I had the house painted yellow so she would know which one it was. She’d been getting lost more these days, and I started receiving biweekly calls from Kevin at the corner store saying “Mama’s here. Come get Mama.” When I’d pick her up, she’d be eating cheese crackers and rearranging the canned soups. “Bye bye, loverboy,” she’d say as I placed a five on the counter and herded her out the front door. I don’t know who she thought Kevin was. She never called Daddy that.
“I live in the yellow house.” We repeated this every morning over coffee like a mantra. I had tried keeping her inside, but she always found a way out. Mama the escape artist. Mama the feral cat. One minute she’s there, the next someone’s ringing the doorbell asking “is this the right yellow house?”
I didn’t notice that the young couple two blocks down had painted their house mustard until the cops showed up at my door. Mama was screaming in French, which was probably for the best since she was threatening to shoot them both in les couilles. People say the elderly are like toddlers, and this is true in some ways, only you can’t scoop them into your arms when they’re scared. You can’t tell them that everything is going to be okay. They won’t believe you.
“I live in the flower house,” we repeated over coffee after we’d adorned the front door with flower decals made of colorful duct tape. “I thought she meant the flower shop,” said the kind stranger who mistakenly walked her to Frederick Florals. So I removed the flowers and hung glitter green curtains in the front bay windows that shone in the sun. By that time she was barely speaking English at all anymore. “Rideaux verts!” I heard her yelling from down the block.
When I started painting a mural of a tiger across the entire exterior of the house, I knew this would be it. Tigre. It was almost the same in French and English and she didn’t need to say the rest. There were no other tiger houses—not that I knew of. It would be obvious where she belonged. But she was losing words faster than I could paint. I worried she’d never find her way back. Over coffee, we created a new kind of mantra. We growled and roared and hissed. We walked on all fours and slashed our claws through the air. They would know, I thought. They would bring her back to me.