Humor in Life: Last Rites for a Dead Cat
Spoiler alert. There were cows too.
It all started when my sister found a stray kitten in her backyard.
For purposes of this story, we will call my sister Elise. I think that’s the sort of made up name she would like. Also, it is pertinent to the story to know that Elise was roughly twelve months pregnant at the time.
Elise’s three daughters, ages six, four, and two, were delighted at the kitten. I mean, delighted. What child wouldn’t be thrilled at finding a baby animal in their backyard? And this was an adorable little stripey-orange cat.
We will call the kids Big Elise, Middle Elise, and Little Elise.
Unfortunately, after taking the kitten in, they discovered it was sick. Elise took it to the vet, who must not have thought there was much hope for the poor thing, because she tried to interest Elise in switching it out for another kitten that looked just like it, but was healthy. “Your kids will never know the difference,” the vet said.
Elise told the vet no, she’d take her chances with the kitten she’d found. She bought some medicine and went home.
After a day or two, the kitten died. Elise and her children had gotten pretty attached to it, so they decided they needed to give the cat a proper burial. And since Elise didn’t want to dig up her own backyard, she asked my parents if she could bury the cat in their relatively unused back pasture.
This is where I come into the story. When I heard Elise’s plan to dig a hole and bury a cat, while hugely pregnant and with three children in tow, I decided she might need some help. So I joined her in the back pasture along with my mother.
A Solemn Occasion
The back pasture was home to two curious, occasionally-aggressive cows. However, when we opened the gate and peeked around the corner into the pasture, they were nowhere in sight. We were in the clear.
The kitten had been carefully placed in a box, with the lid neatly closed. Elise handed the “coffin” to Big Elise for safekeeping, and we dodged cow pies while we tried to find the perfect spot for burying a kitten. Eventually Elise settled on a location — and it was lovely. Just the sort of spot a kitten would like to spend all eternity, surrounded by green fields, trees with droopy branches for shade, and the sound of trickling water from the ditch.
If the cat had to be dead, this was a pretty nice place to do it.
Elise began digging the hole with the only shovel she had brought. Of course we couldn’t let the twelve-month pregnant lady do all the digging, but Elise — who is pretty stubborn — refused to hand over the shovel. “It was our cat,” she insisted. “I’m not making you dig a grave for our cat.”
I could have pointed out that it had been her cat for about two days, and so I was probably as close to the cat as she was at this point — but I didn’t. One important lesson I’ve learned in life is that sometimes there’s no point in arguing with a pregnant woman.
Mom went looking for more shovels.
While she was gone, I tried to keep the kids away from the cow pies, and Elise continued to dig. “Did I mention we found another stray kitten in our backyard?” she said. “I think it’s this kitten’s brother. He’s sick too. But he’s getting better.”
It was probably her first time digging a hole while pregnant, with a skewed center of gravity. She lost her balance and fell down, and Little Elise started screaming hysterically, certain that her mother was dying.
Clearly this wasn’t going to be one of those overly solemn cat funerals.
Mom arrived back with a couple more shovels, and the three of us started digging again. Little Elise screamed some more.
What with all the screaming, it’s no surprise that the cows discovered us about that time and came over to investigate. Mostly they just sniffed at us and circled, tails switching back and forth. This was okay with me, as long as they kept their distance.
“I want to dig too, Mom,” Big Elise said. She handed the kitten coffin to Middle Elise for safekeeping — although I mean “safekeeping” in the loosest sense of the word. Middle Elise promptly turned the coffin upside-down.
“Careful with that box,” I told her.
“I am being careful,” Middle Elise said, gesturing with the box. I could hear the kitten corpse flopping around inside.
“No, I mean hold it steady,” I said, and reached out to show her what I meant.
“I can do it myself!” Middle Elise stepped out of my reach and turned the box on its head. “See, I’m holding it steady,” she said, flipping the box to one side and then the other.
Thump, thump, thump, went the kitten inside the box. I expected the lid to pop off and the dead kitten to fall out at any moment. Fortunately, it didn’t.
Little Elise screamed some more, especially when the cows got too close — and they were getting closer. These cows didn’t know much about personal space. They had become very interested in the kids, the only humans in the field who were shorter than they were. Even when I ran the cows off, they just kept coming back and sniffing at the kids and acting like they wanted to tap-dance on top of them.
(I don’t know much about cows, but I’m pretty sure tap-dancing is not in their repertoire. However, these could have been some of those lesser-known Broadway cows.)
Finally the hole was big enough, and the kitten coffin went in. I figured we better just bury the kitten quick and get out of the pasture. “No,” Elise said. “We have to say some words over the grave.”
Remember what I said earlier? No point in arguing with a pregnant woman.
We gathered in a circle around the hole we had dug, a cardboard box sitting in the middle of mounds of brown soil. Mom and I kept waving our shovels at the cows in order to keep them a few paces off.
Elise bowed her head and said something that fit the solemnity of the situation, probably about what a nice cat Stripey had been for the two days they were together. Truthfully, I can’t even remember what she said. Little Elise screamed during most of it. The cows sniffed at her curiously.
“Let’s bury this cat already,” I said, once Elise was finished.
She sighed. “Oh, fine.”
We covered the kitten’s coffin with dirt and packed it down and waved our shovels at the cows some more to keep them away. I’m certain Elise would have liked to leave a marker for the kitten, maybe a wooden cross carved with R.I.P. Stripey, but with the cows trying to step on us and Little Elise screaming, it seemed like a good time to vacate the pasture.
Thus ended the solemn occasion of the stray cat’s funeral. And so ends our story…at least, until the next day when the kitten’s sibling died and we had to do it all over again.