Nine Lives.

“Matthew.”
I propped myself up in bed by my elbows. Staring straight ahead I saw no one.
“Spike’s dead.”
I looked to the left, and there was my grandmother, hunched over from osteoporosis in the night-gown she never seemed to take off.
“Spike’s dead.”
“Where’s he at?” I mumbled. Half asleep. Sticky from sweat. My skin patched with sand the cat had dragged into bed.
“He’s laying in Grandpa Joe’s chair. He’s stiff. And he’s just too heavy to pick up.”
I looked up at the ceiling for a moment as my grandmother shuffled back into the living room. I didn’t want to see a cat corpse. I didn’t want to feel the dead weight of the cat my grandfather adored.
I got out of bed and peeked around the corner into the hall. There, in the living room, facing away from me, was the head rest of Grandpa’s chair. No one had sat in that chair since he passed. Not me. Not Grandma Betty. And never the cat.
Through the squat hall, I passed Betty’s Danish dining room table. To my right, her China cabinet Grandpa sent home from the Philippines. I walked slow, taking interest in the mundane to buy time.
I stepped down into the living room. In front of me was that brown corduroy chair. Looking over the top, I expected a smell: didn’t death have a smell? But there was nothing. Just Spike’s bright orange corpse. Fat. His fur infested with generations of fleas.
Here, his memories recalled a nightly routine of being held by Grandpa. A happy place.
This was his last attempt at communion. A communion with the one person who truly loved him.
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I threw a flower print beach towel over Spike’s corpse. With both hands, I tucked it around his haunches. I lifted, feeling the heft of rigor mortis and held him in my arms like a new-born. Turning, I followed my grandmother. Her shoulders sagging forward. Her diminutive frame carrying her arched back through my bedroom and out, into the back yard.
Wedged in the corner of the lot, my grandfather had once made a clearing next to the old, lichen covered wooden fence.
“Bury him here,” she said, then shuffled back through the sliding glass doors and into the house.
I laid Spike down on the burnt Bahia grass. Taking a couple of steps back to Grandpa’s shed, I grabbed a shovel. Its wooden handle rotting. The steel head rusted and dull from years of sit.
I could see my Grandmother moving slow through the house. Her slippers, a light sand paper against the tile. It was a comforting sound. But any sound she made was comforting. For me, those subtleties were tangible evidence of her being.
Her death was my biggest fear. And Spike’s corpse, hard in my arms, was a reminder of that.
I thought it appropriate to make some sort of grave marker for Spike. After all, it was his ninth life. A special occasion for him. But also, a special occasion for me: my first funeral as pallbearer, grave-digger, and head of ceremony.
Beside the fence was a broken two by four. Didn’t I need an elegy? Something to be said? Something to be written In memoriam on that piece of wood?
Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” came to mind. Its last line, what I had always interpreted as a promise from the dead.

“Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged.
Missing me one place, search another.
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

With a sharp rock, I inscribed the five letters of the cat’s name into the damp wood.
I chose a humble remembrance for him.
It was best to save an epitaph for my Grandmother.
To save it for the day I hoped to God would never come.

Matt Coplon

Work by day. Ride by evening. Write by night.