Ode to a former cat – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Ode to a former cat

Ode to a former cat

I have always wanted to be able to play the piano. When I was a little girl, I gave it a bit of a crack, by which I mean a man came to my house every week and I made excuses for why I hadn’t practised, not even for one minute, and my mum became grossly embarrassed and gave him his money, and all I can remember is “Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit”.

But what I actually wanted to do was not learn how to play the piano, but to sit in front of the piano and run my fingers along the keys in an effortless expression of emotion. To bang and clang and glide and tap and kiss the keys in a way that communicated how I was feeling at that moment. And not just that, but in a way that drew the feeling out of me and flung it somewhere else. I wanted to be able to have an emotion, then sit at the piano and touch the notes that told the emotion.

Yesterday I wanted to do that. I couldn’t, because I can play exactly half of one song (Moonlight Sonata, of course) and half of one other song (obviously Fur Elise), but I wanted to so badly that my arms ached. I wanted to sit at my piano (I have one, because I am still pretending, twenty-five years later) and play the song that felt like “My cat has died and I am going to be sad forever”. If I play my emotions they sound like someone has dropped a second piano on top of my piano, and yet it feels completely strange to me that this is not an ability I possess. My body wants to do it.

I didn’t expect to find my cat, yesterday. He wasn’t in the backyard with the other cat, so I went to look for him, knowing that I wouldn’t find him and he would just come home the next morning. I was going to get lunch, actually, and planning to have a casual glance for my cat.

I didn’t even see him, on the side of the road. I saw the space around him. I saw the curve of his belly. I didn’t see him, my cat, dead on the side of the road; I just saw the shape he occupied in the corner of my eye, when he wasn’t supposed to be on the kitchen bench, asleep on my leg, hiding under my doona. I saw that shape there on the nature strip, the shape he took in his everydayness in my life.

As soon as I saw that shape, I cried. I have had a lot of cats, but when I didn’t see my cat on the side of the road I felt it between my ribs, and I cried before I had even registered what I had or hadn’t seen. I caught a minute glimpse of the colour of his fur (a kind of milky dirt) and I knew it was him as well as I have ever known anything, and I cried in a wretched and injured way, from my throat. I had parked in a man’s driveway, and he asked me to move, so I pointed at the shape on the road and said, “That’s my cat!”, though I don’t know what I expected him to do about it. Hug me, man on the road, I thought. That is my cat there, that shape, I haven’t had a good look but I am almost positive that is my cat and what are you going to do about it? Then a family came along the road–a woman with her three children–and I wanted to stop them, to shout out to the mother not to come any closer, because the children did what I expected they would, which was to point at the shape on the side of the road that had once been my cat, and to scream: “That cat is dead!” Because before then, maybe he hadn’t been dead. Once the children screamed, I would know for certain, and they did, and I did.

When I was a little girl, not playing the piano, my dad had six cats. He taught me what it meant to love a cat, to have the kind of cat who would sit next to you all day long. He taught me what it meant to lose a cat, to miss the shadow of a cat, to miss the darkness of a cat, to miss the hissing, spitting, howling, pure hatred of a cat. He taught me how to miss not the physicality of the cat but the way one small cat could fill a whole house, the way you could be so certain that the cat didn’t care for you except that there it was, on the arm of the couch, not touching you but near you, with its pupils changing shape as it blinked and looked at you, and the motoring in its chest because it turns out it did care for you after all. My dad and his cats taught me all of that.

Which is probably why, yesterday, my dad cancelled his meeting and came in his hybrid car, with suit pants on, and stood on the side of the road and looked at the shape that had once been my cat, and asked me if I had looked at him. I said, “Not really,” and he said, “Maybe you shouldn’t.” I told him I didn’t have anything to take him home in, and my dad stood there in his work clothes and his polished shoes, and took a new shirt from his car, and wrapped my former cat in it. Then he took him home in his car, in the front seat, and dug a hole for him in the 36-degree morning, and took my bloodied, broken, former cat and buried him with his head facing south, towards the sea.

And I didn’t play the piano, because I don’t know how. But I did write this, and it felt kind of the same.

  • Tim

    December 3, 2013 at 6:33 pm Reply

    It’s always hard losing a pet, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I remember a similar event a few years ago, I had a cat called Frank. He was perhaps a little too adventurous for his own good. I lived on a fairly busy road, but he always stayed within the confines of the yard of my modest little two bedroom rented unit.

