Marisa by Moonlight by Abigail Buchanan

     Marísa only meant to let the cat outside. It was late–close to midnight–and she was tired, but it was her responsibility to put Gato out every night and to let him in and feed him every morning. It was a full moon, unimaginably bright as she opened the back door and placed the cat outside on the patio. “Buenas noches, Gato,” Marísa said gently. “Be a good boy.” She straightened to go back inside, but as she lifted her head, she thought she saw a shadow shift on the roof of the house next to hers. Gato turned, too, and hissed at something across the alleyway. Marísa squinted up in that direction, straining her eyes in the blue light and trying to understand what was occurring–if the shadow was a squirrel, a trick of the light, or…

     “A man,” Marísa breathed, drawing back in alarm as two legs suddenly appeared over the eaves, dangling above the second-floor balcony of the house next door. “Gato, it’s a man!” Gato hissed again in disapproval while Marísa racked her brains for a way to stop the robbery about to take place. There was a telephone in the basement in Señor Rosario’s apartment, but that seemed much too far away. Her mamá and papá were asleep. But surely there was someone in the neighbor’s house, too; surely they were hearing the noise the burglar was making on the roof and would call the police…wouldn’t they?

     The legs were still swinging there, scrambling for purchase, and Marísa made a decision. As much as she wished someone else would come along and handle the situation, she and her cat appeared to be the only witnesses; she had to try something. Drawing in a gigantic breath and grabbing Gato for moral support, Marísa bellowed, “¡Ay, Loco! Get off of that roof!”

     Gato, appalled at being manhandled, screeched in harmony with Marísa’s scream, and their combined noise reverberated throughout the borough. Sleeping people and sleeping animals alike woke disturbed and frightened. The would-be thief across the alley was so startled he lost his grip and slid with a thud onto the cement balcony. His groan was barely audible beneath Gato’s prolonged yowling and the frenzied yapping of the neighborhood dogs.

     Marísa’s parents appeared behind her in their pajamas, bleary-eyed and fearful for their daughter’s life. “Marísa…!” her father started, but she cut him off. 

     “Someone is robbing the house next door!” Marísa cried. “We have to call the police! Mamí, go wake up Señor Rosario–hurry!” Marísa’s father, armed with one of his wife’s prized candlesticks, elbowed past his daughter to stand on the patio.

     “Marísa, are you crazy?” he said, looking around frantically. “You don’t threaten an armed robber! Where is he?”

     “Papí, he was dangling from the neighbors’ roof! What was I supposed to do–just let him rob them? But then he fell and I don’t know…” Marísa, too, peered around, looking for where the thief had gone.           “There!”

     In the moonlight, they could just see a figure struggling to rise on the balcony across from them. He had made it to his feet and was leaning against the railing when the flash of a police car further illuminated the scene, while the wailing of the siren set the dogs to howling once more. Marísa’s mother returned and pulled her daughter into a hug.

     “¡Mamí!” Marísa exclaimed. “How’d you get the police so fast?”

     “That car must’ve been passing by,” her mother replied. “Señor Rosario is placing a call just now. They must’ve heard the disturbance.”

     “The astronauts could hear the disturbance…” Marísa’s father said.

     A big floodlight was suddenly directed at Marísa’s family and an officer shouted, “What’s going on? What’s all this racket?”

     “There, Officer, there!” Marísa screamed, pointing to the opposite balcony. “That man tried to break into that house!”

     Another officer swung the floodlight onto the neighboring house, and there stood a young man, holding one hand in the air and pressing the other to his head. “Please,” the young man called. “Please, I can explain. Please let me come down so I can explain.”

     Marísa couldn’t bear to watch all the excitement from her patio. Before her parents could stop her, she had turned and rushed down to street level, passing Señor Rosario on the stairs and still clutching Gato to her chest. She burst out the door to discover that another police car had arrived with three more officers, and that the young man was being led over to sit on the curb. She approached in time to hear him say, “No, I just moved here; I own this house. I just arrived tonight and my agent wasn’t here to meet me and I couldn’t find the spare key…It really is my house. I was just trying to get in through the upper doors so I could have a place to sleep tonight, but then someone screamed and I fell–”

     “Are you hurt?” Marísa burst, surging forward into the little circle of police to stand in front of the young man. He looked up at her slowly, eyes squinched and one hand still on his head. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for you to get hurt! I thought you were a robber! I thought–”

     “You’re the one who screamed?” Marísa turned and recognized Officer Garza, who often patrolled the neighborhood. “I should’ve known,” the older woman said wryly. “Who else would have the courage, or the stupidity, to yell at a robber?”

     Marísa blushed. “Sorry.” Gato shifted in her arms and she returned her gaze to the young man sitting on the curb. “But you’re all right?” The young man was staring at her in shock and shaking his head, but at her question, he started nodding.

     “Yes, yes, I’m fine…I…” he stuttered.

     “I’m Marísa, by the way. We’re neighbors now, apparently.”

     “Tomás,” the young man replied. “Tomás de la Cruz.” Then he seemed to suddenly come back to himself and turned earnestly to Officer Garza. “Please, officers, that’s really my name, and it’s really my house, and if you can just call my agent, or check–”

     “Hush,” said Officer Garza, putting her hand on Tomás’s shoulder. “You already told us your name, and we’ve already confirmed that this is your house. EMTs are on their way to see how much medical attention that head of yours needs. I’d advise you to just stay calm and use the front door from now on–for your health and for the peace of the borough.” She winked at Marísa as she said this last part.

     Marísa blushed some more, but Officer Garza just smiled and turned to check the status of the ambulance. Gato chose that moment to squirm out of Marísa’s arms and trot over to rub his head against Tomás’s free hand. 

     “Nice cat,” Tomás said. “What’s his name?”

     “Gato,” Marísa replied.

     Tomás laughed. “Seriously?”

     Marísa laughed, too. “Hey, if people can name their sons ‘Guy’, I can name my cat ‘Gato’.” The cat in question grew bored of Tomás and started down the alleyway, wending his way through the patches of shadow interspersed among the moonlight.

     “He’s better at stealth than I am, that’s for sure,” Tomás said ruefully. As the ambulance pulled up, he added, “Guess I’m not sleeping here tonight after all. Shoulda just gotten a hotel….”

     “Well, if it’s any consolation,” Marísa said, “if you want to try climbing up to the balcony in the daylight next time, I promise I won’t shout you down.” Tomás laughed again as the EMTs approached. Marísa decided it was time to leave things to the professionals: She didn’t think she was up to stopping a thief and patching him up in the same night. “Buenas noches, Tomás,” she called.

     “See you later, Marísa,” he replied, and Marísa went back up to her apartment smiling.