L. Street is a funny little crooked footpath zigzagging up the side of the mountain, connecting the houses that cling for dear life to its slopes. Halfway up the zigzag sits little Smoky. Her job is to sit on the fence near the mailbox and greet the visitors, and she takes pride in her work.
Smoky is alert at the first sound of footsteps, and softly mews greetings. She has considerately stationed herself at an ideal height for petting. Her ash-coloured fur is so soft you’re not sure you’re touching anything – it’s like running your fingers over smoke. Despite her advancing years, she remains the size of a kitten. But she doesn’t frisk and bumble – she is on duty, after all – and carries out her duties with an air of solemnity.
She sits there all year round, at any time of day; amusing sweaty posties under the shade of the trees on sunny mornings, or charming loudly affectionate merry revellers in the moonlight. She has graciously accepted attentions in this way for years, welcoming weary travellers who stagger up there, fling their shopping aside and spend a good five minutes fussing over this little animal.
She is wispy and delicate – you can feel the tiny bones through her fur. Great care is taken by the visitors to be gentle when rubbing a tiny cheek, or tracing her spine with tender fingertips. She’s so insubstantial, it’s as if she’s not really there – perhaps she’s a ghost.
Perhaps she left this world in her sleep long ago, but nevertheless got up the next morning as usual, to sit on the fence near the mailbox and greet the visitors.
One day after I’d reluctantly finished stroking her and walked a little way down the path, I looked over my shoulder to see her outline blurring, becoming indistinct, until she eventually melted into the fog that had crept over the mountain.
Story by Badger
Illustration by Tales of Black Eyed Jack