Walking away from the moths and mice, Martin also walked away from the only street lamp near the alley. The alley was dark, darker even than the front yard after Susan shut off the porch light.
Martin stopped at the entrance to the alley to let his eyes adjust. But even here it wasn’t totally dark. Ahead in the alley some illumination angled down from windows at the back of his house and from the house across the alley.
Martin heard noises in the alley in front of him. Scratching on plastic. Paper ripping. Chewing. He stepped forward, slowly, taking quiet, small steps.
He saw the raccoons behind his house. The raccoons were climbing in and out of an open garbage can. Martin stopped. Leaning back against a telephone pole, Martin studied the scene in front of him.
The pack of raccoons was emptying the garbage can and eating all the leftovers they could find. Two or three raccoons were inside the big can, tossing out garbage. Two or three more raccoons were in the alley sorting the garbage and chowing down on anything edible.
“You guys better save some of that food for us,” one of the raccoons in the can hissed fiercely at his comrades on the outside.
“Yeah, right,” one of the raccoons hissed back, “like you’re sharing everything you find. I saw you eat that chicken leg.”
So the raccoons did circle back, Martin thought. They left the front yard through the hole in the bushes and turned right. They came directly back toward the house and must have hid somewhere in the alley.
Martin studied the animals in front of him. He wondered, Why would they have risked getting caught to come right back toward the house?
Then Martin turned his attention away from the animals and onto the ground. If they put down the sweater to pillage, Martin thought, I can just grab it now. I can just run forward, clap my hands and yell to scare the raccoons and grab the sweater while they’re panicking.
But not matter how carefully Martin studied the ground behind his house, he didn’t see his sweater.
Martin was puzzled, but not surprised. Somewhere in his consciousness, like the shadows of the moths fluttering on the road, the events of the evening were casting their shadows onto his thinking. The pattern of events, each silhouetted against the others, was starting to take on a visible form. Martin couldn’t exactly trace the outline, couldn’t exactly say what the shape was, couldn’t say he understood, but he was starting to see. Even with the darkness around him, there was a gradual kind of revealing illumination dawning inside him.
The raccoons had circled back, Martin thought. He knew this somehow held the key to all the events of the evening. The raccoons risked me seeing them, Martin thought. Did they know the garbage can was somehow uncovered? Was the imperative to ransack the garbage too strong for them to resist?
Martin remembered what the mouse had said when they’d speculated about the obvious ways the garbage can could have come unlatched. The mouse had ended by saying, “Or maybe something else.”
And Martin remembered something the squirrel had said, “If the raccoons have something of yours it belongs to the night, now.”
Had the raccoons already handed off his sweater, Martin wondered, to the squirrel? Or to the mice? Or did they –
And then like an internal floodlight switching on, Martin knew. Martin saw. Martin understood. He actually blinked in the darkness as if the sudden internal illumination had flashed in his eyes.
Martin looked once again at the raccoons ripping apart his garbage. His lips pressed tightly into something like a smile and he took a step backward. He turned and began walking out of the alley.
Martin was going to get his sweater.
(Tomorrow: Martin’s Sweater #5: Martin’s Sweater)