For 10 days, I stalled. At first it was easy, there were too many things going on, too much confusion, it was for their own good. Then The Mom went off to California for a week and that made it ever so easy to be neglectful. But yesterday my hand was called and so, tail between my legs, I drove our minivan through the snow-plowed streets to our old house and picked up the last two things left there: The cats.
How long do cats live? These guys have been with us now for six years and that seems just about right. They could die any time and I would consider their lives full and complete.
They've lived longer than any of my other pets, to be sure. Significantly longer than my first pet, a mouse I had when I was eight. My mother did not like the little caged rodent, and she forbade me to pet it, fearing that it would bite me and impart some kind of frothy mouse disease, but secretly I opened the cage and stroked its gray fur whenever my mom wasn't around. I was fascinated by the way its whole body twitched as I gently ran my finger over its sleek back, and it wasn't even days until it got used to the attention and stopped its nervous convulsions. And it wasn't even days after that until I realized he was dead.
Looking back on it now, those few days between its death and my realization of its death were probably the best days I spent with that mouse.
My first cat came decades later, just after The Mom and I married. It lived a grand total of a year before a car knocked it through a stand of oleanders and into a ditch beside our Arizona apartment. We didn't see it there, not for days, and by the time we found him, he had grown dessicated in the desert heat. In the phone book, I found the number for an animal disposal company that promised they'd whisk our stiff friend away and return him in an urn suitable for any mantle, all for a reasonable price, but when the guy showed up, the first thing he said was, "Hell. Nobody told me the cat was in a ditch."
I looked at the guy. I looked at the cat. I looked at the ditch. "I didn't think it was relevant," I replied.
"I can't get an animal out of a ditch. Union rules."
We stood there for quite some time, he and I, not five feet from my dead and virtually mummified cat, while he detailed for me the various risks he would be taking if he ventured into that ditch, risks that his union considered too great for a grown man such as he. "So what do we do?" I finally asked.
"If I give you my gloves, can you go down there and drag the carcass out about two feet from where it is now?" he asked. Two feet was about half the distance between where we were standing and my cat. He was not kidding.
"Gimmie the damn gloves."
The cat was on its side, dried out with its legs splayed, looking like nothing so much as a child's stick-figure drawing of a cat. I went down and put a gloved hand on the part nearest me, a hind leg, then I grabbed and lifted. The cat rose in a single, stiff unit, but it was heavier than I had anticipated. I grabbed another leg. Now, with one hand on a back leg and one on a front, I looked to all the world like I was wielding some kind of cat machine gun. I had the urge to sweep it around in an arc at the unionized animal disposal guy with a "rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat," screaming, "What does your union think about that?! Huh, big man? I killed you with my cat!"
But I didn't. Instead I set the cat down at his feet, took off the gloves, and said, "He's all yours."
Two days later the cat was mailed to us in an urn and it wasn't until then that we realized we didn't have a mantle to put it on. We dumped the ashes in the backyard and threw the urn in the trash.
Two years later, when our next cat died under similar circumstances, it was double-bagged and in a curbside trash can before my wife had even left for work. I'm no fool.
Now we have strictly indoor cats, which have the distinct benefits of not being exposed to street traffic, but also the drawbacks of naturally long lives.
It's a devil's bargain.