Often, at night, I walk home from my son’s house on the hill. While I’m on his dark road I watch the stars. Then I turn onto the brightly-lit street and shift my gaze to the city lights on the bay. It’s always quiet and I’m always alone. Although the streetlights save the lives of our cats and deer, I don’t like them. They catch me by surprise. I’ll be walking along and suddenly I’m surrounded by shadows of people stumbling along beside me. There’s a very short one, one my height, and one extremely tall one. They are silent and altogether too close to me. I gasp in momentary panic, then realize, once again, that I’m lit up from three directions at once and I’m really all alone.
I calm down quickly and laugh at how easily I’m tricked. One night though, I wasn’t alone. A shadow moved up quickly from behind. It’s just the light, I told myself, but then I heard a panting, slobbering sound right behind me and I almost croaked. Was it the legendary local cougar? An out-of-control meth addict? Which way should I run?
I turned, bravely, just as Harley, the neighbor’s dog, caught up with me and slobbered all over my hands.
I’ve always wondered what I would do if someone attacked me on the street or broke into my home. Would I faint? Have a heart attack? Would I stand up to the assault? Better yet, would I remember some deadly martial arts move I’d seen and could use? Or, would I just cower in a corner?
Recently I got a clue. I was getting ready for a meeting the next day, assembling my lunch, boiling eggs for a tuna salad, pressing my pants, and searching for a notebook. This last task took me to the computer room where I was immediately seduced by new emails. I sat down and answered them at length. A long time went by. Suddenly there was a hideous noise. It sounded as though someone had savagely kicked in the door. Who’d come in without knocking besides my son? And why would he kick open the door?
I didn’t faint. I didn’t have a heart attack, throw up, or cower in the corner. I picked up a weapon and charged out into the living room, roaring in a deep voice I’d never heard before, "WHO’S IN MY HOUSE?" The room was empty. The door was closed. I checked the downstairs door. It was closed too. I stomped into the kitchen, yelling belligerently, "WHO’S HERE?"
There was no one in the kitchen. I heard a rattle, though, then smelled something vile. Over-boiled egg was sliding off the cupboards and dropping onto the hot burner. The pan was still rocking back and forth from the explosion. Feeling silly but laughing, I set down my weapon – my wastebasket – and started cleaning up the egg.
Maybe I’ve just read too many stories. A couple of years ago I went birding alone in the local marsh. The sheriff had just decided that the latest cougar seen had actually been a golden retriever so I wasn’t worried. I strolled along a dike, scanning the reeds and sedges with my binoculars, and suddenly saw pointed ears and a tawny feline face. Omigod! I thought, it’s really here. Will he attack me right out in the open? He didn’t move. I lowered my glasses to judge the distance better and could no longer see him. I looked through them again and there he was, eyeing me with disinterest. I got a little closer and he moved. It was just a big tomcat. I was so glad I hadn’t run to town and reported another cougar.
My most embarrassing scare was years ago when I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Northern California. While he and his team went to work every day, I bicycled through the coastal hills, returning to the motel an hour or so before he did. I’d flip my bike over on its seat and handlebars to spare the tires, then take a shower and read for a while. One day, sitting there, I heard some noises in the next room. Then I heard a loud report as of a gun going off at close range. I screamed. I ran outside just as one of my husband’s teammates arrived, the one who had been regaling me all week with funny limericks he’d written about his co-workers. I was so glad it was he. I rushed up and clutched his arm, babbling, "we’ve got to call the police. Someone’s killed himself in the next room."
He steered me gently back toward my room. The man next door emerged looking neither bloody nor disturbed. Chuck asked what I’d been doing when I heard the "shot" and looked for holes in the wall. I became aware of a whirring noise and jumped. Looking over at my bicycle, I saw the wheel spinning around and the tire with a large hole in it. It had blown out and the force had set it into motion, even as I had bolted out the door.
The next morning there was a new limerick:
A gentleman came to inspire
A lady whose troubles were dire.
But there by the door
She sprawled on the floor
Shot dead by a bicycle tire.
Valerie Cooley is living in Coos Bay,