Friday, March 25, 2005

Another cat post (sad)

(Am I about to exceed my cat post-per-blog allowance?)

Susan writes about a costume party she is planning, and this reminds me of a costume party I went to years ago in NZ, when I was about 20, when we were supposed to come as a work of art.

A friend was an artist, and with the help of some face crayons from another friend she turned me into a Picasso. I was a wonderful Picasso. I had an extra eye on my neck. My face was divided with jagged lines and blocks of bright colour, and I had some stripes on the other side of my neck. I was from Picasso's Cubist period. My friend did an astonishingly good job, and I was completely unrecognisable.

At the last moment we realised that we hadn't given any thought to what I would be wearing from the neck down, and after some thought borrowed some very old overalls from her father, who was about 20 cm taller than me and a lot larger. They were the overalls he wore when he was working with machinery, and looked like it, dark blue and full of holes, covered in oil stains. Then we went out and picked a lot of wild flowers and grasses and bits of tree and attached them to the overalls, so that by the time we finished I was a Picasso from the neck up and the rest of me was a Monet.

Then I got into my ancient Morris Minor and drove to the party.

I drove carefully, not wanting to be pulled over looking as I did, but it was dark, and when a cat ran across the road in front of me I only just stopped in time. Another cat ran after the first cat, and I pulled over and sat for a moment, feeling shocked. It had been very close, and after my heart slowed down I started driving again, slowly. But just as I started off again the first cat raced back across the road, and the second one raced after it.

I slammed on the brakes again, but hit the second cat. I could not avoid it.

There was a horrible soft thud.

I jumped out of the car and ran around to the front. The cat was lying on the road, not moving. I bent down and touched it, and it jerked convulsively and let out a terrible sound, a sort of scream. I stepped back, not daring to touch it again, and looked around for help. I was distraught.

It was a very quiet suburban neighbourhood, on a Saturday night. Most of the houses were dark, but two had lights on, so I went to the door of the nearest one and knocked. A woman came to the door.

"I'm terribly sorry, but I've hit someone's cat," I babbled. "Do you have a cat? Could it be yours? I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hit it..."

"Oh, how upsetting," she said. "No, dear, I don't have a cat. It might belong to the people over the road, though."

She gave me a comforting hug. "Will you be all right, dear?" she asked. I said I would, and she went back inside.

I crossed the road and knocked at the door of the other lighted house. After some time it opened, and a face peered out. I explained again.

"No, I don't have a cat," said the person, and I could hear from his voice that he was a man. I hadn't been sure at first. He was wearing a dress.

"I don't know what to do!" I wailed. "I think it's dying, and it's in pain. Can you help me?"

The man came with me to see if he could do anything. He touched the cat, and it didn't move or make a sound. There was blood and foam seeping from its mouth. We stared helplessly at each other.

"I think we have to put it down," the guy said, wringing his hands. "Do you want me to call a vet? Or shall we do it ourselves?"

"I don't think I can," I said. "And anyway, how?"

"Well, we have to do something," he said. "And quickly. It's not good to leave it like this, and I doubt we'll find a vet at this time of night. It would take too much time anyway."

So he took care of it. (I'm not going to write about how he did this. It was distressing, but it was quick. And by that time the cat seemed to have stopped breathing anyway.)

After the deed was done we decided we could not leave the cat lying on the road, and the man offered to bury it in his garden. I helped. We dug a little hole, laid the cat in it wrapped in an old towel, and covered it up. We faced each other over the grave, somewhat awkwardly. He was in tears, too. It was a solemn moment and I think we both felt we should say something, but we didn't know what to say.

I looked at the guy properly for the first time. His wig was a little too small and hair was sticking out underneath it. Although he was wearing a dress he was not dressed up. It was just an ordinary dress, with a frilly apron over it. He had been very kind, but his appearance added to the feeling of being stuck in a strange and disturbing nightmare. I had never killed a cat before, and the evening had taken on a surreal quality.

I said goodbye to the cat, thanked the guy, and we shook hands. He promised to ask around for the owners of the cat, and I gave him my phone number to pass on so they could contact me if they wanted to. I wanted to apologize. He didn't think it would be necessary. It was not my fault, he said, and told me that he would explain what had happened.

We said good night and I got into my car and drove the rest of the way to the party, very, very slowly.

I arrived (late) at the party, babbling about a dead cat. Nobody seemed to know who I was, adding to the feeling of unreality. I went to freshen up and calm down, but as I walked into the bathroom I came close to screaming. The mirror was right opposite the door, and I'd completely forgotten about the Picasso face. Aside from the slightly smeared bits under my eyes the face painting was remarkably intact, and I understood why nobody had recognized me. I didn't recognize me either.

As I stared in the mirror my distress at what had happened was overlaid by a mental picture of what the entire incident must have looked like, and I started to laugh hysterically. The man in drag. The walking work of art. The solemn cat funeral. Then I remembered the soft thud of the car hitting the cat, and was overwhelmed with horror. It took me a while to calm down.

It was a good party, though, once I'd straightened out my head a bit and told everybody who I was. At least I think it was a good party. I don't remember much about it.


Faerunner said...

That is one of the most terrible stories a cat owner could ever hear (or tell). I'm very truly sorry for the cat (and for you).

I can imagine it must have been an extremely high-stress night.

Paula said...

That would make a good short story.

Badaunt said...

I was a cat owner at the time. And yes, it was a very high-stress night - with overtones of extremely black comedy. WHen I think of it all I can see is that guy and me standing over the cat's grave in a dark garden, weeping. And dressed like that...

I'm guessing I drank too much at the party, though. I've been trying to remember whose party it was - I think it was a 21st - and can't. I can remember who supplied the face crayons, though, so perhaps I'll ask her if she can remember. (It MIGHT have been her sister's 21st... )

Paula: I'm starting to think my entire life is made up of a series of short stories. It might just be blogging that makes me think so, though.

Which makes me wonder: which would you rather have your life be? A series of short stories, or a novel? :-)

Anonymous said...

It's a terrible shame about your hitting the cat, but putting it out of its misery was best if it was that bad off.

Did you ever find out whose cat it was?

Maybe the guy in drag was having his own costume party? Or not. ;^)