We walked into the kitchen, my arms draped with plastic grocery bags, to find the cat outstretched on the floor.
“Jack,” Carl said kicking his shoes off in the general direction of the mat. “Wake up.”
Gingerly, I set bags on the table, looking for eggs and bread and silently cursing the idiot bagger.
“Dad?” Carl said, hunched over the cat. “Dad. Jack won’t wake up.”
Thoughts of eggs and bread fell away as I shrugged the rest of the bags off and knelt down next to him. I touched Jack’s stomach. A bit cool. Shit, I thought. “Hey bud, Jack’s not feeling well right now. Can you go get the phone so I can call his doctor?” I watched size four feet run out of the room and around the corner. “For fucks sake Jack. Today?” I reached for the crumpled towel on the laundry room floor and laid it out next to the cat. I ran a hand down his glossy black back before taking pairs of feed and lifting his body, like an orderly might a patient.
In a couple seconds Jack was wrapped up tight and swaddled. He was in my arms, mouth ajar, when the small feet came pattering back.
“Here,” Carl said, holding up the phone to my face.
“One second, bud. Daddy just needs to put Jack in his carrier so that we can be ready to leave after.”
I found the small carrying container above the dryer, covered in dust. Alive Jack hated the damn thing; never going willingly, opting to take out his frustrations on my arms and wrists every time I shoved him in. Dead Jack had much less to say on the matter though. I zipped up the door and turned to Carl standing in the doorway. There was no escaping his curious stare.
“Dad? Is Jack dead?”
“Er no, bud,” I said. I hoisted the traveler in my arms making a terrible thud as Jack rolled into the side and guilt thudded on me. “Actually, yes. Yes he is.” I put the carrier down on the dryer and crouched to eye-level with Carl.
He held out the phone again. “You should call the hearse people then. Jack gets to ride in the hearse right?”
I sighed and leaned into a seat against the dryer. A foot above my head lay a dead cat, and before me stood a child more perceptive than I. “Uh, no. No, hearses are for people Carl.” I put an arm on his shoulder and pulled him closer. “But tell you what. We’ll have his funeral right here in the yard. Just you and me– I think Jack would like that. Don’t you?”
He nodded and lowered the phone. A sadness ran across his lower lip as he stole another look at the pet carrier.
“Alright. Daddy’s gonna put away the groceries and then we’ll go. And hey,” I pulled him in close and nearly whispered. “While I’m doing that, maybe you could write some last words?”
Carl pulled away. “Last words?”
“Last words. Like the last thing Jack will hear before he goes to heaven. So make ‘em good, huh?”
He nodded, accepting the gravity of last words. Carl peeped the carrier again and walked through the kitchen, stepping lightly to leave no sound.
I braced myself against the dryer and pushed myself up, grunting against the burden of my gut. The back of my head grazed the front of the carrier. “Pardon me, Jack. Not as young as I used to be.” I chuckled and quickly checked the dark humor.
Several bags later, soft steps entered the kitchen and Carl stood next to the table. A small note half-crumpled was in his hand.
He nodded again. “Can I carry him out?”
“Of course.” I handed the pet carrier over, bracing Carl for the dead weight. “Don’t drop him. He won’t like it.”
“He can’t feel it Dad. He’s dead.”
I recoiled a bit. Carl’s frankness was refreshing. But, at his age, unexpected.
“You’re right, buddy. Let’s go.”
Outside, I grabbed a shovel from my shed and followed Carl to the lawn. “This it?” I asked, staring at the plot under the crabapple tree. “This where Jack should go?”
“Yeah, I think it looks nice.”
I dug a rough hole three or four feet deep while Carl watched. He seemed to be going over his last words as I pulled dirt from the earth. His eyebrows twitching with every shlick of the shovel biting the earth. At last the hole was finished and I placed the still-swaddled Jack at the bottom. Carl waited until I looked his way to begin.
“Ahem.” He said, straightening his feet. “We’re here today for Jack the cat. He was a good cat. He never ran away from home, and he always used the litter box. Jack didn’t know very many people, but Daddy and I loved him. We’ll miss you Jack.”
I leaned on the butt of the shovel and nodded my head. “That was good Carl. Did you write that yourself?”
“Yeah. That’s all I could come up with.”
“It was just fine.” I stuck the head of the shovel into the pile and raised a mound of dirt. “I think Jack knows that you loved him. Here, you throw the first dirt on him. I think he’d like that.”
I stood behind and supported the weight while Carl flipped the head and spilled soil into the hole. He turned, his bottom lip deceiving his nonchalance. “I want to go inside.”
I nodded and watched my son, tense to his shoulders, march inside. My chest pinged with pain– for the simple reason that he was hurting. The rest of the dirt felt much heavier than it did the first time ‘round.