November, 2010

I was fast asleep in my basement room when my mother suddenly shook me awake. "Get up! Get up! I need you to come with me!" (POKE, POKE, SHAKE, SHAKE)  "Come on! Get up, please. Move it!"

"Huh...? Whaa...? What's going on?", I managed to croak. I'd been up very late and had only been asleep for maybe... 3 hours. There are vampires that are out and about, getting more accomplished during daylight hours than I do. "Get dressed and meet me at the car. I need your help", Mom said.
"Aww... I can bring the groceries in later for you; let me sleep, will you?" I said.
"Come on! NOW! I need your help! Get up!" she said.
The emphatic, measured, no-nonsense tone meant that I'd better hurry the hell up.

It was a wet, gray morning; cold and raw, windy and drizzly. Not the sort of day I wanted to face anyway-- and being yanked awake and expected to function in some mystery capacity, without an eye-opening shower, a bracing breakfast or even a kick-start-the-cardiac-system cup of coffee, was not sitting well with me. I threw on some clothes, trudged outside and climbed into the car with Mom. There were, indeed, groceries in the car. This was puzzling. She drove through our neighborhood and down a stretch of road that led to the shopping center we often visited.

"Where are we going? Why am I awake so early? Will you please tell me why we..."
"You'll see in a minute. There by the side of the road. See? You see it?"
I looked where she was pointing. "What? Where?"
"Over there!", she said jabbing her finger at the windshield.
I saw an unidentifiable, gray something-or-other. "What is it?, I asked.
"Go look", she said.
"Oh, for God's sake! You dragged me out of bed to..."
"GET OUT AND GO LOOK CLOSELY AT IT! Tell me if it's what I think it is!"

So, of course, I did. She was really upset. As I got closer, I soon saw what the anxiety was about. Oh, no... It was my younger sister Lisa's cat. He'd apparently been hit by a car and knocked onto the shoulder of the road. I could be sure it was him because of the unusual markings on his face. He had a peculiarly asymmetrical pattern of stripes that gave him the look of a lopsided smile. Plus, he had an extra toe on his left front paw. He was quite dead; there was no doubt about that. He was sort of pancaked there. He'd been a great little cat-- feisty and spirited and very affectionate. A cocky, butch little guy. My sister named him "Jocko". He'd been gone from home for a couple of days, and she was worried about him. I felt sad and deflated. Poor little guy. What a pity.

Mom had been out shopping, and had spotted the cat on the way to the store. She felt that it might be Jocko, but wasn't sure. She wanted me to identify him and deal with it, though.
"Oh, hell. Yeah-- it's Jocko. Poor thing. What do we do now?" I asked
Mom said "Well, I think you ought to bury him."

"Where? Here?" I asked
"We sure can't let Lisa handle it. She'd come unglued. We can't take him home and bury him in the yard. She loved that cat; she'd be devastated", Mom said.

"I think it's better if we don't tell her. Maybe if she thinks he just wandered off, she can believe that a nice family took him in..." she continued.

"...And he's got a cushion with his name embroidered on it, and they feed him sardines and cream -- right; I've got it. O.K.", I said, and opened the trunk of the car to look for something to use to dig a grave. "Let's get this over with."

All I found was one of those plastic windshield squeegee/ice scraper things. I walked a couple of paces off the shoulder and into the tree line and poked at the hard, damp soil. It snapped after about thirty seconds. Then I tried various bits of tree branches and finally my bare hands, to gouge out a shallow trench. I put his remains into this depression, and covered it with some dirt and leaves. I put a stone on top of it. Goodbye, Jocko. Sweet cat. We drove home, in silence.

We carried the groceries into the kitchen. Mom began putting the perishables in the fridge, and I washed my hands at the sink. Just then, my youngest sister, Abby, and Jan, a girlfriend of hers who'd spent the night with us, came in. They were still in their pajamas, and sort of sleepy-looking. Lisa (whose cat I'd just buried) was still asleep upstairs.

Mom turned to them and said, "Girls? I need to tell you something. I saw Jocko this morning."

At this point, you need to know that Lisa had a boyfriend named John Owen .
Both girls in the kitchen misheard "Jocko" as "John Owen "...

"Oh yeah? Where? How's he doing?" asked Abby.

"I saw him on the side of the road on my way to the store."

"Was he hitchhiking, or something?", asked Jan.

" Ha, ha; very funny. No, listen-- I'm serious. He was lying there. I was afraid he was dead. It looked like he was hit by a car. I got the groceries, and then came and got Jef. and had him check."

In unison they gasped "OH, MY GOD! NO!" Then: "He was... you... you just kept going and went shopping? With his body by the road? Are you kidding? Does anyone else know? What should we do? Who do we tell? You're absolutely sure it was him? " and so on and so forth, weeping and clutching one another.

I said, "Yeah. I couldn't tell until I got up close. It looked like he may have been run over a few times. Poor guy was kind of flattened out, you know? It was hard to be sure at first, but I could make out that funny little face of his. It's him."

"Now, we can't tell Lisa. You know how fond of him she was. It would only upset her." Mom said to them. They looked at her with amazement. "But... but... She's going to find out eventually!" Abby said.

