Kitty in the Front Yard

“Marm!! Where’s Sweetie Pie?” It’s 7:10 AM on a school-day and my 15 yr old son, normally mono-syllabic and sullen at this hour is yelling to me from outside the front door and sounds panic stricken. Being both genetically as well as historically programmed to categorically assume disaster, I spring to tactical alert and dash to the v-shaped double window behind the kitchen sink — the quickest, best overview of the street, our driveway and half the expanse of the wide front yard. I whip open the left side of my new Home Depot double sliders (expensive but smooth as air and hitch free) “Will! Honey, what is it?” I have to lean to the far right corner of the window to see where he’s standing in the grass, feet bare, sneakers held aloft, with a wild-eyed look I can see all the way from here. He spots me in the window and his recently deepened voice shoots to panic octave: “Where’s Sweetie Pie, Marm? Please! Is she inside?” I resist the urge to conjure up multiple horrific images, instead spinning a half turn on my sock so that I can best scan the area for a black lump- living room, family room, hallway, then back to the kitchen. Finally I see the old bitch where I missed her first, lounging with defiant abandon across the kitchen counter. I’m so happy to see her I don’t even shoo her away. “She’s here, Will, she’s right here; she’s fine- why?” Will’s voice, though somewhat less panicky is still higher pitched than it was twenty minutes before, over his oatmeal. “Come outside, Marm -please. Mom says we gotta go or we’ll be late”. I heave a private belabored sigh and pad outside in my pjs, socks and bad hair. Will points to a spot dead center in the wet grass, then dives to shotgun position in his other Mom’s black Prius. I watch as they back out of the driveway, his sister Nora in the back seat, both kids staring balefully from the car as they clamp on their seat belts. I wait until they turn right at the end of our street, then turn back toward the spot where, his arm outstretched like Marley’s Ghost, my son has directed me.

I take off my socks, leave them on the driveway and walk slowly through the grass till I see it, then stop, sucking in air. The kitty in our yard is hardly that now; it’s mostly just a kitty head with eye sockets, some mottled grayish tabby fur and just enough neck for the collar to still be attached. What appear to be several gnawed on appendages are scattered close by, one or two nearly clean of anything but bone and half-eaten marrow. I have never seen an animal fresh from a predator’s attack, coyote or otherwise, much less one deposited in my front yard. I stare at the remains for a few minutes without moving, guiltily grateful it’s not Sweetie Pie; at the same time, my lifetime catalogue of cherished pets runs like a sad movie trailer through my brain. Being a dog person from way back, my list is canine heavy: first my childhood dog Roxy, then Henry, found as a puppy on the streets of New York; Kelly, a white German Shepard chronically ill and quite possibly a reincarnation of my Father, and Jackson, so devoted to Kelly that, in the middle of a storm a month after his death, Jackson’s heart simply stopped beating. And Sapphy, the red-headed Golden who so recently broke my heart when cancer overtook her before I knew what happened. But then there was Scout, a standout cat if ever there was one. And Pirate, Will’s cat, Sweetie Pie’s twin brother, the first of our family losses (not counting our first tortoise and about a dozen fish, all named Bubble). The Great Pets. I try unsuccessfully to shake the film clip loose for another half minute, then give up, letting it run its weepy course as I walk back into the house. I squat down, open the cupboard under the kitchen sink and rummage around for a few minutes, finally finding a disposable pair of rubber gloves. I yank them on clumsily as I walk back outside; they snap and sting as I pull them on my hands; their bright yellow seems incongruous, wrong somehow for my task. When I get to the spot, I scoop a gloved hand under the kitty head and pick it up. It’s light as a feather, light as what it is. With one yellow plastic covered hand I cup and gingerly hold the head and examine the tag with the other, rubbing off dirt, a few blades of grass and the not quite dry blood so I can read what there is to read. On one side, the responsible family member, Dr Andrea something; under that, a neighborhood address and the phone number. I turn over the piece of heart shaped metal to find a name — the kitty’s name is Belle. Like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, I think. I picture the adolescent girl who named her, loves her. Slipping the collar from her not quite neck, I put Belle carefully back in the grass, fetch an old pool towel from the pile at the back of the garage office, walk back to what there is left of Belle, cover her with frayed green and blue striped towel and walk back inside to call the number on Belle’s tag.

- to be continued