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“Help! I’m being home-invaded! Help me!” Mom screamed.
“Mom,” I spoke in a corrective tone.
She looked past me and yelled, “Someone help me! That man is an intruder!”
A big crowd was gathering. Cars pulled over to watch. Neighbors across the street came out to sit on their front steps and witness the proceedings. All passersby now stopped and stared.
Officer Hugh came back out. Mom took a swing at him with her cane. He ducked just in the nick of time.
“I counted ten cats. But who knows how many really? Some could be hiding,” Hugh told his partner.
“Liar!” Mom shrieked.
A murmur went through the crowd. Then someone laughed. Then another.
Glynnis, who had disappeared briefly, returned and handed Mom a glass of iced tea. “Here Jean, have a drink. You’ll feel better.”
Surprisingly, Mom calmed right down. She took the glass and drank it.
Beth rifled through her purse and handed Mom a Kleenex. Mom wiped her face and blew her nose.
“Take a deep breath,” Glynnis urged.
Mom smiled weakly. She took a deep breath and adjusted the arm of her thick glasses, a nervous gesture she always did. Though her hair was thinning now, it was a wild mélange of gray, beige, silver and chestnut. Still, she had that sensitive, Irish-looking face that had been resistant to wrinkles despite her advancing age.
Feeling a wave of love for my mom, I suddenly was gripped with an intensely protective sense of daughterly duty. I would stand by her side. Like an empire in freefall, I would preserve the remnants, I would become the custodian of a shared history as provocative as it was colorful.
She was a local institution, after all. Aside from her love for animals in general and cats in particular, she had wielded a soft power that rippled through the local arts scene and the political scene. In recent years, with her ragged appearance and her plethora of felines, little kids had begun referring to her as a witch. Still, she held her own in a culture that seemed to be closing against her, a culture that was antithetical to anyone or anything traditional.
In a sudden wave of recall, I remembered all the specially made birthday cakes, the handwritten notes left on the kitchen table admonishing me on every topic ranging from don’t-forget-to-take-your-supplements to make-sure-the-gerbil-gets-fed. I would not forget her endearments for a lifetime and would carry them with me forever, neatly tucked away.
Everything had settled momentarily. Mom had calmed. The animal control officers huddled together conferring.
I looked all about. Glynnis smiled. She was that good Baptist save-the-day kind of person. Beth still sported her deer-in-the-headlights look of grieved bewilderment. I didn’t even want to know how I appeared right then. I could imagine that I was a hot mess, to say the least.
The crowd was still growing. It was becoming mob-like. Strings of strangers, lines of neighbors weaving in and about, curious configurations of flesh and bone, it struck me that the masses considered it all some sort of game on this atypical afternoon. I felt a flash of anger at them.
The animal control officers broke from their huddle and Hugh stepped forward. Just as he seemed about to render a verdict, the police pulled up.