I don’t remember what made me climb the wooden fence. It might have been the squeal of tires or my friend who remarked that it sounded like something had been hit. No matter, it was worth investigating.
We scrambled over, our tennis shoes wedged between the lichen-covered slats for footholds as we grasped the top rail and sat upon it for a moment to survey the scene before descending into the tall, uncut grass on the other side. A footpath meandered through the grass then, worn to packed dirt by my own and others’ feet on our way to and from school. An overgrown drainage ditch fringed the two-lane road. Every few years the Department of Works would come with a backhoe and scoop out the various grasses and weeds that rooted there.
On this brilliant summer day, the grass stems swayed in the breeze, the Alder leaves rustled, and the woods across the street, fringed by laden blackberry runners, was a riot of green and birdsong that could be heard over the occasional car that passed.
A car slowly accelerated off over the small hill and disappeared out of our view. Tracing its path back, we both spotted a bloody line on the road a few dozen feet away.
“Let’s go see what got hit!” my friend excitedly said.
Hopping down, I hoped my hay-fever wouldn’t attack me during the short journey across the verge. We hopped the ditch and sandy gravel crunched under our sneakers as we crossed the asphalt shoulder. It was just past lunchtime and traffic was light, so we ventured a straight line towards our goal instead of across and down.
Coming closer, we could see where crimson was already turning to match the color of the berries on the vine. There was a large splotch where the unfortunate animal had landed. A straight, perpendicular red line led from its first resting spot to its current one, now hidden from view in a small grass bower beyond the shoulder. The driver must have drug it there, out of sight.
Upon surveying the bloody scene, our resolve dissolved slightly. We looked to each other for support, maybe permission, to disturb the poor creature’s rest. We nodded to each other and waded in, parting the grass.
Lying there, prone with a small bloody pool about its head founted from his mouth, was my cat, Fritz.
Shocked, I reached out for him, but then held back, terrified to touch the truth. I overcame my fear and stroked his fur. He was still warm, but he was dead.
“Is that your cat?” my friend asked.
I nodded mutely as tears began to stream down my face.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He looked at a loss. “Is there anything I can do?”
I shook my head.
“Um, I’m going to go…is that OK?”
A car honked at us as it went past. I nodded.
“Uh, bye. Sorry again.” He walked up the road towards his home.
I wanted to pick Fritz up and take him home, but was repulsed by the now congealing blood. I thought about getting some garden gloves. But how to get him over the fence? Throw him? The thought horrified me.
Through a miasma of grief and shame, I found my way back across the road and over the fence. A few minutes later, I was picking Fritz up in my gloved hands and placing him in a brown paper grocery bag. He was stiffening, and his tail stuck awkwardly out of the end of the bag.
My grip on the bag wasn’t so good and it tore open in the middle of the road. The yawning loss I had been working to keep at bay also rent then and there. I wailed in huge choking sobs at my loss, now resting at my feet across the center line. I held the torn bag like some sort of bloody flag after a battle where my comrades died and defied the world to find a way to assuage the pain.
Crushing sadness enveloped me as I bent to gently pick Fritz up and place him back in the paper, with legs protruding askew. I must have been a sight, all tears and snot, shuddering as I walked home the long way with my dead cat borne before me wrapped like some grotesque package.
Home again, I laid him to rest in the back yard beneath the cherry tree that blossomed like snow in the spring. That was the last thing the two of us did together, alone on separate sides of the world.