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Hard transition

Farewell to Petal

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God, but digging a shallow grave is exhausting. I don't see how serial killers do it. Not that I aspire, it's just that this was one of the many thoughts going through my brain as I buried my cat Petal in the backyard this morning, along with the question of what could have killed her. When I found her lying in the leaves next to my trailer, I couldn't find any overt signs of what might have caused her death.

I can't blame Lary, because Lary doesn't kill cats. But I will blame him for being out of town and therefore unavailable to plant Petal in the big bay of bamboo behind his warehouse where he keeps all his other dead bodies. Jethro the magical cat is buried back there, too, or so I choose to believe. I couldn't watch, because the transition to a Jethro-less house had been hard enough, so I just gave Lary the box from the vet with Jethro's frozen carcass inside and walked away after making Lary swear he'd do the honors. He swore he'd do the honors, so I have to leave it at that. But for all I know, he took up amateur taxidermy again.

I thought about taking Petal to the vet for a feline autopsy, because why does a young, perfectly healthy-seeming cat frolic through the dogwoods one minute and croak like a stroke victim the next? Not that I was there when it happened or even know exactly what happened, though I think I did have a psychic premonition, or whatever it is you have when something bad happens to something you love. Basically, she didn't come when I called, which isn't that unusual, but this time felt different.

Maybe it was the bell. The bell on Petal's collar was put there because she was an exceptionally good hunter and kept killing things to lay their mutilated body parts throughout the house as gifts of goodwill. Like once she left the butt of a squirrel in my daughter's closet and its brain on the floor by my bed. "Oh, wow! Squirrel brain! Thank you, Petal!" I had to coo as I scraped the organs off my rug, because Lord, if you did not appreciate her gifts, that cat could explode like a loaded cigar. If she caught sight of me tossing her presents in the garbage, she'd curl up and hiss like a cobra for hours afterward, batting at my ankles every time I walked by.

The transition from mild-mannered Jethro to this sweet, prolific predator was a hard one, but then I put the bell on Petal's collar so the otherwise unsuspecting woodland creatures could be alerted to her stalking, murderous little feline intentions and run away before she could kill them. It worked pretty well, and the sound of that bell came to kind of represent Petal, as everywhere she went she left a trail of cheerful chimes in her wake. It went well with her sprite little tortoise-shell body as she darted about in her unsuccessful attempts to slaughter more offerings for me. It was like having my own little demonic house fairy.

Petal had come to us as an adolescent in a parking lot in Cabbagetown, just walked right up and jumped into my car as I opened the door, like I was her personal valet. I tried to shoo her away, but then my 4-year-old daughter reminded me that, after Jethro died, I had promised her we wouldn't need to go pick another cat because our next cat would pick us. So there was no going back after that. Petal had picked us, and you can't turn back a cat who makes an honest woman out of you in the eyes of your child.

So thank God Mae was away when I found Petal yesterday. As I said, it wasn't unusual that Petal didn't come when I called, but the silence was. The air was empty. So I investigated and found her just lying there like any cat would normally lie anywhere. She wouldn't have looked dead if it were anyone but me looking at her. But it was me and I just knew. I touched her fur, which was still warm, but it wasn't the fur of a live Petal. Somehow in that short time, it had already transitioned.

Normally I'd be hesitant to pick up a dead cat, but this was sprite little Petal. For example, I have never seen a cat hug a human being before, but at night that cat would lay her silky body along my chest and put her arms around my neck, prattling like a little kitten stole, warm and breathing. So if you live on my block, I apologize for all that bawling I did while clutching a dead cat in my driveway last night. It's just that picking her up like that made her little bell keep ringing like she was still alive, which she had been just moments before, it seemed, and the transition was a little hard is all.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.hollisgillespie.com).

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