The trees are so densely packed in this pocket of the woods I’ve found myself in, you’d think there’d been an astronomical event. I stand in the unseasonable cool, clutching the box containing what was left of Marty and wondering whether to go forwards or backwards. I lost signal about three quarters of an hour ago. At least I still knew the time, even if it was little comfort how late it was getting.
A group of pigeons erupted in flight, causing me to nearly drop my precious cargo. Not that anything would’ve escaped. Marty had been very good at getting out of tight spaces, but he didn’t reckon on a burrito of blanket, cardboard walls, a layer of sellotape, followed by a layer of duct tape, rounded off with the final flourish of the heavy duty bin bags I was carrying in my pockets for when I found the right spot.
It was supposed to be an eco-burial. A box made of materials that would erode and even release beneficial nutrients to the soil. But I had a change of heart on my way out and had rushed back to the kitchen for extra supplies. In principle I had warmed to the idea of him returning to the earth, feeding worms, beetles, flies and the like – that whole Lion King 'Circle of Life' type crap – but in reality I wanted that added layer of protection in the knowledge he would be where he was and stay where he was just a little while longer. Selfish, maybe, but I had devoted at least a third of my 51 years to him.
You’d think somewhere along that timeline I would’ve picked up basic navigational skills, but no. all I remember is the sun rises in the east and sets in the west…or is it the other way round? Damn. I’ve been in these woods for so long now I’ve nearly forgotten my own name.
I heard an echo of a memory then – of how he would call for me. The tiniest changes in timbre; adapted to whether he needed me to get him something, or to take something away. It was the closest to my name in Cat-talk you could get. I'd done double takes at times, expecting to turn around one day and find he'd figured out opposable thumbs alongside mastering his English skills.
The flapping of the disturbed birds had faded, leaving just the sound of my ragged breaths. I needed to get more exercise. And remember to breathe through my nose. But I’ll practise that after I’m done getting to the top of this rise. I’m hoping there beyond lies the field the folk in the forums said was good to bury pets.
Would you believe it? Another fence.
“Or should that be: WOOD you believe it?” I said to the box, laughing at my own gag, ignoring the slightly shrill edge of hysteria. As I caught my breath and readjusted my backpack, I felt the contents of the box slide to the right. I looked up in that direction, a flash of white catching my attention. A hedge spotted with Cow Parsley, their heads nodding in the faint breeze.
“Alright Marty, that’s your spot. You know it. I know it. And no-one else needs to know about it.”
There was no way my scoliosis was going to allow me to wriggle under the fence, so we were going over. I slid the box through first, bringing to mind a supermarket checkout. Apparently grief is said to affect hunger. Well, I am saying it doesn’t affect mine.
I laid my jacket carefully over the barbed wire, thinking about that Pamela Anderson film and how it probably didn’t involve her getting up to anything like what I was trying to achieve. Although, who knows, did anyone ever actually watch it?
I began walking towards the cluster of dainty flowers. The sun, still lowering quickly than I would’ve wished for, poked his face out behind a cloud the shape, colour and size of a whale to splash the scene with gold. I felt like the boy Arthur approaching Excalibur. I also felt an odd combination of elation and sorrow. I had found the place, but it would soon be time to say my final goodbye to Marty. Marty my little smarty. But not so smart enough to get out of the way of that vehicle in time, were you, my little furry friend.
I felt the anger bubbling up again, as I remembered how I’d found him that day. There was no knock on the door, no apology, not even a note. The cowardice of the hit and run driver. No doubt he was speeding too. And yes, I just assumed his gender.
I nearly dropped the box a second time, but instead it was the (freshly pierced) coat I’d been carrying on my other arm that fell to the floor. My legs got caught up in it and as I began the slow motion descent to the ground I caught a glimpse of what was yelling at me.
“Stop right there!”
“I kind of already have, mate,” I muttered to an unconcerned buttercup. From my angle I could see large muddy green wellies set on a course for my head. I really didn’t want any dirt on my fresh blowout. The boots had a large stick swishing by their side. No, wait, not a stick. A gun.
“Madam, you are trespassing.”
I struggled to my feet, swiftly checking the box for damage. It was actually in better shape that I was. Then I went to work on the crocodile tears. Damsel in distress mode surely worked on guys who used ‘Madam’, right?
“OhmyGodI’mSoSorry, I had no idea! I seem to have gotten myself a little bit lost.” I concentrated on putting a wobble in my voice and making my eyes are large as possible.
The farmer grunted. He was wearing trousers with about twenty pockets on each leg, which I hoped weren’t concealing more weapons.
“I was trying to find a spot I read about to bury my poor Marty–”
I realised that was the first time I’d said his name out loud in days. There’d be no more me crooning it when I got back from a twelve hour shift at the care home. No more yelling it when he wouldn’t made his presence known when it was bath time or time for a trip to the vets. No more singing it in his special song for when he was being a good little purring hot water bottle on my tired, aching legs.
