Le rouge et le noir

I had just gotten back from my morning walk down by the river, had just finished talking with my neighbor across the street whose dog had come down with kennel cough, just finished telling my wife that what we heard outside the kitchen window last night was most likely the neighbor’s dog’s throaty cough and not the retching of our cat who’s been missing for five days, just finished petting our dog who seems to be particularly in need of attention since the cat’s disappearance, just retired to the upstairs bedroom to stow my binoculars on the bookshelf — I had just done all that, when suddenly my wife stood before me fighting back tears.

“I found Milo,” she sobbed. “Out on the old sofa in the garage. She looks like she’s just fallen asleep.”

It had been five days since we last saw our black cat. She had all but vanished from hearth and home. And now there she was, cold and stiff, lying on the old sofa, unquestionably dead.

Six months ago she started shedding hair from her hindquarters. Gradually, it grew back in; but the new hair was mostly grey. I suppose we should have expected that, given that the cat was 20 years old.

She also started to walk with some difficulty in her rear legs. She ate less and less of her dried food. My wife started feeding her cut up chicken breast by hand. The weight loss became more obvious with the passage of time.

Last week the cat stopped drinking milk and then water. I caught her retching in the family room, but nothing came up. The litter box remained dry.

The last day I saw her, she emitted several cries, the likes of which I had never heard before. I let her out on the back porch, where she sat, waiting for my wife to come home. She allowed my wife to pet her before she slinked underneath the car. No amount of coaxing could induce her to come out. The following morning she was gone.

We searched the yard, we searched the garage, we searched her favorite haunts. We made inquiries to the neighbors. No one had seen or heard anything.

I must say that this cat gave me a run for the money over the years. If someone didn’t immediately acquiesce to her demands, she would systematically knock my wife’s antique teacups off the bureau onto the floor with her paw. She would meow loudly in the middle of the night to be let in, and then meow just as loudly to be let out. I swore I couldn’t wait until she was gone. And now she truly was.

My wife fished some plastic bags from the kitchen drawer to use as makeshift gloves. I followed her out to the garage.

In the end we eased a plastic snow shovel under the carcass to lift it off the sofa. My wife carried it out to one of the flower beds in the back yard under the shade of our neighbor’s maple tree and gently laid the remains into a freshly dug hole. I snapped off a few stalks of red flowers and laid them on top of the black fur. Le rouge et le noirI thought.

My wife filled in the hole with fresh black earth, and I dropped a flagstone on top. We disposed of the plastic bags in the trash, scrubbed up at the kitchen sink and shared the last paper towel in the roll to dry the drops from our hands.

Somehow closure is easier when you’ve got a body.

But now that she is gone, I find myself grieving for this animal that chose to fade away into the night without uttering even so much as a final audible complaint.

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