We buried the cat with no pomp but much circumstance. It felt like the end of something.
He’d been run over. Unceremonious and stupid and accidental, completely unnoticed.
We buried him the next morning using our hands. Took the cold dirt and pushed it over his body, which in the immediate hours after his death had hardened unrecognizably. I’d found him the night before, in the dark, when the reported low was 25 degrees. His body had frozen into an unnatural C. His were were open, his mouth agape. It was a bloodless death, quick I suppose, judging by the way his nails had been filed off in the impact. I hope it was fast. I hope he felt nothing.
I wish I could take back everything I saw.
After I found him, I carried his body back to the house in disbelief and laid him in a small cardboard box on a bed made from the bathmat, which he loved. Jon and I joked that for Christmas next year we would give him a wet bathmat. Every day, he waited as we showered, eager to colonize the mat once we stepped away.
Burying him was silent and tense. I was no help, though I tried and wanted to. The ground was rocky and frozen. Jon chipped away at it with a pickaxe and every few minutes would lift the rubble out of the grave with a shovel. The sun was barely up.
Everything about it felt miserable and wrong.
“Cats just do this,” a friend said. “They get caught underfoot.” It was factual and inarguable and oddly comforting. Cats do this. They die. Life does this. It goes.
I wish I could unsee the look on Jon’s face when he opened the box and saw the cat as I’d laid him, how he glanced in and blinked away but knew he had to look again. He lifted his body with a groan and dropped him into the ground and immediately began pushing the dirt over him. I dropped to my knees to help and began to cry. We both did.
When we finished, Jon pressed the clods of dirt with grass back over the spot. Later in the morning, he would come back with a slab of limestone rock to mark the grave and keep animals from digging his body up, which was a beautiful and practical gesture. Sometime in the spring, I’ll plant flowers.
We stood up and brushed our hands on our legs. I realized, then, that I was still in my night slip. I’d thrown on a short down jacket, but my legs were bare. The temperature was below freezing. Jon collected the shovels and threw them into the bed of his truck.
I said, “Don’t you think we should say something?” and he said, “Nope,” and climbed in and left but not before shouting, “Are you coming or not?” and I shook my head and no and after he was gone I really sobbed.
Something had to be said, of course, so I said to the cat, “You are the most wonderful cat I’ll ever have. You were a good cat. I loved you very much. I’m sorry we didn’t do a better job keeping you safe. I’m so sorry. I really did love you.”
And cried for a long time for the stupidity of it all, for how hokey and childish my own words sounded and for my own self pity, my own loss. I cried because of all our animals, I regarded him the least, because his life seemed so easy and his body, so soft and pliable and quick, seemed the most resilient. Even still, I never missed an opportunity to lift him to my mouth to whisper, I love you, I love you, and witness the great rolling marble of his happy purr. Even still, I never took enough photos of him.
By this point, the sky was white with morning and the birds shrieked with joy, alive and unimaginable and everywhere. The man who’s been repairing our fences suddenly drove up in his truck and rolled down his window and shouted gladly, “Girl, you need to put some warmer clothes on!”
I wanted to turn around and laugh and pretend everything was alright as much as I wanted to turn around and crumble and ask him to please give me a hug. Instead I stood with my back to him, crying over the cat, and he quickly bid me a good day and went on. A good day.
It was Saturday morning.