Mimi and Piggy were casual and meticulously groomed, but carried themselves like those of us who were found alone as kids. They liked to lay around with sticks of hay hanging from their lower lips. In short, street buns.
I led. Piggy followed across the leaf litter, kicking up wildly a few feet into the air once in a while. Mimi came behind, shitting her signature scent around every root like the tough broad that she was. It was late spring and the fog hung around like gauze from a wound. The first two nights that we’d made it out this month, we’d been out till dawn, spitting out the cucumbers while we kicked around, waiting for something like maybe the blackberries to ripen. This night we’d gone up and down the rows of raised beds four or five times, chewed the nylon of the drooping windsock ragged, and scratched ourselves on the coir mat by the back door. The dump trucks had started farting up the hills and the birds were going after what fell behind. There was nothing to do but take a few rotten plums back to the rear shed of Cully’s Patch.
As we bounded over broken bricks, the eyes of an animal peered down from the old treehouse. Close together, mammal, too high for dog. Piggy’s ear went up, “Hey that dumbass tortoiseshell cat’s back for more.”
A perfect rumble to close out the night. That was the first mistake; assuming cat. The second was failing to notice the murder of crows that had eased off the scene moments before. Then I picked up that smell. Not the accursed smell of cat shit, which is bad and parasitic riddled enough. It was more rank and wild and rowdy. It was the kind of smell that even the gutter cats with sores oozing pus can’t really muster. It had a back note of crab shells left to liquefy in a plastic bag. That’s what hit me upside the nose, just before the wide open paw.
The trash pandas in the city are a different breed, like us street buns. There’s nothing bucolic happening. No sweet streams to wash pristine fish. Just some homeless guy’s to go container from a taqueria that has a little bit of enchilada inside a puddle of malt liquor. Those ringtail fuckers will kill your kids for that shit.
Needless to say, we were in a lot of trouble. I could taste the blood while hearing the raccoon’s attack growls like a revving dirt bike ready to ascend the crest of Mimi or Piggy or back onto me. I was kicking myself for being stupid enough to lead everyone right to the cat’s greasy pellets, a signal for all the marauders.
A light turned on in an apartment window over the fence line. I could finally make sense of things. A raccoon’s fine in the dark, but we’re only really good at dawn and dusk. The silver mask hit the accelerator and got ahold of Mimi’s ear. I saw her teeth open wide and her back arch in stuttered motion as the branches of the pine cut in back and forth in front of the light from the window, creating a kind of zoetrope. I was ashamed that the sight of her, in pain, aroused me. Blood dressed up her body as though it was for me alone.
Piggy bucked a rear kick into the raccoon’s face. It only served as a distraction. I bit onto his upper lip as hard as I could, putting my chances at four to five seconds before he grabbed ahold of my head, popped my skull off, and licked my spine like the wooden stick from a melted paleta at the park. It was an intimate assault. I could taste the poultry-by-product meal from the cat kibble on his breath as he swung my body around, my swollen eyes clamped shut, the dark world populated only with two stroke war whoops, dump trucks, and the morning clucks of hippie chickens four doors down. Then he dropped me.
My whiskers lay on a damp leaf and I caught the scent of something else: a scent so deep that I felt it in the back of my jaw. I forced my eyes open and found that I could see a bit in the peach fuzz dawn. A skunk backed it’s stripper fan ass into the raccoon’s face while thrusting her tiny tongue into the cat chow. The raccoon rubbed his pointed snout in disbelief. Mimi had slinked underneath a camelia nearer to the fence. I shot her a look.
The raccoon backfired as the skunk douched her lascivious perfume into his eyes. The register of his call went from basso profundo to high c sharp.
We made for the tunnel, legs outpacing ears and heads. And then we waited, paws tucked, for the little girls to find us underneath the shed while blood turned brown on fur and the dandelions opened out on the patchy lawn. I licked at Mimi’s ear while Piggy sat motionless, his eyes in a stupor.
The smell from the skunk would linger for the better part of a month. I’d groom that notch in Mimi’s ear until the day she died.
Allison Muir is a San Franciscan writer, artist, and interior designer. During her varied career she has designed D.I.Y. projects for ReadyMade Magazine, coordinated postproduction for clients such as Industrial Light and Magic, Dreamworks and Pixar, and produced and written for Al Gore’s Current TV. She likes restaurants with themes and gimmicks.
Maggie Stirk is a British painter and teacher residing in the U.S. She has collaborated with The National Portrait Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, and London Print Studio on educational projects. Her city walks and volunteer tutoring require a lot of coffee.