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There’s a black stray that lives in my neighborhood. He came with the house. The previous owners abandoned him. But he had a cat door so he spent most of his time outside before they’d left anyway. 

It was kind of heartbreaking that I couldn’t let him in. I tried at first and he scratched the baby. He also didn’t get along with my elderly white Persian either. So I blocked up the cat door. The neighbors were already feeding him and making secret places for him to sleep at night. During the day he prefers to sleep at the corner of my door because it’s the coolest part of the neighborhood and for a black cat living outdoors in Mesa, Arizona that’s a very important thing. It’s like they always say: location, location, location.

I often find the remains of a pigeon or mourning dove in the grass waiting for me in the mornings 

He’s a good neighborhood stray though. There are other strays in other parts of the neighborhood. People abandon cats all the time and the neighborhood has several dumpsters. No other cats come near ours. 

And I think about how it almost seems like he’s thanking me for the use of my shade and bowls of water that I leave out for him with a small donation of leftovers. I think about the occasional fight I hear him get in, late at night, over on the other side of the neighbor’s. I think about how he defends that one spot in the corner by the door, where thrice a day the sprinklers water the grass and by early afternoon it’s enveloped in shade. 

He does a lot of work to keep that one tiny spot peaceful

It reminds me of being a dad, as I live here with my daughter half the time. You put all your energy into making that one spot, ‘home’, feel completely safe. 

It certainly isn’t completely safe. There are monsters in the world. You’ve seen them, and you know a few. Like my stray, all you can do is keep the bad ones at bay. Because it’s not that there are other monsters in the world that bothers you—you knew that. And you don’t mind them so much as long as they keep their distance. 

There’s a tradition in Austria called a “Hexentanz,” in which the men of the town dress up in these absurd kind of mountain demon thing costumes and parade around the town banging on horrible sounding drums fashioned from old automobile gas tanks. They perform this parade on the longest night of the year. 

Basically, the dads of the town get together and tell their kids “hey, don’t worry about the monsters in the dark, because we have scarier monsters on our side.”

The black stray and I have an understanding, he’s since learned not to come in the fenced-in part of the back yard … unless of course the kiddie pool is filled in which case he’s allowed to come have a drink as long as my daughter or the house cat aren’t out there. If it’s just me …. We have an understanding. 

He keeps the other cats away and I don’t have to worry about any strays attacking my kid, or my elderly house cat. 

We keep the monsters away, and I give him water.

FOR INFERNAL USE ONLY Jack Matirko was raised in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but it didn't take. His projects include The Left Hemispheres Podcast, The Naked Diner Podcast, and An Ongoing and...