It would be a good day to bury someone. Or some thing. The ground is soaked after days of drizzle. Will share its moisture if you but step on it.
I head for the basement. To me, it smells like death but then, it often does. Could be the inch of water on the floor in husband’s workroom. Might be a juvenile rodent in some advanced state of decay, its head like a walked on brussel sprout, thanks to one of husband’s traps. Long ago I relinquished my insistence he use Havahart cages. The day he displayed an incarcerated rat (as opposed to the usual mouse) outside the kitchen window, I nearly dropped my wine glass.
When he came back inside, I moved away from the sink so he could wash his hands. I spoke through clenched teeth.
“Get the real traps. The killing kind.”
I empty the dehumidifier. Fill the bunnies’ water bottle. That’s when I notice what’s wrong with this picture. I take in the cages of our guinea pigs—Trixie Juniper (sassy and sleek) and Sweetie (humble, like Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, and tousled).
Something seems familiar. I picture the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the witch’s feet poke out from under her house. Only here in our basement, its Sweetie’s butt that sticks out from under her purple pigloo. I make a hummy noise. That’s when I notice the silence. Consider she is not whistling and chuttering her usual high-pitched alarm. Ever since she learned basement light equals human equals food (at least a fair amount of the time—intermittent reinforcement and all that), she has proved our most vociferous beast.
I slump. Exhale loudly. “Did he not see her?” I ask the basement. The boy child. When he fed her. Didn’t he question the absence of squeaks?
I move the purple dome off her waist. Do my spot on imitation of a guinea pig vocal. My Indian name, after all, is Talks with Animals. I called myself that for months after I watched Dances with Wolves. Sweetie does not reply. Doesn’t stir in her aspen bedding. I make my eyes squinty. Will her to waddle her knocked-over-bowling-pin body to the side of the cage. To where she always begs for raisins. Every morning. She doesn’t today because she isn’t today. She cannot, will not, catch her breath of life from God ever again.
I text husband the sad news. He replies. Says he will lay her to rest tomorrow. I nod. Permit myself a small smile. Under the chestnut tree with all our other beloved pets, no doubt.
Moments after I return my cell to my hoodie pocket it does a jig against my belly. I take it out again. Hold it at arm's length to decipher the words.
“Prepare her for burial please.”
My eyes bulge. I swallow nothing. Me? But I thought that was on the boy list.
Along with taking out the trash and relocating almost-big-as-your-hand spiders.
Preparing her for burial would mean I’d have to touch her. Make contact with death. Don’t tell anyone but part of me thinks it’s contagious. Being dead. I lay a hand over my heart. Feel its increased cadence. Work my tongue in my mouth in search of moisture.
I lower myself to the floor next to the line of animal cages. Dry my palms on my skinny jeans.
“This is why I could never be a single mom,” I tell the pets. “’Cause I don't know how to load or unload a mousetrap. Can’t bash a rabid raccoon’s brains with a shovel if need be. Don't have the guts to scrape a roadkill off the street in front of the house.”
One of the rabbits thumps a big back paw. “Oh, fine!" I say as I heave myself to standing. "I’ll do it!”
I walk over to the pile of clean but old towels next to the washer. Select a small purple one. Pick at the dried white paint next to the embroidered-in-gold reindeer. It’s soft. She’ll like that. I sigh. Even though she’s dead. I return to her cage and crouch beside it. Feel the splintering start. In my nose. At the corners of my eyes.
“I hope you didn’t suffer, little friend,” I whisper. “I hope you closed your piggy eyes and . . . And nothing. Just . . .”
I reach in and touch her gently. Tentatively. She’s so soft. I imagine she’s warm. What if she’s . . . I poke her. She’s not. I admire the rosettes on her rump one last time before I roll her in the terry shroud.
“You always looked like you had bed head all over your body, sweet girl.”
I scootch over so I can get both arms inside her cage. “Remember how I wanted to change your name to Pigsley after we rescued you, but I couldn’t? Because you're so sweet, no name but Sweetie would do.”
I wrap and tuck the cloth around her. Remove her much heavier in death than life body from the white wire house.
I snuggle her into an American Eagle shoe box. “Get it, Sweetie?” I say. “I picked this one ‘cause it reminded me of that old hymn—I’ll Fly Away.”
A sob breaks out of me like a cough. Right after I put the lid on.
“Why does this never get easier?” I ask the question of Trixie and the bunnies. The rabbits are side by side, watching me. Trixie sprints up her ramp. Cocks her head. I hold Sweetie’s coffin inches from Trixie’s nose.
“She’s in here. You never liked her though. Always gave her a hard time. Now she’s gone. Who you gonna talk to now?”
Trixie whistles. Puts her front paws up on the bars.
I bite my lip. Whimper. “I’m sorry, Trix. That was mean.”
I place the burial box on the floor where she and the bunnies can see it.
“Here you go. I’ll leave her down here a little while. So you all can pay your final respects.”
I climb the stairs to the kitchen. Take a seat at the table. Sip the last bit of my morning coffee. It’s cold. I spit it back in the cup. Get my phone out of my hoodie pocket and slide it open. Hold it at arm's length and type.
“Piggy prepared for take off.” Send.