Jen and I were trying to dig a grave in the dark next to the tennis courts in the park near the house where she’d been cat-sitting. The light from the lamps they’d put up to keep dealers from slinging at night helped us see what we were doing. Even better, the poles on the fence that surrounded the courts cast a shadow that seemed a pretty good place to hide if anyone were to come by.
I held the tabby in my arms under the light, the fur just as soft as any living cat, the smell still of dander and the synthetic lavender of cheap pet shampoo, but the skin beneath was colder than it should have been. The cat was heavy because dead things are heavy.
I held the cat out to Jen so I could start digging, but she dropped the shovel she was carrying and ran backwards into the shadows. She was small and short, with prematurely graying black hair and a pale face. She never wore makeup, and it didn’t matter. There was something that turned me on about the way she was ready to run away from anything, the way her eyes were always darting around looking for an exit.
“I don’t wanna hold the thing, either.” I said into the air, not sure where she went. I turned away and placing the cat gently on the cement near the tennis court fence.
I took off the cat’s collar. It read “”Jericho” and had a phone number beneath it. “Do you want this?” I yelled out, holding it up. She didn’t answer. I put it in my pocket.
I dug the shovel as hard as I could into the ground and kicked, but I didn’t accomplish much. It wasn’t quite freezing out, but it was close. I looked over towards Jen to tell her I couldn’t do it but I stopped myself when I realized I didn’t even know which direction to shout in.
This was the first time we’d hung out since we’d fucked around eighty-four days ago, when a few too many beers and a particularly erotic episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had ended in hours and hours of kissing that had ended how these things usually end. It had been fantastic, everything familiar, even though we’d never seen or smelled or touched each other that way before. We fucked like a married couple that’d been together twenty years, which wasn’t bad, like everyone always says, but rather wonderful, the sexual equivalent of taking your boots off in front of a fireplace after shoveling the snow.
But then she didn’t return my calls for almost three months, which is why I’d been ecstatic that afternoon when she called and asked me to come over to where she was cat-sitting. I showed up wearing a black button down shirt because I looked damn good in black and I thought maybe she wanted a rerun, but when she answered the door, she’d been crying and her hips were out far away from me when she hugged me so I thought maybe there wouldn’t be fucking in the cards, but instead a long talk, which was just fine with me, because a long talk was very much needed. But then we walked inside and she pointed at the cat sitting there under the window. The sun — which still had an hour or two to set — was beating through the window onto the body. She told me she didn’t know what to do, that she’d walked in to feed it and it was just sitting there, that she’d done everything she was supposed to do. I touched it. The cat was hot to the touch from the sun, but it was very much dead. I could tell it was dead in the same way all living things can tell something is dead, in the way religious people speak of souls leaving the body but really it’s just that somehow people can see there’s no blood going through veins or electrical charges sending chemicals to organs from the brain. And I could see that electricity and chemicals were no longer telling this cat how to live. We strategized for a couple hours and decided the best thing would be to bury it and tell its owners that it had run away, for there was a cat door, and a runaway is just plain bad luck. A cat sitter can’t be blamed for a runaway anymore than a babysitter can be blamed for a kid who sneaks out her window after being sent to bed. It’s bad news but not a career ender.
I kicked again at the shovel and it went in a little deeper. I yelled up in the air and hoped she was near enough to hear. “How deep does the hole need to be?” I heard her voice, just a few feet to my left, say, “Six feet.” I said, “Really? But they’re smaller than humans.” So she said “You’d still bury a baby at six feet, right?” and laughed. I didn’t laugh and said, “Shit, there’s no way I can dig six feet deep right here.” So she moved into the light and looked at me from behind her pole next to the tennis court and my heart jumped and I think hers did too because it took her a minute before she said, “Well just dig the thing as fucking deep as you can.”
And she never swears really, Jen, which isn’t to say she’s not just as fucked up as the rest of the cussing public, but I guess it’s just not something she ever got in the habit of doing, so that one word, fucking, came off her tongue just a little forced, just a little wrong, and it made me think about the reason I’d come over, and how now I was digging a grave for a tabby I’d never even met before instead of making love.
And Jen was so little there was no way she could be expected to dig a hole in near-frozen ground. But this was above and beyond, even for me, even for her best friend.
“Look,” I started, and then thought about how she’d been in a pinch and could’ve dealt with the body in a million ways but had called me, and not anyone else, so I didn’t finish my sentence because I remembered she might sleep with me again and maybe even we could fall in love if I did this. If I just dug this grave. So I kicked hard at the shovel and threw the dirt to the side and kicked again and it somehow got easier and easier the deeper I went, and when I got to three or four feet I picked up the cat and almost put it in the grave. Then Jen came from nowhere and was touching my shoulder and saying “No no let me do it,” so I handed her the cat and she hugged it near her chest, and I looked down at my chest and even in the terrible light I could see all the cat’s hair all over my black shirt, and now all over her black shirt, and she said lets put it down together, so we both held it, me holding the ass side and her holding it’s front side. We gently let it down into the grave together, and after we did, while we were squatting next to each other, I kissed Jen’s temple — not getting fresh or anything, just trying to be nice— and she didn’t freak out, thank God, but instead stood up, picked up the shovel, kissed me right above the forehead, and started throwing dirt on top of the cat.
Seth Fischer’s writing has appeared in PANK Magazine and Guernica Magazine, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and has won an honorable mention in The Glimmer Train Fiction Open. He is Sunday Editor at The Rumpus, and he’s the founding editor of www.splintergeneration.com. He lives in San Francisco and has a day job where he sits in a cubicle not too far from an albino alligator.