As I write this, I nurse two neat holes that perforate each side of the knuckle on the index finger of my right hand. It hurts to bend. The perp is neatly curled up under the blanket in the spot that was previously occupied by my mother’s left leg. Tiny Tim, A.K.A. Snapper, is an eight-pound Mexican hole punch who protects my mom like a sphinx outside of some ancient Mayan Ruin.

Although he resides under the den of Mother’s blankets for most of the day, he can sense motion, light, and shadows. His super-sensitive radar will detect any incoming predator including the nurses’ aides who care for her. Bring Mom breakfast, or in my case, a good morning kiss– beware. Timmy’s fierce little body juts out from under his fort quick as a rattlesnake ready to feast on any nearby flesh. A clean strike serves to bolster my mom’s confidence. He is her advocate and stern protector. Prosthetics be damned, he is the best replacement for that offending leg stolen years ago by diabetes.

Timmy sleeps with an open vigilant eye having crossed our borders from an abusive home. Here he has quickly won asylum. He washes her face each morning with puppy kisses. He never shrinks from the sight of her thinning spiky hair or lack of a left limb. Those large Chihuahua eyes look into her spirit; see her soul. He keeps my mom alive. He gives her a singular, compelling purpose to live. With a glinty eye, she abets this known biter and vows to love him with all of what might she has left. The deal is decidedly two-sided. She has her fan club, and he gets to drink from her milk glass while reminding the aides of the real pecking order in this house.

Timmy’s rap sheet is long. His last adoptive parents had to pick him up using oven gloves. We considered purchasing a K9 Bite Suit. Peeling him away from my mother for a business trip outside should require a handler’s license, but instead, we disarm him with a bath towel and carry him at arm’s length to the back door before setting him free upon the grass. But it is when he is away from Mom that the colors of his true country appear. The little turn-coat will leap into his captor’s lap and roll over for a belly rub a fact we conceal from my mother.

When life begins to narrow and confinement is inevitable, it helps to have a steadfast ally that sought your shore and found liberation. Getting old is difficult but being old is nearly impossible. While I watch my mother cope daily with a failing body and limited options, the small bite on my sore hand eases. When I pass her chair in our family room, I reach my good hand out to see if Timmy will let me pet him. If I am lucky, he will gently rest his head in my palm for a chin scratch. In those moments of treaty, he is no longer the alien invader in our house. Mom smiles down at him and then back up at me. She is happy, and the borders of my fear begin to subside.

Susie Foster Hale has been writing and teaching on San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest for over twenty years. Her work has appeared in the Shark Reef Literary Magazine and the Soundings Review. She is currently working on a collection of new essays about island life.