The tears were real.
“Oh…okay now…now there’s no need for that.” The farmer fished around in his pocket tapestry and brought out a rather oily-looking rag. I waved my packet of backpack tissues at him in what I hoped was grateful decline.
“I don’t know this Marty,” he continued, “but I’m guessing he weren’t no husband, going by the size of the vessel.”
I nodded, while simultaneously blowing my nose. A risky move you might say, but the day had been fraught with much danger already. My blurred vision had made the grass go all swimmy. I wished I could lay down on that green sea and sail away to a magical place where nothing had to die.
“My cat,” I explained. “It was a hit and run.”
The farmer studied me intently, waiting for more, but really what more to it was there than that, at the end of the day. And the growing shadows did indeed indicate the end of the day was nearly upon us.
I could hear bristles being scratched while he stood there awkwardly rubbing his mouth. It reminded me of a matchbook. How funny it would be if he were to set his head on fire. Then there would be a cremation, as well as a burial. Hashtag blessed!
I let out a yelp of laughter that I masterfully morphed into a hiccup of sorrow.
He offered his hand while saying, “I’m Fullerton. Robert Fullerton.”
My mind went: “Is this the countryside’s answer to James Bond?” While my mouth went:
“Well, Tricia, I can think of something you might like, which could help you out some, if maybe you could do something for me first?”
Oh no. Out here in the sticks with the only other person I’ve seen for the last five or so miles, and it’s another letch trying to take advantage. And to think there was a time I thought all of this would stop the second I hit 30.
“You see, the problem is,” he started unbuttoning his coat. He’d rested the gun gently down to start the striptease. Maybe there was a slim chance I could reach it before he knew what was happening. But I was caught in the headlights of the nipples I could make out through his red checked shirt.
“Only two buttons left. All the other ones have bloody pinged off.”
I was so relieved I almost didn’t focus on the rest of what he said.
“I found some spares knocking around the back of a draw,” he was saying, “but you see these fingers?” He waggled them, as though warming up for a card trick. I concurred that they did indeed looked more suited to winning a prize for best carrots in the village fete rather than digits capable of threading a needle.
I laughed. I’d only set foot on this farmland five minutes ago and was being roped into manual labour to earn my keep. At least it would end up as good fodder for my creative writing class.
“Take me to a needle and thread,” I said. Robert Fullerton smiled. Then we walked off into the sunset together.
No, that’s already over-romanticising it for the hornier widows of the group. We walked to his house, and there happened to be a sunset occurring simultaneously. That’s better.
Thirty minutes later “call me Bob” was so proud of his freshly buttoned shirt that his puffed up chest threatened to spoil all my hard work. That was despite me fixing the new buttons as close to the edges as I could, as I sensed the problem was due to advances in width rather than age.
Meanwhile, Marty lay on a kitchen counter, no doubt wishing I’d get a move on and remember my original quest.
I excused myself to use his bathroom. On the way back, a burst of colour out of one of the windows made me gasp.
“My god,” I said, “Those are some of the most delightful blooms I’ve ever seen!”
“The secret rose garden,” he said, pride evident in his warm tone. “That was the work of the missus.”
Who I presumed was no longer on the scene, or presumably the button issue would’ve been taken care of before my arrival.
He joined me at the window, where we both watched bees drunkenly bumble from flower to flower.
“I was thinking that might be a good spot for your Marty. In exchange for your help. I can offer a great spot, right there, between those bushes. If you’re happy to leave him with me, I can get the job done tonight.”
I’m not sure I liked my dead pet being referred to as a ‘job’, but it was a tempting offer. It certainly was a beautiful plot.
“Thank you, Bob. Marty and I would humbly like to accept your kind offer.”
His weather-beaten face split open into a massive smile I couldn’t help but reciprocate.
I said bye to Tricia (having first got her number off her, ‘cause I’m not as daft as I look).
I did glance at the shed on my way back up the drive, after pointing her down the right track. But it was too late in the day now to go getting the tools out. And I was tired. I’m always tired. They never warn you about the hours in this job when you sign up for it. There was a bottle of brandy with my name on waiting for me. Plus, it wouldn’t really make a difference to this Marty creature whether he got buried tonight or in the morning, would it?
I told myself all I wanted to do was put a baked potato in the oven, veg out in front of some telly, and put my feet up. It took four measures of brandy to realise what I really wanted to do.
I got the sharpest kitchen knife out of the drawer. After hacking through about a dozen layers of tape, I was finally down to the box. A sad broken lump resembling the shape of a cat, but flatter, was finally unearthed. I peeled back the final mask.
Black cat with white paws, white eye patch, belly freshly decorated with tyre imprints.
It all matched. My hunch was proved correct. I whispered into the box, “Sorry for running you over, mate.”