In my back yard

I have cats. Actually, cats have me.

Cats have visited our yard fairly often since we moved in. I hear them fighting sometimes at night and I see them daily, walking along the top of our fence or prowling on the ground. When I show up, or they realize I’ve been sitting there quietly all along, they run away. Well, not our neighbor’s cats; but the others do.

A few weeks ago I absentmindedly walked outside and heard a vicious hissing. It didn’t sound like anything I’d heard before, and I felt viscerally that I should stop and find out what was making that sound.

It was a cat, mottled and thin, warning me away from the other end of the deck by hissing and showing teeth and being as tall as possible. I was surprised—first that such a small creature could make a sound like that, and second that it would threaten me where I live.

Then I saw the kittens at the bottom of the steps, three fur balls with eyes, and every bit as cute as advertised. I’ve met mothers before, and I didn’t want to make this one scared enough to do something rash, so I went back into the house and out another door.

She did that hissing-on-her-toes number whenever she saw me within 20 feet of her kittens for the first week or so. If they were tucked away under the deck, she would look my way with little interest.

Then she seemed to relax. I’d catch the kittens playing around her in the back yard at dawn, chasing the still leaves on the gravel path and breaking the stalks of young lilies—cute the whole time—and mama cat would give me a good once-over and let it go at that.

I’m not a cat person, not because I have any animosity toward them or mind their aloofness or any of that. I’m allergic to cat dander, not to cats. So I’ve never lived with a cat, although I once had a woman on whose cats and dog I would rub expensive chemicals so I could breathe overnight. My current cat arrangement is perfect.

Everyone who knows about the cats under my porch, especially people who own cats, has said I shouldn’t feed them under any circumstances. No problem; although I did put out a dish of water when it was hot. I don’t know if that counts.

A friend said the thing to do is get the cats spayed. I suppose I could shoot them with tranquilizer darts and cart them off to a vet, but then I should probably do the squirrels, too, and that seems excessive.

The cats can keep their sexual organs. I’m not going to feed them, though—they’ve got to be self-sufficient. But they’re entertaining, I wish them well, and they can stay.