Sunday, October 22, 2006
Scribblings: Creatures Great and Small
(...an excerpt from my book, CHRYSALIS)
We have a cat. Remy found a skinny kitten shivering and soaked from the storm. He fixed her a bowl of warm milk, but she wouldn't drink. She is yellow and white -- not more than eight or ten weeks old.
I think the kitten is sick. I wrap her warmly in a small towel, but she continues to shiver. I try to feed her with an eyedropper. Not much luck. She is limp, and I can feel her heart racing under her skinny ribs. She opens her mouth to 'meow,' but rattles instead.
She is dying. Her heart still beats, rapid and feeble, and she lies quietly as I stroke her head.
Three days later the kitten is dead. Remy and Chris weep. We bury her in the back yard, wrapped in the little towel, onto which I have pinned a note:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
The boys are not comforted. I put my arms around them and we all three weep.
Vonnegut's Tralformadorians, seeing into the fourth dimension, perceive the universe in a different way. "All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralformadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It's just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.
"When a Tralformadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition at that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralformadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes!"
So it goes. I am three years old and they have taken me to say "goodbye" to my grandpa, who is sleeping is flowers, but he doesn't wake no matter what is said to him. Then I am six years old, having another encounter with vulture Death. I hold a brown leather dog collar. Sparky was a good dog, now he is dead, run over by a truck. The truck meant no harm. The driver was sorry, and he said so. I can't help wondering what it's like to feel yourself dying. And whether there really is an afterlife, or if all the hymns and prayers and baptisms are meaningless. I think of the earnest tears I shed over uncountable cats and dogs and birds that died somewhere back in my childhood.
"I am sorry the kitty died," I say, tucking the boys into bed.
"I am sorry, too," Remy whispers. "I prayed she would get better. I thought she might."
"It hurts her to be dead?" asks Chris.
"No, it doesn't hurt her," I say. (What the hell do I know about being dead?) "The poor kitty is better off."
"Oh," he says, gazing at me with his trusting light-colored eyes.
"I wish she was still alive," says Remy.
"I wish she was, too." I hug them all goodnight. In some matters of great importance there are no right words. So it goes.
Quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five