She called the raccoon "mr. Bang", because that was the sound of the screen when she first let him into the kitchen. The noise did not startle him, despite the sudden loudness, but she could tell he was intrigued. As well as a little disturbed by the fact that the handle was so high up. How would he get out? To put him at ease, she inserted an empty box between the door and the jamb. He rocognized its function, and relaxed.
He came in many times after that. She would do her homework at the kitchen table, having already prepped the door, and around twilight she almost always noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye. Mr. Bang had arrived. Shortly afterward his furry head and grey whiskers would pop up over the edge of the table as he settled into the other chair. She often explained the math problems to him, as putting them into words helped her understand.
He'd look at her really seriously while she did that, and nod his head.
Did he grasp what she was saying?
Well, perhaps he did. He looked very attentive and thoughtful when she talked. Raccoons don't speak English, though, so he couldn't respond. But she felt that he helped her, and he was good company.
Then he would eat some of the triscuits.
When she made herself a glass of warm milk at midnight, he would have some too. Afterwards he would wander over to the kitchen door, look back at her as if to say "good night, thank you for a lovely time", then let himself out. She locked the door and turned off the lights, and went up to bed. A while later she'd hear a cat yowling from a few gardens away, or the crash of a garbage can being overturned, and she knew that mr. Bang was doing raccoon stuff.
It was kind of like knowing an elderly Irishman. Stiff in a few joints, but still full of piss-and-vinegar. She wondered if he also smoked cheap stogies, like mr. Clancy who lived next door.
Over the years mr. Bang got greyer, and seemed to move a little slower. Raccoons don't live very long, and it was obvious that he was an old animal. She started buying apples and bananas for him -- not out of a sense of pity or charitableness, she simply wanted him to have his vitamins -- and he often curled up behind the water heater, instead of leaving to overturn garbage receptacles down the block. Her parents never discovered him when they came down for breakfast, as they were too busy chattering about stocks, bonds, and money management. After they had gone, he came out and sat at the kitchen table with her while she ate. She always put some of her toast and scrambled eggs on a little saucer for him at his seat, and he would eat the food very fastidiously. He never made a mess. All in all, a very neat fellow, and extremely even-tempered; quite the furry gentleman.
She'd set the kitchen door at a crack when she left.
Often there was evidence when she came back that he had explored the rest of the house during the day, but never anything out of order, and nothing missing. Sometimes her teddy bear would be propped up on her pillow, when she sort of remembered putting miss Flumps under the covers. Had she not done so?
Or had mr. Bang been visiting her room?
She rather suspected that he had, but she could not be sure.
The end came in the summer that she graduated from Junior High. He was very old and stiff now, but his eyes were as bright and friendly as ever. He moved with evident pain. So she fixed a box with a blanket for him, and put it between her bed and the dresser, where her parents wouldn't see it. He still ate apples and bananas, and she would cary the box into the kitchen every day so he could have some toast and scrambled eggs. Before she left she carried him back up to her room, and put miss Flumps in with him, to keep him company. He was usually dozing when she came back.
Later he would have a little warm milk and a bit of apple with her, before bedtime.
He passed away in his sleep one night in July. She cried when she saw him the next morning. That evening she buried him at the end of the yard under the rhododendron bush. Lovely purple flowers. He would like that.
She made the hole deep so that he wouldn't be disturbed.
Box, blanket, and miss Flumps for company.
Several years later she adopted a kitten; a striped tom that slept on her bed.
She named him Bang Junior. Because he helped her do her homework.
He looked at her really seriously when she talked.
A very attentive and thoughtful cat.
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