Wednesday, October 28, 2009
You know, a lot of people view the guillotine as some sort of barbaric torture device. It’s quite a simple machine really, a large metal blade suspended in a wooden frame waiting to be release so gravity can drive it down into the neck of the waiting soon-to-be corpse. There is a thud, and—well you get the idea. After all, the guillotine only plays a small part in our story. A much larger role is played by a teenage boy, a certain kitten, and the boy’s mother.
I must confess, I am the teenage boy. We always seemed to have a surplus of cats growing up. Not that I minded. It started shortly after we moved into our house located on the edge of town on Reed Drive, a street that is now, as it was then, a farmer’s field. I remember we kids begging the parents for a cat. Our old one had come on the move with us, but decided she preferred her previous home and left. I was about eight. Dad called us all in for a family meeting. We had just gotten a new Siamese cat, and needed a name. My siblings and I thought long and hard, suggesting many names, finally deciding on Black Paw. An amazingly original name if I’ve ever heard one.
Black Paw was a normal enough cat. She ate mice, left mice as gifts for her masters and fought off dogs neighbor dogs when they’d come after her litter. We, her diminutive masters, took great care of her, lugging her around the yard, taking her bungee jumping off the fort, and even baptizing her in a puddle after a rain storm. We may have been a little rough on her, but we didn’t know it at the time—well, we might have known, but we didn’t hate her, we were just young boys. Anyways Black Paw didn’t seem to mind and she always kept us in with a fresh supply of kittens. However the never ending stream of kittens, from Black Paw and her successors was the problem. We just didn’t know it.
Through the years, our family grew to five boys and one girl, the house grew to accommodate and the litters grew. We pick up our story again when I was the oldest boy at home, after my older brother had left to play ball at the College of Southern Idaho. The matriarchal line of our kittens was unbroken. Foxes, disease, and old age took some of the cats, but we always replaced them. Our names got better as well. We had, What, Akomode, Anakin 1,2 and 3, Fatso and The Cat That Threw Up, among many others.
The best part of having so many cats was there was always one around to grab and hold. One night I grabbed What and headed down to the basement to watch a movie. While I was sitting in the beanbag, rubbing What’s belly I felt a sticky liquid. It pooled up in my hand. What was salivating, and not just a little, it was like a spigot had been turned on. I quickly wiped my hand on the beanbag, took What outside, and returned with Meow Meow, selecting a different chair. My brother came down and was excited to see the vacant beanbag. He launched himself quickly into the beanbag, and—well lets move on; he’s just a minor character.
The problems weren’t just confined to What. We had other cats with problems, none as bad as the continual salivating. One would per as loud as an engine, but only when he as mad. One had a leg about twice as long as the others, but soon died. As best as we can tell, the same tomcat had been the father, for so many generations the DNA got all screwy. Whether or not that is the case we had some messed up cats. What had her first litter shortly after she turned on her mouth faucet most of them were stillborn.
What got worse. When I picked her up her hair would fall out. The droll as so incessant holding her was a chore. Then tumors started showing up. By this time What had another litter of kittens in her. She was clearly in pain. My heart ached as she tried to move around and get food. I knew she wasn’t well.
It was a fall afternoon. I came home from football practice and walked into the kitchen. Mom was standing there, her normally cheerful face creased with lines. But at least she was still making some yummy cookies. She told me What had tried to go into labor, but a tumor had kept the kittens from exiting. It was sick. I didn’t want to go anywhere near that cat. I wanted to throw up when I got close, and could see the fetus’ head sticking out. Then Mom told me that I needed to take care of it.
Me? Why not Dad? Why can’t we just take her to the vet? Why was Mom, who wouldn’t let me take hunter’s education, asking me to kill my cat? I guess, because I was the oldest home. I was the man of the house. The one who did what had to be done. Sure my Dad could do it when he got home, but this needed to be taken care of now, before the younger kids saw her. I’d never felt that responsibility before. I’d never felt like I was where the bucked stopped. But that day it did.
“It’s time,” she said. I was left, not only to do the deed, but to figure out how. I looked down at What. How do you kill your pet? Maybe I’d drive out to the Arco Desert, and leave her. She would be dead in a day or two. It’d be easy. I looked down at her. Two days was too long. A bag! Yes I’d get an old potato sack, put rocks in it, and throw What into the river behind our house. But drowning? I looked at what. I picked her up. I didn’t care about the saliva that got all over my arms. I could tell she was in pain. We didn’t own a gun. I thought about getting my friends and shooting her, but what if I missed? What if she didn’t die right away? I needed to honor What in the way I ended her life. She needed to know that her master wasn’t looking for the easy way, but for the best way.
Then I remembered something I learned at school. The guillotine was actually a revolution in execution. People look at it as and think its dreadful, but in a time when one might be drawn and quartered, or burnt at the stake, the guillotine offered a quick death, with only a split second of pain.
I looked at What in my arms. I carried her with me as I went to get the shovel. Then I carried her to our back berm and dug her grave. I picked What up, stroked her a few last times, and placed her on her back, looking up at me. I said a few words, placed the shovel where it needed to go, and pressed down hard.
I felt strange walking back to the house. I don’t know how one should feel after putting down their pet. Somber, morose, come close. There was also a sense of honor that I had taken care of my pet. I didn’t leave it to some veterinarian. Nor did I abandon her in a hopeless situation. I knew what needed to be done, and I did it the best I could.
I didn’t talk much the rest of the day. I didn’t go down the basement to play Nintendo with my brothers. Mom told the other kids what had happened. And while I missed What, I remember sleeping well that night
Posted by Jake at 10:10 PM