Doctor Gary, The Vet, had been the one who had called to give me the unhappy news.
He NEVER asked any of his staff to perform these kinds of unpleasant duties. He was a good boss and a good, compassionate man who loved animals.
Sensing I was weeping, he said, “It’s okay Lance. I’ll keep her here until you decide what to do. Take as long as you need.” “Thank you,” I said, and hung up.
A day or two passed and Dick brought in a new-hire as a delivery boy. He was a rather short, slightly stocky College Kid, name of ‘Mike.’
In the meantime, I had called Dr. Gary and instructed him to dispose of the body. I explained that I just could not bear to come and pick her up. He said he understood.
I immediately telephoned Lisa in Florida and informed her of my decision. She said, “I cannot talk right now. I have a student in my office for a consultation. I’ll call you back.” She was lying I found out later.
Immediately after she had hung up, she called Gary and told him not to dispose of Lucia. (Commerce is a very small town and everyone knew everyone else, so he said, “Okay Lisa.”) She called me back and told me what she had told Gary.
I asked her why. She said “I commissioned a tombstone for ‘Chia and have UPS’d it to you at Latsons’. You should have it in a couple of days. It is similar to the one we made for Kitty. I want her buried right next to him.” “Okay,” I said. “I’ll take care of it.”
Two days later the UPS guy arrived, and since we were friends, he had no qualms about remarking, “This is sure a heavy package to be so small. What is it?” “A tombstone,” Was all I said.
After he left I took the package to the back of the shop away from prying eyes and opened it. It was a work of art—light gray stone, slightly rough oval-shaped, about eight by twelve inches, and an inch or so thick.
Engraved at the top was a small cat. Carved under that it read:
“Our Belov’d Lucia” “Our Cat From Hell” “Whom We Loved So Well” “She Left Us Far Too Soon” “ Forever In Our Hearts She Remains” “To Haunt Us With Love And Sometime Pain” “ Rest In Peace Little Darling Daemon Cat”
Dick came to the back of the shop, presumably looking for me and wondering why I was not manning the retail front of the business. He caught me weeping over a ‘rock.’ He walked over and read what I had just been reading. Then he started weeping too.
I re-wrapped the stone and placed it gingerly back into the box and returned to the front of the shop. In my possession, I had several photos of Lucia. And at closing time, I laminated them, placing them in a manila envelope. Then took the photos and the stone home.
Next day, which happened to be a Friday, was Mike’s first day working under me as I was responsible for getting all the orders prepared for delivery. I instructed Mike that after he had made his last delivery, he swing by the Vet Clinic and pick up my dead cat.
He looked at me as if I had just flown in from Mars, his mouth agape. I interrupted his bewilderment: “I’m serious. Do NOT return here without my cat, and don’t worry. She is frozen and fairly certain she isn’t a zombie. Now get gone.”
Few hours later he returned carrying a small cardboard box wrapped in red ribbon with a red bow taped on top.
As there yet remained a few hours in the work day, I took Lucia to our little break- room where we kept and old Sixties era refrigerator, the kind with the bottom part reserved for food brought from home for lunch (and beer). The top part, the freezer part reserved for ice cream and popsicles. Opening the freezer part, I shoved all the ice cream and popsicles into a pile and placed Lucia inside.
Now mind you, if any of my female co-workers had witnessed me doing this, there would’ve been some unhappy vociferous words hurled in my general direction, but none saw me.
Closing time came and I retrieved my Lucia along with the stone and went home and put her into MY freezer which never contained anything but vodka. I placed the photos and the stone on my kitchen table and went searching for her favorite toy, a little gray mouse imbued with catnip. Found it and put it on the table with the photos and the stone.
I called up my Girlfriend-du-Jour and asked her if she would be inclined to come over the next day (Saturday) for a funeral.
Happily for me, she said “Yes.” I did not want to be alone while burying my Lucia. “Be sure to wear black,” I said. All I had were Navy Blue garments, but ‘twould serve, I suppose.
Next morning she pulled up and saw me, shovel-in-hand digging a grave. And yes, she was decked out in a lovely black dress.
I asked her to go into my kitchen and bring out all the items on the table, which she dutifully did. Lucia’s grave completed, about three by three and four feet deep. Nothing left to do now but get it over with.
I went into the freezer, pulled out the bottle of vodka and filled two ‘Texas-Sized’ shot glasses to their rims. Went back outside, careful to not spill nary a drop—a ‘talent’ I had mastered over the years. I handed her the glasses saying, “We’re gonna need these, so don’t spill any.”
