I heard her. I heard her talking all lovey-dovey to them after she didn’t answer the phone, something that’s happening way too often lately, if you ask me. She makes excuses when I mention it, says, “Oh, I must have been asleep” or “I was visiting Nicole next door,” or something like that. But this time I knew she was at home — and awake. I’d just ferried her back from a pedicure, seen her grab the railing and inch up her front stairs, wisps of gray sticking out from her black beret. So, I was worried when I called to ask what she wanted for dinner. I thought she might have gone out back and fallen off the ladder she’s always climbing, against doctor’s orders, mind you, nobody to spot her: my long-reluctant, lovely mother.
I ran over, cell phone in hand, ready to call 911; then I found her talking baby talk to that pack of raccoons, those dirty varmints. They’ve taken up residence outside her kitchen window, in her avocado tree, perched two or three to a branch, those raccoons. And now I know it’s true. She talks to them rather than answer the phone. Nicole said so, said she leans her face in close to their masked eyes and sharp claws, too close. Every evening she babbles to them on and on. Tells them secrets.
I want to kill them, kill them all. Kill them so my mother will answer my calls, those vile, probably rabid creatures. Kill them all. They’ve stolen her mind; they’re responsible. Before they took over that tree, before the invasion, at least I had hopes she’d smile at me, say my name, ask how my day went when I walk through her door. Hopes.
I need an accomplice, someone to distract her while I do the deed. But who? The little boy who lives up the street? She offers him candy every morning when he delivers the paper. It’s the same fun-sized Butterfinger bar leftover from last Halloween. Day after day, the same piece of candy in her hand; the same no thank you ma’am coming from him. Has he told his mom about her?
It’s only a matter of time before someone insists she be sent away; I can’t watch her every minute, even though I live on the block and spend as much time with her as I can. That nosy graduate student who drops by every week with a jar of homemade pesto might set the ball rolling, maybe, or the mailman who’s always pestering her to trim her rosebush hedge, even though I do it myself twice a year. Or her doctor could any day just say it’s time; let her go, let her go.
Oh, let’s face it. I can’t kill even one raccoon, let alone a tree full of them. Animal control will have to cart them away in cages. She should make the call; it’s her property. But she’ll never do it. My dear, distracted, demented mother, Mom, Mommy, Ma, the Old Lady, and her new family or whatever you want to call them, those raccoons. She loves them. She loves them. She’s even named them, each and every one. She thinks she can tell them apart.
And the thing is tomorrow or the next day or next month when her signals sputter and cross, when she forgets, when she can’t tell which one is which, when she mixes up their names, even calls one of them her own name, or when she thinks she’s seeing them for the first time, when she does all that, their feelings won’t be hurt. They’ll carry on with their raccoon ways, eating, climbing up and down the branches, looking like they know something I don’t, like it’s all a big joke anyway.
Names. What do names mean to them? They only mean something to me, the one she swaddled but never embraced. The one who makes sure the bills are paid, the floor is mopped. The one who cuts her roast beef sandwiches into half-inch squares and forks them one by one into her mouth as she watches “Judge Judy” repeats on TV. The one whose name wobbles at the back of her tongue, all too soon to slide down her throat, never to be spoken again.
Laura McHale Holland is a writer, editor and storyteller living in Sonoma County, Calif. Her memoir, Reversible Skirt, is under contract with RockWay Press, a small publisher that isn’t putting out any books in 2009 due to the recession. Here’s hoping things pick up in 2010.
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