“Dead as dead can be . . .” I whispered the words, a hint of irritation just barely perceptible under my breath. The older man across from me lifted his gaze away from the partly smashed body, which was bleeding profusely on the stainless-steel table, and gave me a quizzical stare.
He will never guess the hell I’ve been through.
If she were really dead, I’d rejoice, because I‘d know that tomorrow the relentless cycle wouldn’t start all over again. But the inevitable truth lurked on my shoulder like that ghastly raven of Poe’s, burning embers of certainty into my brain. The inescapable fact was that her death was a total a façade. As sure as the full moon would shine on me tonight, sooner or later she’d crawl out of her stinking hole and her calico butt would be waiting for me at my front door.
Mind you, I could never predict exactly when it would happen, but I already envisioned her waiting at the doorstep expecting me to let her in. And when I saw her? As usual, my heart would surely feel that odd glimmer of hope. A glimmer that flickered tentatively, then grew bolder and stronger, until finally, something would go horribly wrong. Until some strange chaos found her and dark deeds pattered in her wake. Until death finally snuffed out her odd, macabre light. Or not.
I thought about the pet owners in the waiting room and wanted desperately, so very desperately, to give them this advice: Never take a stray cat home from a graveyard.
The situation itself should clue a logical person into the fact that bad news is preparing to follow them home. Home to the gates of their personal sanctuary. Why the mere vision of a cemetery creature padding trustfully behind a person should cause a shrieking premonition of a demon chomping at their heels. By carting such a creature to the one place they considered safe, that person effectively guaranteed the beastie will never leave. I wish I’d known then, what I didn’t want to know now.
I turned to look at my boyfriend, Salem. He sat beside me. He still didn’t get it. He’d watched the Nine Lives Queen die twice now, but he still thought the vet had been mistaken. I’d seen the cat bite the dust and resurrect a total of six times. By this time I was banking on number seven.
In my mind’s eye, I had a flashback of the aftermath of the dead German shepherd who’d previously mangled her body when she was on life number four. He’d shredded her to bits with his long white teeth, his own flecks of fur and red spatters of blood later smashed on my sidewalk like a Rorschach ink blot. I shuddered as I remembered the two neighborhood boys who’d placed her in a sack and thrown her into their swimming pool; two boys whose mysterious disappearance a week after her watery death coincided precisely with the feline’s reappearance at my door.
“That’s it then.” Salem smacked his knees for punctuation. The firm conviction in his voice almost made me want to believe him. I studied Salem’s curly head, his calm blue eyes. He was the picture of serenity. I quietly sighed. Eventually, he would understand. Then he would leave me.
I shook my head, not in response to what he’d said, but more because of a queer feeling of dread and uncontrollable certainty that filled my mind. My sweaty hands trembled. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror which hung over the sink– just across from the steel table where Scraggles lay– and I recalled dubbing her with that name the first time her long feline hair appeared before me bedraggled with graveyard muck after a few days of dying, then living.
Dark circles looked as if they’d been painted under my eyes, the blackened half moons were so even. Every inch of my hair made a case for finding its own direction to travel. My greasy shoulder-length brown tresses suffered from my nervous fingers running through the strands several times in at least three unwashed days.
“What do you want to do with the body?” The vet wasn’t being cold about it. He was just trying to be practical. With a room full of clients, his method of making a living was waiting.
I hadn’t gone the route of fire yet; afraid of what kind of creature might come back from the flames. But maybe this time she wouldn’t come back. Maybe submitting her bones to a hellacious conflagration would do the trick.
“Cremate her,” I said. “I want the ashes in an urn. How soon can you get it done?”
The vet stroked his chin thoughtfully. “The bodies go out every Friday. We get them by Monday. You’re lucky it’s Friday. We can send her out this evening.”
I breathed an audible sigh of relief. Perfect. The problem was, I could never predict when her spirit would come back. It was as if the grimalkin blithely wandered in the spirit world and then made an impetuous decision to pester the living whenever it suited her best. What if she managed to pull her little stunt before the cremation?
I picked up the urn from the vet on Tuesday afternoon. The day was glorious, filled with the scent of decaying leaves, damp earth from last night’s rain, and the aroma of someone’s early chimney fire. The container was a simple black plastic thing, the size of a large apple, sealed with clear packing tape along the edges of the lid. Attached to it was a small card from the vet, decorated with little paw prints, pronouncing his sympathy for the loss of my loved one. I made a wry smile.
Placing the urn on the passenger side of my red Toyota, the vehicle paint chipped and faded, my brain’s only thought at the moment was:
What do I do with the urn?
I couldn’t take it home. Having it there, sitting on a shelf, would always make me afraid Scraggles would one day pop out of it and claim me as her human once more.
Driving along the winding country road, I realized I was near a part of the James River where a bridge crossed over one of the deepest areas of rushing water. I pulled my car onto the road’s shoulder. Grabbing the urn, I got out of the vehicle and strode somberly to the walkway of the bridge.
Autumn winds whistled through the arms of somnolent oak trees. Perhaps it was nostalgia or some weird need to say goodbye a bit more intimately, but I found myself pressing my lips to her urn in a goodbye kiss just before I pulled my hand back and chucked her remains into the frothing white rapids.
“Goodbye, Scraggles,” I murmured, as I watched the black urn splash down into the frigid October water, and let myself smile. Then I got into the car and turned it towards home, making a mental note to stop at the grocery store and buy more cat-food.