We don’t see much of each other these days, Mary and I.  She’s been a great friend for nearly two decades.  I like her style, her balanced approach to life and living, the way she does the things she’s passionate about.

We met for a lunch the other day, a last minute opportunity that had me smiling on the short drive to the local pub.  After lunch and a couple of lagers ‘n lime, while we waited for the bill Mary asked, “Did I tell you Calvin died?”

“NO!”

Mary was on a business trip when Ray, her husband, called to share his concerns about Calvin’s health.  That Calvin had stopped eating (once feral, he had a voracious appetite) and talking (non-stop meowing as he prowled the house) was a serious matter.

Mary arrived home late that night to find Calvin in the laundry room lying on the cold, concrete floor.  He barely acknowledged her, too weak to make a sound as she gingerly carried him upstairs to the couch.  Calvin was emaciated.

“How could he get so skinny in just a few days, Ray?  I’ll call the clinic in the morning.”

Mary continued to sooth Calvin, stroking his head, talking to him softly, wondering if he’d be coming home after this next trip to the animal hospital.  That night before going to bed she moved Calvin to his favourite spot.  Her constant companion when Mary worked from home, he had commandeered the guest chair in her office.

The next morning Ray followed his usual routine and was out the door before 6:30.  Mary was the one who checked on Calvin, and as she bent down to pet him her hand stopped mid way.  The gnarly old cat had died during the night.

She called Ray at work, “Calvin didn’t make it, Ray.  He’s dead.”   Mary didn’t tell Ray that Calvin was not only dead, but stretched out, long and stiff across the chair.

“I’ll be right home.”

By the time Ray arrived Mary had placed the aerated travel box used solely for Calvin’s frequent trips to the vet beside his body but couldn’t bring herself to touch him.  She watched with a mixture of awe and horror as Ray petted the mound of ratty fur that had once been Calvin, the yowling, diabetic creature, blinded by glaucoma, who had been rescued by the family some 16 years earlier.  Mary left Ray alone to do what he had to, to fit Calvin’s rigid carcass into the box.

She called the vet’s office, “What do we do with the body?”

“We can cremate Calvin.  How much does he weigh?”

“A few days ago around 14 lbs; right now he’s probably down to 4!”

“We have him at 15 lbs. on his last visit so it’ll cost $30 for the cremation so long as you don’t want his ashes back.  It’s a group thing”, the vet’s assistant explained.

Mary volunteered to take Calvin to the clinic for the last time.  She slid the box containing Calvin tenderly onto the reception counter.  After finalizing and paying for the arrangements, she started to leave, but turned back to take one last look at the box and froze, horrified.  Only now did she notice one scrawny orange paw poking straight out through one of the breathing holes.  The shock flooded her brain with unwelcomed images of Monty Python’s outrageous “I’m not dead yet.”

She worked hard to close her mind against the vision of a wheel barrow piled high with bodies and protruding limbs, as the lilt, bring out your dead crept into her head.  Struggling to stifle inappropriate giggles that threatened at the back of her throat, she realized Ray had missed it while doing whatever he had to to bend Calvin’s unyielding cadaver to fit the box.  She could easily imagine herself reverently carrying the box from house to car, car to clinic, all the while one stiff, orange paw jutted straight out probably bobbing slightly to the rhythm of her steps as if making the plea, “I don’t want to go in the car(t)”.

By the end of her story we were raucous with laughter, the kind that steals your breath, makes you cough and choke.  Wet-eyed, we leaned low into the table, struggling for control and trying to ignore the annoyed looks of other patrons, when Mary said, “I hope they’ve eavesdropped well enough to figure out that Calvin was a cat.”

Copyright © 2010, Cheryl Andrews