The air is still moist from the night when I with gloved hands take up the shovel to make the grave for our very old friend. It helps to be alone out here, bent over the earth with my thoughts.
Later the loneliness is edging close as thankfully my husband joins me in a cap to keep his ears warm. And so we take turns cracking through tree roots and pulling up stones. Helpmates. Silent in our grief, the passing of our ginger cat.
The scratch of iron and rock make a sharp cry to break the calm of the woods, fittingly rough, like how we aren’t ready to let go. Finally the hole is deep enough. We climb the steep hill and I take off my muddy boots before entering the house.
My eye drops toward the floor as I push the door open, to where he usually stands with curious eyes asking to go out. I cannot give a moment for tears just yet. I push through the house, to the cool spare room, where he waits in his carrier.
I take him outside and together my husband and I wrap him up for burial. He weighs the same in my hands as he ever did. Or is he lighter now, not twisting to protest being cradled like a human baby? I feel he must be given a final hug, something to say that inside the bundle is still the lovely creature who shared so many years with us. I curve around his still form, weeping freely, my husband weeping with me, the two of us with rubbery garden gloves, hands a little cartoonish, eyes as red as pickled eggs.
“Okay,” I say.
Somehow we fitted his resting place perfectly. The bundle settles into the depression as if sized by tireless craft, rather than the educated guess of two men unfamiliar with the digging of graves. I gather a wad of mud between my hands, say a word of good-bye and sprinkle him over with earth. My husband says his farewell and reaches out to let his gathered clay fall like dark heavy snow.
I am careful with the first shovels-full of dirt, filling in the edges until the ground is level with the top of him. Then another level until the black bundle is covered over. When the ground is filled in again, we pull a rake over the earth until it is smooth. Then I rake away the autumn leaves because they make his resting place seem too forlorn.
I decide we ought to cover him over in stones to keep animals from digging him up. We root around at the edge of the woods as the day opens up bright and warm above us. The mud on ours boots grows thicker as we work. We cannot seem to stop hunting for new stones. I like best the ones from under the leaves, the ones cleaned by a recent rain. One crude rock at a time, we build a mound to cover the grave of this our very old friend.
“We’ll put a ring of bulbs around it in the spring,” I say.
And my husband nods through his tears.
“I’m glad it got warm. I fell asleep last night dreading the cold, knowing how he hated it.”
We are silent a moment more before taking up the shovel and the rake and climbing the hill. At the side of the house, I realize we have forgotten the pick axe. When I return to the edge of the woods to fetch it, I see a small rock winking up from the ground. I almost turn away from it, but it seems that in noticing it, I ought to add it to the mound.