"When he doesn't come around for a couple of weeks, she'll get used to him being gone. Watch and see; she'll get over it pretty quickly, I'll bet", said Mom. "We'll just let her think he wandered off, somewhere and got lost. Sometimes they do that, you know?"

"Oh, God! NO! You can't do that! Are you kidding? He would never do that! " they said. "The poor guy! That's horrible! That's not right! Are you insane? You have to tell someone!"

"Oh, calm down, for God's sake!", I said. "Knock it off! Are you kidding? Look-- you didn't have to go out in the rain without breakfast and dig a goddamn grave in the woods. I did! I took care of it. It's all right. What she doesn't know won't hurt her, O.K.?"

Now they turned and looked at me, completely aghast. Had I entered into some psychotic conspiracy with my mother? What the hell was going on, here? They were trembling.

"You... you buried him in the woods? Why would you do that! What the hell's wrong with you?" Jan croaked.

"HE WAS DEAD! HE WAS DEADER THAN VAUDEVILLE! What would you have me do, bring him home and prop him up in a chair so she'd come downstairs and freak out and cry about him? Stick him under a bush in the yard? I made a shallow hole a few feet into the tree line and put him in it. (Their eyes were bugging out of their heads by now...) I kicked some dirt and leaves and stuff over him. It'll be fine. It wasn't right to just leave him there on the shoulder of the road. That'd be awful. It was sad enough." What was wrong with these girls?

"So, burying his body in the WOODS is a better alternative? It's SAD? It's... criminal! You can't do that! How many laws are you breaking? It's sick! It's horrible! Someone has to be notified" Abby hissed at me.

"Who were we going to notify? How long would that take, for someone to respond? We took care of it neatly, quietly, without alarming anyone. Lisa knows nothing, and we're back home, drying off and ready for breakfast", I said, shaking my head. "Man; nothing like digging a grave before breakfast to work up an appetite!"

"Who wants scrambled eggs?" Mom asked, brightly.

Both girls, by this point, had backed up across the kitchen as far as they could and were clutching one another, their backs to the sink. "Is this a joke? Are you putting me on?" asked Abby, tears running down her cheeks. "This is completely crazy! How could you possibly think that was all right? How could you do that, so... so casually, so easily?"

"I tell you, it would've been a hell of a lot easier if we'd had a shovel", I said. "I had to scrabble around with a broken windshield scraper, a stick and my bare hands. There was nothing casual about it. It was dirty work; IT WAS HARD!"

"How could you not tell anyone?", Jan choked.

"We're going in circles here" Mom said. "We are NOT going to tell Lisa, and we are NOT going to mention it to anyone else because it might get back to her if one of her friends knows about it. It's going to be our secret. Just be quiet, will you?"

"But, why in God's name would you bury him in the first place? Why dig a grave in the woods?"

"It's all right. I put a rock on it, and maybe one day, if Lisa is calm enough, we can take her there. She can put some flowers on it, or something. I'm pretty sure I can still find it", I said.

"No, no, no... Oh, this is nuts! What's going to happen?", Abby begged.
" You can't do this; you need to call the police", Jan insisted.
These girls were completely overreacting to this, and nothing we said seemed to be helping.

"Oh, come on! What'll the police do? You think maybe we can have a memorial service? Get the cops and the neighborhood school crossing guards and all his little neighborhood pals together and light candles or something? What're you, kidding me?" I asked.

They looked at me like I'd suggested we all dash out and start clubbing baby seals. Now, the girls knew Mom wasn't all that fond of the kid. She had never been particularly crazy about John, but it certainly appeared as if she suddenly had become particularly crazy over him-- enough to conceal his dead body, anyway! The question was, how did she get me to become involved in this sick act, and what the hell kind of consequences might we all face...?

"STOP THIS!", Mom yelled at them. "What the hell else are you supposed to do with a dead cat, except bury it?"

"Huh? Cat? What cat?" asked Abby.

"JOCKO! Who the hell else are we talking about?" Mom bellowed, her nostrils flaring.

"Jocko? You and Jef buried... Jocko? Not... not John Owen ?"

Mom and I - realization dawning on our faces-- began to laugh.
" Christ! You thought we buried John? No wonder you were acting so strange!"

Abby, a sickly smile spreading across her face said, "Uh, heh-heh-heh... yeah, didn't say John Owen? No, of course not.. Oh; God... I'm sorry, Mom. Oh, for God's sake... "

With that, all four of us began to chortle and guffaw and hoot and gibber and wail and snort and -- well, we expressed just about every kind of laughter there is-- and clapped our hands and stomped our feet and pounded on one another and wheezed and gasped until we made such a racket that Lisa finally woke up and came downstairs.

"What the hell's going on?", she asked.

"Jef. told a joke", Abby said. "It cracked us all up! Hahahahahaaaa! "

"It woke me up, you guys. I bet they can hear you down the street... " , Lisa muttered

"Ah... well, it was pretty funny" said Jan. "SNORT! Cackle!"

"Yeah-- it was very, very silly", said Mom. "Hoo, hoo, hoo...!"

I was gasping too hard to make any intelligible reply at all. Chimpanzee sounds were coming out of me.

Lisa just stared at us all like we were mental patients.
She went to pour herself some coffee, while we all tried desperately to catch our breaths.

Abby the provocateur, with tears still running down her face, asked, " So, um... how's your boyfriend?"

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