The Raccoon's Eyes
Updated: Jul 10, 2021
As weeks turned to months, June formed a ritual of thumbing through the pictures of her and Patrick every night before bed. Her mother’s faint wheezes rose and fell as June flicked from one image to the next on her phone screen, trying to re-enter the fond memories without succumbing to tears at the thought of Patrick traipsing across Europe without her.
She had to wait almost an hour, her hand in her mother’s, before turning out the light and retreating to her cot on the floor. Otherwise, mother would stir and ask for her deceased husband or a childhood friend whose name June had never heard.
Kneeling beside her cot, June clutched a pillow to her chest and leaned forward in a child’s pose. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw silvery moon-lit patterns projected onto the carpeted floor through the sliding glass door nearby. Her mind played tricks on her - the glowing shapes were like film negatives, and soon images formed of Patrick’s distinctive jawline and her long, wavy hair from years past. There was the scene from their honeymoon in the Maldives, the steep-roofed flat they rented in London, the dock with the tiny boat that they owned with friends.
There was a swish and a scrape against the sliding glass door, causing the moonlight characters to flicker. A white and black blur flew across the visible patch of ground outside. Suddenly the quiet was rent by a hair-raising screech that sent June toppling backward with the cot in tow. Her mother rattled the bed frame as she sat up with a squeal.
“Junie? Was that the cat?” Mother’s voice was the clearest it had sounded since June had moved in as a caregiver three months ago.
“It’s ok, mother.” June swept the hair out of her face and crawled on all fours to the glass door.
“Why is Stripe outside?”
“It was a wild animal.” June knew better than to correct her mother, but the cat Stripe had been buried in a shoebox out back for decades. The flower bed on the other side of the glass was covered in pine needles, but a trail of tiny paw prints could be seen rounding a corner behind a row of hedges.
June stepped outside and keyed on her phone light. A second later the beam illuminated the side of the house behind the hedge. A grey raccoon appeared like a silhouette on the painted white brick. The animal’s masked eyes were wide in fright; it shivered, with whiskers trembling, but did not move from its discovered position. June, too, was unable to move her legs. The two creatures remained in their face-off for an inordinate length of time, impervious to the other’s intentions yet sharing a ponderous, frightening moment.
Even without the aid of the dancing moonlight forms or her cloud-storage photos, an image of her estranged husband flashed across June’s mind. Fear and confusion filled her to the brim - she was back in the moment when she’d caught him in his lie. Somehow she no longer cared of the details of his infidelity, instead she saw her own fragility reflected back in his eyes, something she had never before noticed in all the times she’d relived the memory. Without thinking she kneeled, leaves crunching below, and the raccoon scampered off into the night. The hum of cicadas lulled her into a trance.
June’s mother was at the sliding door behind her. It was a welcome surprise to have her mother’s arms wrapped around her as if she was again a little girl who had awoken from a bad dream.
“Do you remember, mother?”
“Remember what, darling?”
“When you said you loved me to the moon and back, no matter what?”
“Of course, I still do.”
June blinked away tears, soberly returning to adulthood, as she helped her mother back to bed. She clicked her phone screen on again, this time to draft a text message to Patrick. The light was harsh and blinding, and she immediately shut it off. She swallowed a lump in her throat and remembered her mother’s words again. To the moon and back.
In the transition to sleep, the raccoon’s eyes appeared as great reflective pools of water, into which she waded up to her ankles, her knees, her waist. Her body relaxed as the water receded until finally she stood on dry ground.