When I was 14 my parents took my sister on a holiday to Western Australia and left me to fend for myself for a week. I wasn’t a very exciting 14-year-old. Given that I didn’t like to drink alcohol or bash people yet there wasn’t much I could get up to in Glenorchy. I spent the week hanging around the house trying on all my Adidas sportswear and jerking off. Viva la teenager.
We lived in an old weatherboard rental with a shonky addition that had a corrugated plastic roof. Every time you took a shit, muted Tasmanian sunlight filtered through the plastic and illuminated the procedure. Almost like camping out, but every day.
The house was on a busy road across the street from my grandparents’. Inevitably, one of the cats got hit by a car while my parents were away. ‘Big Cat’ had been a member of the family for some years. We inherited her from Dad’s sister, who had responsibility issues. Though she wasn’t huge, she was bigger than the other cat my aunt had, ‘Little Cat’. In Tasmania it’s all relative.
She was a neurotic tabby, skittish and aloof. High volume traffic was a new thing for her. That’s how she wound up dead in the gutter on Elwick Road. With Mum and Dad away, Grandpa was tasked with the burial. Grandpa was a gruff man who liked liquor and slurred his words. Like me, he was often seen in a brown cardigan. Unlike me, he had no lips.
It was decided that she would go in the back corner of their yard. I went to assist Grandpa, carrying along the body in a green plastic bag. Grandpa carried the pitchfork.
Grandpa was busy building a wooden horse float at the time and was reluctant to allocate minutes to any other task. When he dug the hole it was shallow. He took the bag from me, turned it upside down and dropped the cat into the ground. She landed on her back, and he began to shovel the wet dirt onto her body.
After the hole was filled I noticed Big Cat’s feet still protruded from the earth.
‘Um, Grandpa,’ I said.
He saw this too and set out to fix it by thrusting the pitchfork into the buried cat’s body. He managed to fling some soil about, but rigor mortis had set in. Big Cat’s limbs were as rigid as a frozen chicken.
‘Fucken’ thing,’ Grandpa growled, as he threw the full force of his ageing frame into thrusting the pitchfork. He continued to berate the cat as if this might encourage her involuntary submersion into the ground. I looked on, shell-shocked at the indignity of the burial. The logic circuit in Grandpa’s head that should have equated ‘dead pet’ with ‘traumatised kid’ had shorted out. I guess he was just anxious to get back to his horse float.