Coming home from the north I enter the courtyard along with the first shadows. Heading west, the sun has dropped beneath the roofline, our building’s three stories enough to provide shade. In this light, still bright but indirect, the courtyard is a peaceful place, ferns in the corners and small trees along the sides providing some measure of growing things against the concrete. Finally out of the car I can relax on entering, safe again in my own space.
From beneath the leaves of one potted plant she watches me, sitting delicately in her hunter’s pose. As I approach she says nothing, waiting patiently. As I pass she does not strike, letting out the faintest meow, saying hello and look at me, hiding in the shade of these leaves. I reach through, scratching behind the ears, shifting my bag to my other shoulder. Crouched down now, close enough to hear her purr, I coax her from behind the leaves. The sun is quickly leaving the courtyard, shifting towards the ocean though there is an hour of daylight left. Knowing her true goal I rise, keys jingling, and head up the back stairs three flights.
Chelsie lives down on the ground floor, her owner lets her roam in the afternoons, after work and before dinner. At first she lies in the sun, relishing the heated concrete. As it withdraws so too does she, to her spot beneath the leaves, to play at being a tiger in a jungle small but all her own.
Until I come home, and then she’s out again, following me up the stairs in swift strides, her body almost coasting upwards. I unlock the door and she brushes by me, purring, heading for the desk, the chairs, the window’s sun. For when her apartment and the courtyard are wrapped in shadows mine, high above on the north west corner, is filled with sun. At the top of the building, windows facing west to the Pacific, it gets warmth longer, holds the sun’s gaze later, than any other in our building. Chelsie knows this, used to visit the previous tenant, and staked out her claim to our floor, to the desk once it arrived, to a chair if there’s a cushion on it, as soon as we’d moved in. Her owner Peter knows exactly where she’s gone and comes knocking, the courtyard dark and dinner ready.
“Is Chelsie here?” he asks, knowing full well she is curled in the last rays of warmth, purring loudly, clouds of fur everywhere around her.
“Of course,” I say, and then “Ok Chels, let’s go.”
She perks up, hopping off of the chair and prancing towards the door.
“Thank you,” he says.
“Not at all,” I answer, “she’s welcome any time.”
In an apartment too small for animals, where the lease prohibits them anyway, Chelsie’s visits are like the sun itself, a gift in this land of fog and wind. The sneezing and the sweeping up of fur are an easy price to pay for this time cohabiting with an animal we do not need to feed or clean.
And, like the sun, when the fog is thick and heavy, Chelsie does not see the light of day, Peter’s door closed for weeks on end. So now, on days when I round the hills of Marin, head down to the Golden Gate, and see the city spread out before me with not a cloud around, I open the gate to our courtyard with a little grin, looking for the eyes beneath the bushes. Pink and grey in the strangest of shades, Chelsie waits for our apartment to be opened for her so she can lounge as she likes, cat not of one apartment but of them all in turn.