My cat died quite recently of very advanced lung cancer. Cats are such tough little creatures, we didn’t even know she was properly sick until days before she died. I knew something was up, because she’d been disappearing for longer periods of time, but I figured she’d just had quite enough of the growing children and their “loving attention” for awhile.
But then, quite suddenly, she was dying and I was heartbroken and becoming increasingly poor trying to keep her alive and comfortable. When it was clear she wasn’t going to make it, I sat the girls down and laid out the truth of the thing as softly but firmly as possible.
“Caramia is very sick,” I said, “and she’s not going to be around much longer.”
“She gonna die?” the three year old asked.
I nodded, trying to talk around a mouthful of sudden grief.
The seven year old’s eyes welled up with tears. She came over and gave the cat a little kiss on her head and then looked up at me, sniffling. “Does this mean we can get a NEW cat?”
“GO TO YOUR ROOM!”
The girls ran for their lives upstairs. The vet came over and put our kitty down. I cried. The Engineer cried. We dug a hole in the backyard and built a little shrine.
Then I go into a mad cleaning frenzy and toss her litter box and bag up all the leftover food and whatnot to donate. All of this happened while the girls were upstairs. I could hear their little feet on the ceiling.
“Can you believe they already want a new cat?” I sigh.
“We’re not getting any pets,” the engineer swears. “Maybe a fish.”
“They’re going to come down here pretty soon and ask where Caramia is…” And at that moment the most terrible thought in the world pops uninvited into my head and, though I know I’m a terrible person for even thinking it, I have to say it aloud, if in a whisper. “What if we pretend we never had a cat?”
The Engineer does not laugh. I keep going.
“I just got rid of all the cat evidence – her litter box, food bowls…we could just act totally normal and then deny the whole cat thing. ‘What cat?’ ‘We never had a cat.’ ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, you know I’m allergic to cats.'” The image of the lie forms more completely in my mind. I can see the years of deceit ahead of me. This would stop a normal person.
(I suddenly picture my mother beaming with pride, channeling the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. “Yesssss, let your desire for deceit consume you, together we can really create a whopper for the children. Join me, and we can make up new truths.”)
“We could just pretend the cat was some kind of group hallucination,” I say, “an imaginary friend of epic proportion! Maybe, twenty years down the line some Christmas, we’ll all have a good laugh!”
Why are you looking at me like that. I wouldn’t REALLY do that.