Returning to the freezer, I gently removed the little box with the red ribbons and the red bow on top and carried it to the grave site, ever so carefully and respectfully to keep it level at all times. Gingerly I placed the tiny coffin down about midway by the grave, a foot away from the edge.
There was an old concrete bench; circa nineteen thirties, about two yards away from the grave site. (This was an old house I was calling ‘Home.’) Realizing My Girl was struggling to not spill the vodka, I suggested she set the glasses onto the bench and come closer to me. Relieved, she did so and came up to stand by my side.
Spying some beautiful perennial blooming flowers that June had planted and taken meticulous care of when she had lived here, I decided they would serve a larger purpose today. So I walked over, and using my Buck Knife, proceeded to cut the top stim off of half of them.
Walked back over to the grave, and handed the ‘bouquet’ to My Girl. “Please hold onto these, but don’t grow too fond of them.”
Jumping down into the grave, I reached over and very carefully and slowly picked up the little coffin and laid it as closely as I could in the middle, making sure it was level in the freshly loosened earth.
“Baby “I said. “set those flowers down and kindly hand me the photographs and the toy mouse.” Clutching the photos in my left hand, with my right I placed the mouse facing to where I surmised Lucia’s little head would be.
Then tucked each photo under the red ribbons and climbed out of the grave. Picked up the flowers, handing half of them to My Girl.
We stood over Lucia, and one at a time, we dropped a single flower on My Kitty-From-Hell, My Darling Lucia: until the flowers were all gone. I retrieved the vodkas, handed one to My Girl. We held our glasses high as I spoke these words:
“To My feisty, brave, mean as a snake, Beautiful Lucia I will always love you I will never release you from my heart You rest now baby kitty”
We tossed back the vodka, then hurled our empty glasses against the concrete bench, shattering them into a million pieces. We bent down and grabbed a fist of loose dirt, slowing releasing it and letting it spread over the flowers, the mouse, the photos. And Lucia.
“Baby,” I said. “You may return inside the house now if you like. I’ll finish this.” “No way.” She said. “I’m staying with you. What kind of Girlfriend would I be if I did otherwise?”
Picking up the shovel, I began to bury Lucia in earnest. Got about half-way through and broke down and dropped the shovel. My Girl hurried over, threw her arms around me tightly and wouldn’t let go. I gathered myself together enough to untangle us. She was sobbing now as well.
I managed to finish the burying part. Only one task left to perform: Placing The Tombstone.
It took me no less than fifteen minutes before the placement suited me. Remembering the spared half of June’s flower garden, I cut the remaining half off and placed them on Lucia’s grave, Took me fifteen minutes to get that just right as well. We retired into the kitchen and attacked what was left of that bottle of vodka.
After becoming sufficiently drunk, I telephoned ‘Landlady June’ in Arizona. “Hello June? This is Lance.” “Yes. I know your voice Lance, especially your drunken one. (June and I were erstwhile lovers) What’s up?”
“I had to bury another cat in your backyard today.” “Oh my God! Which one?” “Lucia.”
“NOT Her! She was too mean to die!” (June of course, knew all my cats)
“True, but die she did. And my heart is broken.” ”Certainly it is. She was your favorite. I am so sorry Lance.”
“I seem to be turning your backyard into a pet cemetery. I hope you don’t mind.” “Of course I don’t mind. I would have done the same thing.”
“There is one other thing; I kind of decimated your flower garden as well.”
“As long as you didn’t dig ‘em up by their roots, they’ll be just fine.” “Of course I would never do such a thing. You know that.”
“Please take care of your self Lance. I miss you.” “I miss you too June.” “Bye for now.”
My Girl asked, “How’d she take the news?” “She’s cool with it. We go way back.” My Girl gave me a slightly side-ways glance and said, “Uh huh.” “It’s not you’re thinking” I said. “I’m quite sure it is, but at least she’s about a thousand miles away.”
“Any little bit of vodka left in that bottle?” “Let me check.” She turned the bottle up, draining it, set it down and said “Nope.” A woman after mine own heart. First time I had laughed in days. Then I realized, Things were gonna be okay. Just as long as I didn’t this lose this one:
This ‘MY Girl’
(Not actually My Girl, but close to what she looked like. Sadly, I do not have an actual photo of her)