Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....
The Lives of Kittens
I hadn’t seen the accident. As Heather and her gaggle of friends were leaving for their first day of secondary school, I came down the drive and saw Beanie scamper under my van. I saw Jess’s face looking worried but didn’t really connect. Everybody was chatting except a guy who’d stopped his van by the girls and got out to ask if the cat was alright. Nobody had really seen it but he seemed overly concerned. I said, “He’s okay. I’ve just seen him scamper under my van.” Heather was now in tears so it appears she may have seen something. Our primary concern was to get her off to her first day of secondary in the right frame of mind. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’ll find him in a minute and see that he’s okay.” Tearfully, and with the support of her friends, she set off down the road to get the bus.
Jess and I then looked for Beanie. She was very concerned. “He was dragging his back legs,” she said. She’d looked under the van but was now searching higher up the garden. I got on the ground and spotted Beanie’s grey tail hanging down from the steering mechanism. “He’s here,” I called out. He was looking at me but wouldn’t budge. Jess took over and managed to coax him down and stood up with him in her arms. It was clearly going to be a vet job so I got out the cat basket and a bit of blanket. Jess put him in and then had to leave for work.
I put the basket into the passenger seat of the car and, with one finger through the bars to touch his front paw, set off immediately for the vet’s. There they kindly let me jump the queue when I mentioned he’d been hit by a car. They took the basket and said they would xray and ring me.
Later that day they reported that his pelvis was shattered, broken in three places, and likewise his back left leg. He hadn’t pood or peed and they felt fairly certain that his internal organs were damaged. They recommended termination. I said I would discuss with Jess but there was really no option. Later I called back and said okay and asked if I could be there. I couldn’t bear the thought of him, so young and so tiny, being alone. Worse, I couldn’t bear the thought of Heather thinking of him dying alone. They said yes.
But this was the time of Covid, so when I showed up the lady vet had to get permission from everybody in the building to agree to my coming in. They were all in sympathy and agreed and I followed the vet into her consulting room, sparse and dominated by a big silvery metal table. She confirmed that I knew what was about to happen. “He’s already on a catheter for anaesthetic so I won’t have to use a needle. I’ll bring him in, lay him on the table, let him relax, and then simply increase the dosage till he goes.”
She looked at me. “Okay?”, she said. I nodded. “Okay." she added, "Just wait here and I’ll get him”.
My heart melted when she brought him in, wrapped in a towel. He was so tiny, but he started purring loudly as soon as he saw me. She laid him on the table and eased the towel back. I bent over and caressed his warm little body as he purred away. He nuzzled his face into the palm of my left hand so I could grip his head and gently rock him in the old familiar way, just as if we were at home. I felt my emotions rising. “His pupils are dilated because of the anaesthetic,” the vet said. “He’s not feeling any pain.” There were no visible signs of injury apart from a bit of blood and a soft cast on his front left leg. In the course of my softly stroking him, he even managed to get that off. His bright clear eyes looked straight into mine. “Okay?”, I heard the vet ask again. I nodded slowly, stoically. I held him as he purred and purred, a paw on my hand. I saw his eyes take on a distant look, focussed somewhere far away. He stopped purring and breathing at the same time. His shining eyes dimmed, fixed on that far away place, and he was gone. As he went over, my stoicism broke and tears began to stream down my face. Bent over his still warm body, my hands still stroking his soft fur, thinking of how I was ever going to tell Heather, I choked and a stifled sob released yet more tearage, now flowing freely. I sensed the vet detach her instruments at the end of the table and she left me for a moment. I stood up, wiped my face, and looked down at the little creature, full of wonder at the emotion he had generated and would, I knew, continue to generate for some time.
“Sorry about that,” I said as the vet re-entered my field of vision. “It’s alright,” she said, probably having seen more than her fair share of grown men weeping. “Do you want to leave him here or take him home?” I opted for the latter and she arranged Beanie into a sweet sleeping curl and handed him to me still wrapped in the towel. I drove him home and Jess and I wept a little more over his fallen form. How were we ever going to be able to face Heather.
We took him out back and laid him in his climbing frame and cat basket. In his curl, still warm and soft, he looked peacefully asleep.
