Cheeky the squirrel jumped into the truck then, realizing what she’d done, dashed out. She stopped a stood a few feet away, curling her forepaws to her chest and gathering herself. Michael shook his head. He rummaged around in his glove box, found a bag of old, unshelled peanuts, and held one out to her. Cheeky stood on his foot and took the peanut gently from his hand.
He hadn’t seen her in a year since he’d moved to a different part of town.
Michael had first seen her on the roof outside the kitchen window, peering in at him. He slid up the screen a fraction of an inch and pushed a walnut through the crack. She snatched it and ran off, jumping from the rooftop and the locust tree in one graceful arc.
The next day she came again, and the next. Each morning she waited, squinting in through the glass’s reflection, for him to notice and feed her. On snowy days, she hopped from one foot to another to keep from freezing.
By spring she abandoned the rooftop and waited instead on the rail by the front door, somehow knowing each day when he left.
On summer mornings Michael sat in the garden drinking his coffee. He held the newspaper with one hand and dangled unshelled peanuts for Cheeky with the other. She slipped them from his fingers with exquisite gentleness.
When he was getting ready to move across town, he worried about her. Would she have enough food? On walks in the neighborhood Michael counted the nut-producing trees and judged the distance to the trickling stream.
On the morning he packed the last of the boxes into his truck, he waited for Cheeky to arrive, but she never came. Maybe she was watching him from somewhere.
Michael thought about her from time to time. The day he returned to the neighborhood to visit a friend, he closed the door of his truck, leaned against it, and looked around. He saw her coming toward him, stopping and looking, then advancing. He swears they were both smiling at each other.
•photo by untoldanimalstories.org co-founder Cherie Damron, http://cdamron.exposuremanager.com/