The House of Franks

for Michaella


My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, in Midtown, Harrisburg,
staring up at the second floor windows, of a house partially hidden behind shrubbery, brown and dead in these final throes of winter.

“That’s the house of Frank’s,” she whispers, breathlessly, to me.
“The upstairs window. Look! There’s a Frank!”

And there, pressed to a glass windowpane, is the face of a pure white cat.
I smile, for the first time in days, possibly months, and laugh, “It is a Frank!”

We left the real Frank, an hour earlier, asleep on her dining room table, spread on his back, a large puff of white fur, the bluest eyes, and sneaky as hell, if pressed we will swear up and down that he talks to the dogs. And he isn’t nice about it, either. The word instigator, comes to mind. We are convinced he once belonged to this house, to these other Franks, before she found him on our street, dirty and injured, just a year ago.

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, where Penn Street
meets Sassafras Street, “That’s the house of Franks!” she hisses excitedly to me.

We count, one, two, three Franks, each in a different window, ghostlike faces
interchangeable. Michaella and I stand close together, unwilling to pull
ourselves away, from the question at hand. Asking in hushed voices,
“How many Franks do you think they have in there?”

It’s the end of March, barely springtime, we’ve been coming here for months, for nearly a year. The dogs know the way, tugging at their leashes, around corners, along alleyways, that deliver us, each time, to this squat house, this litter strewn courtyard, where we pause, to count the Franks. A ritual, of sorts, the two of us, standing close together,
in this skinny alley, counting cats, pointing to windows.

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, where winter meets spring, thick scarves wound about our necks, feet still stuck in winter boots, with the sun in our eyes,
“They have at least five Franks,” she tells me matter-of-factly, “I’ve seen them.”

I move closer to her, wanting to re-direct her attention to the bushes just in front of us, the dogs are aware of what I have just noticed, a pure white cat, standing a foot or so away, very still, hoping to go unnoticed. “Mike,” I say out loud, though barely, my arm raised, one finger pointing to the ground before me”Look!”

The cat moves, so suddenly, as her gaze shifts into reality, he inches to the left, and back, to the right, and back again, the dogs, strain at their leashes, each pulling in a different direction, as if to corner him, and capture this prize together. We struggle against them, attempt to haul them in, next to us, while talking to the poor cat, that seems hell bent on not making our acquaintance, and especially confused that between our cooing and purring, we keep calling him Frank.

My friend, Michaella, and I, are standing on the corner, the street is empty, and full of wind, “A Frank!” she murmurs and I feel her freeze next to me.

I have always been drawn to secrets, rituals formed out of the ordinary, between two people, a simple conversation, with a vocabulary that means nothing out of context, outside of a story, that cannot be explained, not entirely. How does one make sense of a bond, based on something so fleeting as counting cats in a set of windows, in an overlooked alley, that few have ever noticed?

How does one explain a house of Franks?  Or what it is that keeps bringing us back here, to this dingy house, on this desolate corner?

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, in the middle of the street, scanning the bushes for a white cat, that was standing there just a moment ago, she sighs and says,” let’s go open a bottle of wine.”

And we make our way, reluctantly, away from the house of Franks, along the alley, toward her house, the dogs pull ahead of us, leases stretched, anxious for their after walk treats and the warmth of her sofa, we discuss, bringing a cat carrier on our future walks, and decide a carpet bag, would be a less conspicuous place to stash our furry treasures, if we get so lucky again, as to smuggle someone home with us, as we have done in the past.

Micahella looks over at me, as we cross Verbeke street, and says, ” the dogs make for great companions, but cats…”

“…cats are easier to steal.” I answer her. She smiles, and we laugh, the March winds, dancing around us, as we make our way down the empty alley way.






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