I don’t feel half-bad. The big orange cat is back again sat beneath the apple tree, looking fat, and lazy, and defiant.
It was Friday night 23:46. Cirrus strips of glowing grey cloud parted to reveal the moon and then all of them dissipated, like they’d been cleared off the board - just like that. In a plastic bag beside me was Marmaduke my goldfish. He is dead. By my foot that had been swung lop-sidedly over the other leg was a small tabby cat in a red collar.
‘Yes yes. It’s a Friday.’
‘I don’t know why I don’t have plans. It’s probably because I’ve been out of the country for a month and my friends forgot I exist.’
The empathetic mew that followed made me think this cat may be alright. She’s kind of small but very curious.
‘Don’t touch that bag it’s got a fish in it!’
I grab the bag with gusto. I’ve had my moment and take my leave of the cat, of the apple tree, of the bench and stride out with confidence in to the night. Yes I know what I have to do, and he deserves a proper burial the little pesky pesce, poor guy being stuck with my mum in a heat wave. But five years. Five years! That’s enough to put on a tombstone Marms if you were a person and Bowie has a song about the length of duration and all. People may scorn your species, saying you were only a fish but you were unlike any other fish in that you had travelled. Seen places I’d not seen, like Walthamstow, and you’d survived a dark bleak winter with me in Norwich and the many practical jokes that had been played on you like when you got hidden behind a bin or when Alex poured milk in to your bowl. You really were an exemplar of your sub-species and extremely well-rounded. It was an honour to have known you Sir.
By this time I had reached the River Thames. Thoughts about my goldfish had been swimming (no pun intended) around my head whilst noises from pubs and heels on pavement had faded in and out of my mind. This part of the Thames is made for miniature burials (!) I thought to myself as I gazed upon its placid surface lit up faintly here and there by the glow of well-positioned street lamps. There were small steps leading down to the riverbed and shallow dinghy docking bays for the casual sailor. This is south-west-London-Richmond-Upon-Thames. Even the water is clearer here, and on a following Thursday I’ll see a resplendent stalk glide over the pools to alight on a delicate branch. Nothing like Wapping.
So I trod carefully down the steps and tufts of grass, pulled out the frozen body of Marmaduke wrapped up in a re-sealable (body-) bag and paper, then placed him on the water’s surface. My laces got wet from the lapping tides but it did not matter.
It wasn’t The Burial of My Dreams, I wanted the whole bit of paper to set on fire but only a corner did until it got sodden and floated away.
‘Darn. Sorry dude.’
I tread carefully back up the steps and look around to make sure no one had been watching me, not sure if I’d feel guilty if they had, but I wouldn’t feel like talking about it in any case. Thoughts pass like the clouds and the carcass gently drifting down the Thames to the sea. I’m glad it’s not the freezer he inhabits anymore and now he’s out in the open. It’s like the literal River Styx… only it’s the River Thames so it’s more like a metaphorical one, which is what it was in the first place.
I arrive back at the gated community where my current abode is and where my mum lives 24/7 - it’s nice, it’s peaceful, it’s secure. And there she is: the little tabby cat.
‘All done and buried.’ I sound quite chirpy and lower my voice, bend my knees and give the pretty cat a stroke around the ears.
‘Nothing in the bag.’ I rustle the bag to make sure she gets it and amble over to the entrance to the block of flats. As I get the keys out and jangle them about to get in to this tower block the tabby constantly vies for my attention and pulls her whole slinky body weight around and through my legs.
‘Meeeeeeew. Meeeeeeew. Miaoooow –’
‘Bugger.’ The cat got in. I don’t know how to get her out. She’s just staring at me blankly by the lift. So I try and balance the door open with one foot whilst extending my arms out to reach her with my hands but, roomph, she darts off around the corner and up the main stairwell. Oh come on! I have just buried a dear fishy friend and you won’t give me the peace of day, come back and get out of my mum’s flats. But it’s too late. The more I go forward the more flights of stairs she bounds up. It is 00:23 and I am tired and find this boring.
The following Thursday I am looking down at the atrocity that is the fat orange cat below the apple tree near the bench where the tabby used to hang out and I am quietly appalled. What if someone killed the cat? What if curiosity really did the thing it is often quoted as saying it does? The cat wore a collar so she had an owner - oh Christ - what if it was a little boy’s cat and now she’s dead rotting in some sicko’s apartment. It’s been six days now and the dread will only continue to brew. I pray every day now not to come in to contact with a Missing Cat poster pinned to a tree, which there are many of to avoid in Richmond.