We have a pet skunk. I call him Stumpy, because in the dead of night he looks like nothing if not a small, black stump; albeit one with a white stripe. He likes to lurk in the dark near our front steps and wait for me. Sometimes I don’t see him at first. But then he’ll emerge from the gloom and stand between me and home, tail raised in the moonlight.
Such was the case on Wednesday night, when I arrived home at 1:00 AM to find him hanging around our apartment. I had left the street and turned onto the walk which leads the our front door. Tired after a busy day, I was thinking of nothing more than plopping down on the sofa with a drink and a book, and wasn’t paying much attention to anything else. I was only a few paces away when Stumpy stepped out of the shadows, blocking my path.
I froze in mid-step, eyeing him warily. In a scene that had taken place more than a few times prior, we stood facing each other across a tiny patch of lawn. Neither of us moved. It was a game we’d played before, and we each slipped immediately into our respective roles: me trying to get inside and him trying to stop me.
Sometimes I like to think of Stumpy as a watch-skunk. Maybe he’s the reincarnated soul of a departed friend or family member. Or perhaps he just knows somehow that Dena is home alone on the nights that I work late and wants to be sure of my identity before allowing me access. Am I giving him too much credit? After all, how smart can a skunk be? Smarter than you’d think, it seems.
When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to leave, I took a step back. He reacted by turning his backside toward me. I took another step, and his bushy trembling tail began to rise into the air. At this point, I felt that the better part of valor would be to make myself scarce. I turned and walked briskly back to the sidewalk, where I called Dena from my cell phone and asked her to unlock the back door.
I took a few tentative steps along the walkway, keeping an eye out for Stumpy, who for all I knew could have followed me. As I once again approached our apartment, I saw him, in the same place as before. He’d turned back around to face me. I took a few steps forward and, when he made no move, took a few more. When I’d passed the apartment just before ours, I turned to the right and headed for the back door.
Just before I rounded the corner, I glanced back over my shoulder to check on Stumpy’s location. He was watching me, his white stripe visible in the glow of the full moon. We regarded each other for a long moment, neither of us quite sure what the other was thinking. When the door swung open and Dena called to me, Stumpy turned and trotted into the darkness, apparently convinced that all was well for another night.
I’ve come to respect our little friend, and even harbor some affection for him and the games we play in the night. Perhaps one day I’ll approach him with some sort of treat; maybe even reach down and give him a pat on the head. I’d probably get a face full of skunk spray for my troubles, and you know what? I’d deserve it. Whoever heard of trying to form a meaningful relationship with a skunk anyway?