I am a funeral possession of one. My clothes are black, my eyes shaded with mirror sunglasses. On one side of the lens, it’s sunny. On the other, tears rain.
A line of chattering children approach. I summon up a smile. Small. Tight. They pass by in the colourful clothing of school holidays, with sidelong glances, curious and quick.
As soon as they’ve gone, I step off the path to clamber up a steep-sided slope. Spiky wait-a-while vines tug at my clothing, snag on my skin, leaving cuts on my face and hands. I start to pant. My heart thumps. And I could almost laugh as I imagine the news flash: Elderly woman found in National Park, supposed heart attack, with a hideous secret in her backpack.
“She was strange,” my neighbour would comment, eyebrows arched over her mocking eyes. “Lived on her own for years with just a cat for company. Fancy that.”
I keep on walking until I come to a massive fig tree. As the sounds of my breaths fade, the music of the forest cuts in… birds singing, shushing leaves, murmuring wind. The air is sweet with the vanilla of tropical orchids. A bouquet as lush as the most expensive hothouse flowers.
I select an album of the abbess, Hildegaard von Bingen on my iPhone. She, an unusual, solitary, and devout woman, lover of all wild things and creator of not-quite-Latin, would surely approve of the use of her music in this not-quite-churchly ceremony. And medieval violins begin to blend seamlessly with a growing congregation of whining mosquitoes.
From my backpack, I remove a blanket-bound package, pulling wool away from brown fur. The eyes are open, revealing moist gold. I press the eyelids closed. That’s better. The tongue remains swollen, wedged between bared teeth. But there’s nothing I can do about that. And when I place him at the base of the fig tree and tuck his tail around his body, he almost looks as he once did, purring in his usual spot on the bed.
I gather up handfuls of leaves, dirt fills my nails, loamy and rich. Covering his fur, I intone, “From dust to dust, from forest to forest,” remembering the day a stray cat emerged from the forest and chose to share his life with me.
The sun fades and the forest grows dark, I return the blanket to the backpack and stand. It’s time to return to a house that is longer a home. To an emptiness that chokes on the silence of a final expelled breath.