By Mary Margret Daughtridge
(Indulge me; I’m going off-topic.)
I finally found Crystal’s mouse toy in the corner behind the floor lamp, between my big teal leather armchair and the wall.
When I say “mouse toy,” don’t imagine small, gray, furry. It looks like it escaped from a Dr. Seuss book. It measures about ten inches from pointy pink nose to tail tip. One end is half-a-mouse: a lavender mouse head with purple ears, and two lavender, vaguely crocodile-looking front legs. From there it turns into an empty ring striped cone of purple and white fabric tapering to a point.
Never a thing of beauty, after ten years of play, the purple dye has worn off the ears, the cone of fabric is limp, and the once-white stripes are brownish-grey with grime.
I’d have thrown it out years ago, but it’s the only toy, of the dozens I bought her, that Crystal ever played with.
Not that I ever saw her do it.
She kept it mostly in the dining room and hall, and come morning, I’d find it sprawled in a different section of floor.
The morning after I buried her, when I went around the house picking up her things to give away, I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t up against the cabinet in the dining room where I had last seen it.
Oh well. Its grubby condition guaranteed no one would want it for their cat. When I found it, I would toss it. I’ve always believed it's a good idea to remove a pet’s possessions, after they are gone. I don’t need something to remember them by; they are graven on my heart. And the poignant sight of an empty bed or unused food bowl…Well.
I gave the untouched toys and unopened cans of food to my dental hygienist whose beloved Chloe looks a lot like Crystal.
The opened bags of dry food and litter went to a friend who uses the same brands. I washed the stainless steel food and water bowls and stored them in the utility room. Crystal wasn’t the first pet to use them, and she won’t be the last.
Crystal was gone; her earthly effects, disposed of.
Of Crystal’s life there’s not much to say. I took her in when she was about two, after her first person died.
She was a perfectly good cat, tidy in her habits. If you needed a cat she was one, but she was sort of the striped down, no frills, small economy model. Dependable, with good mileage and all that, but the only way to say more would be to list all the flaws she didn’t have. I refuse to diminish her in that way.
She was the best cat she knew how to be. A friend theorized that this was Crystal’s first incarnation as a pet. Possibly, her first try at being a cat at all.
Maybe that explains it. I admit she didn’t seem to know much about how to go about living with people.
All I know is, only in the last month of her life did she seek opportunities to sit or lie close to me.
At first, to my surprise, at night when I was reading, she began to curl up right next to my legs on the teal chair’s hassock. Next she began to walk from the hassock to the chair’s wide arms, where she would sit, and sometimes butt my shoulder to make me pet her. If I stopped to soon, she'd paw me.
From there she advanced to kneading my belly, and finally, to lying down on my stretched out thighs. For the first time in her life, she voluntarily lay in my lap.
Pleasure would be too strong a word, but for the first time in her life, she seemed to draw comfort from my proximity.
Crystal had moved past being a domestic animal, and discovered what it meant to be a pet.
The vet, a pretty young woman with a sweet voice, said a sudden change of personality in a cat was a bad sign. They couldn't get a culture, and her white cell count was normal, but whatever was causing these attacks of what looked like cystitis, it was happening more frequently. Crystal was clearly getting worse, and every trip to the vet was more traumatic for her. There was no need to draw things out with a lot of tests that would likely only show that she was terminally ill.
I decided it was time to put her to sleep.
A week ago today, my friend and I buried her beside my last two dogs. Not too close, but not alone.
I readily accepted that Crystal’s “breakthrough” had really only been a sign of imminent death. It made sense and it changed nothing of what I felt. I was glad I’d had her for twelve years and sad she was gone.
And then I found her mouse toy beside my chair. I can’t recall it ever being there before. Sometime in the last night of her life she had moved it from the dining room and somehow gotten it behind the floor lamp. Pushed it up against the teal chair. Where it could be close to me.
It’s still there. I haven’t been able to bring myself to move it.
Is it hopelessly sentimental of me to see the mouse toy as a message, or at least an intentional act?
And she left a message, what do you think the message is?