She was an orphan. Becky found her outside the business school at Baylor seventeen years ago, the rest of her family trapped by campus maintenance men and taken away. Becky named her Josephine and got her a life partner named Dartanian from the pound.
Josephine refused to lick herself clean and was soon too rotund to reach her filthiest parts anyway. So the chore fell to Dartanian, who would put it off until her back hair began to dreadlock and her dandruff was visible from across the room. Then he’d ambush her, bowl her over, pin her down with his forearms and give her a bath.
She was the Courtney Love of cats. Promiscuous until fixed. Perpetually disheveled. If we could have rolled up the fur on her legs we would have no doubt uncovered an array of bruises and track marks. I’m pretty sure she was a user.
When Dartanian passed a few years ago, we quickly realized how essential he’d been to Josephine’s hygiene and mental health. The widowed Josephine laid around more than ever – which I truly did not believe was even possible. And within a week’s time she began twitching her skin all over in a naive attempt to scratch the constant itch of filth.
With a brush I could keep her clean(ish) but there wasn’t much we could do about the lonely. She ate a lot.
Last week, as I was packing to head out of town for the weekend, a neighbor kid rang the doorbell. “Your cat’s dead.”
There, in the shade of a hackberry tree, Josephine lay sprawled out, eternally relaxed.
I abandoned my suitcase and grabbed a shovel. India and Ivey, eight year-olds from the cul-de-sac, offered their condolences as I worked. Boys from across the street grabbed sticks and dared one another to touch her. Becky swaddled Josephine in a rug and held her safely out of reach.
“It’s just nature’s course,” Ivey said.
The service was small and simple. We stood around her body, wrapped in rug, laid to rest in a small hole in the back yard beside Dartanian. We each remembered something we liked about her. No mention of rancorous smells or dingleberries or dandruff. Just playful kitten years, purring, good morning greetings meowed as we passed her on the way to the van.
Then I prayed, thanking God for Becky’s compassionate rescue, for Josephine’s long life, for a painless end to it, for letting us be her family. Amen.
A future hall of fame safety held his mother around the waist and wept. The girls lowered their heads and wiped their cheeks. And I explained to the perplexed five year-old that Josephine was our friend and it’s OK to cry when we say goodbye to friends. “Josephine in heaven with Jesus eating,” he said to comfort or argue against the sadness.
“I want to go there,” he said. “I want to eat with Jesus.”
“Not today,” I said.
“You always say that.”