I was stacking logs and saw her coming up the drive, after her first day of school, her smiling face. “Is Beanie okay?” she asked. I went toward her, beginning to well up. I hugged her but couldn’t speak. She then carried on up the drive and I followed her on to the steps leading up to the porch. Realising I hadn’t answered her question, she turned in the doorway and asked again. I tried to say, “Heather, he didn’t make it.” but my voice came out in a kind of squeak. I can still see her beautiful blue eyes swing towards me, searching my face, a slight frown appearing. “Stop it Dad, I know you’re teasing.” Again I couldn’t speak. I saw her eyes cloud. She turned into the house and saw her mum standing in the hall, her face distraught. I could almost feel the realisation hit her. She screamed. “Nooooooo” she screamed again, ear piercing, high frequency. I dropped to my knees, wrapped my arms around her from behind, and held on for dear life as she screamed and screamed, uninhibitedly, top volume, for about two minutes. As she paused for breath, I let her go and she ran to her Mum and screamed and screamed again.
She exhausted herself and we moved on to the sofa in the living room. She sobbed and sobbed as we sat in a threeway embrace, Jess and I tearing up all over again. As the sobs abated I said, “I was with him. He was purring and happy and in no pain.” She looked up at me with her streaming eyes. She could see mine were streaming as well and, I think, had a brief moment outside her own grief. Wondering, she asked, “Where is he?” We explained and said, “Would you like to see him?” Looking terribly hesitant and conflicted, she nodded and we filed out to the back room.
She wept again as she saw him. She stroked and kissed his still warm little form, curled and at peace. We left her for a bit but we could hear her talking to him through her sobs. How sorry she was she couldn’t have helped him; how she hoped he was fine where he was now; how she hoped he knew he would always be loved. She came back out into the living room and we all sat huddled on the sofa again. “Do you want to know more about it now, or shall we wait till later?” I asked her. Muffled, her face lost in her mum’s embrace, she said, “Later.”
We didn’t discuss burial till the next day. I explained a bit more about how badly he was hurt and the vet’s strong recommendation, but how happy and relaxed he was at the end. “Do you want to be there when I bury him, or shall I press on while you’re at school.” “You do it Dad,” she said. “I’ll come and see his grave later.” “Do you even want to go to school, or shall we take a day off?” Jess asked. “We could go for a walk up on the moor,” I added. “I think I should go to school,” she said, “so I don’t think about it too much.” She turned to Jess seated on the sofa, gave her a hug and said, “I’m sorry I screamed Mum.” “It’s perfectly alright my lovely lovely girl,” Jess responded, and we all teared up again
Her gaggle of school friends were gathering outside and, having got wind of the tragedy, were looking concerned and lined up to give Heather hugs and commiserations. She looked back at us from their midst as they turned the corner towards the bus stop.
I dug a deep hole out the back and brought the now stiffening body out, wrapped in a bit of white sheet, and laid him down. Jess came out and said some words about what a wonderful companion he’d been to all of us. She folded the sheet over his sleeping body and dropped some earth down. I sadly, gently, filled in the hole and placed a bright white stone, fresh from the sea, upon the little mound.
When she came back from school she wanted to see the grave. We showed her and she cried softly some more. She spoke to him as she placed other stones around the bright white one. For the following few days she would get back from school and say, “I’m just going to see Beanie,” and go out back with flowers and green leaves. Initially I could hear her sobbing and saying the same sorts of things she’d said the first time, but after a couple of days she started just quietly telling him about her day, who she’d seen and what she’d learned, as she placed yet more flowers and stones on and around the tiny mound.
So it’s now all more or less gone deep into her (and our) subconscious, immersed and distributed, for better or worse, through the neural pathways. And we resume our lives, returning to the mundane tasks of feeding and sheltering and informing ourselves.
As time passes, and being who I am, I can’t help but wonder why we do the latter.
I suppose it’s in the vain hope that, through our accumulated knowledge and our thusly informed but preposterously futile and insignificant actions and routines, a better world may emerge.
Even as I marvel at the depth of emotion Beanie has generated, I continue to think of Yemen and Syria and Palestine and other places on the planet that our mighty western governments continue to starve and bomb to smithereens in our names.
How wrenched and wretched would I feel to see - as, courtesy of our regular tax payments, thousands do daily - the light going from the shocked and fearful and pain suffused eyes of those I hold exponentially nearer and dearer than even the sweetest of kittens.
© 2020 Deacon Martin