    One day I couldn’t find him at all but knew he always came home in the evenings, I did go look for him for about an hour but resolved that he’d be fine. When I got the call from the veterinary practice that they had Frank my heart skipped a little thinking someone had found him and taken him into the vets and I could go in to pick him up, all was fine… that was exactly what happened, except all was not fine.

    Frank had been hit by a car, a passing family had seen the accident, scooped him up and taken him in to the vets to help him out, which I was thankful for. He wasn’t bloody, but he was broken beyond repair. My little cat was gone.

    I still have his collar at home with its little bell, I look at it from time to time to remember him fondly.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm Reply

      Oh, mate. I feels like a small thing, just a cat, “just” a cat, but it isn’t small at all. Love to you.

    • Ruth Cooke

      December 6, 2013 at 4:10 am Reply

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Anna. This is one of the most beautifully written posts I have ever read, by the way. (((Hugs)))

  • bigwords

    December 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm Reply

    From one fellow lover of cats to another – I get it and your pain. Much love xx

  • Kelly Exeter

    December 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm Reply

    I love when our Dads know exactly what we need them to do. I am devastated for you lovely. Wish I had more words than that but I don’t :(

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:06 pm Reply

      Thank you, my friend. Dads have that special knack, somehow. My dad has saved me (much more than) once, just like this! x

  • Alana

    December 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm Reply

    Oh Anna. He was beautiful. I know what it is to lose a cat, but could never have expressed it so well. xx

  • John James

    December 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm Reply

    I know I’ll have to write a post like that one day… I’m not looking forward to it…

    One thing I do know… it’s our love of our pets that inspire us to write posts like this… as tragic as your loss is, knowing that monkeys like us are capable of loving little souls of another species always make me feel that, despite all our faults, we monkeys are a wonderful species… our empathy for other creatures is quite beautiful and extraordinary…

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm Reply

      They do! He has brought some things out of me that I hadn’t thought before, for which I am grateful.

  • karen

    December 3, 2013 at 8:05 pm Reply

    Fuck, Anna. We have a chocolate (he’s not black!) Burmese called Bert, and I completely and utterly subscribe to your version of the way a small cat can occupy the space of an entire house. Keep pounding your sad song on the keys for as long as you need to. Sorry for your loss. x

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm Reply

      Chocolate Burmese might be the best creatures there are. I hope Bert gives you a long, long companionship x

  • Aphida

    December 4, 2013 at 2:01 am Reply

    Oh Anna – I don’t know you but the same thing happened to me once. Like an old war wound, it still aches sometimes. I too fail to play the same pieces on the piano and know the need/desire to … to … to JUST. But the piece you’ve written is a perfect memorial, as any cat owner would know. Your lovely cat would be proud of you. Me too.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:08 pm Reply

      Thank you :) I’m sorry for your sometimes-open wound, too.

  • Linnea

    December 4, 2013 at 6:13 am Reply

    It feels so wretched to lose a beloved pet. I think the bottom drops out of your heart.
    On a funnier note, I laughed at EGBDF. In the days when I was ‘not’ practicing piano, EGBDF did not stand for ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit’ , it stood for ‘Every Good Boy Deserves FUDGE’. We’re so health conscious these days but I think if I’d been good and practiced I’d have deserved fudge. Yum.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:08 pm Reply

      It really does.

      This was the 80s! Maybe it is just good girls that deserve fudge. In fact, I’m fairly sure I deserve some right now.

  • JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    December 4, 2013 at 12:24 pm Reply

    Oh Anna I want to hug you because I know. I found one of my cats about ten years ago outside on the gutter, hit by a car. I cried and cried. I couldn’t go to work. I think I possibly did cry all day and into the night. The next morning I had to go to work with red, sore eyes. “It’s a cat!” they said, mockingly. They didn’t get it.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:10 pm Reply

      Oh Jodi, it is the WORST. Luckily (well, unluckily, in the circumstances) I’ve been able to sit at home and cry on my own, with my chocolate.

  • Michelle Holland

    December 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm Reply

    Such a haunting post Anna. I am so very sorry for your loss. As an animal lover, I understand how much we can love our pets and how they are not just pets – they are part of the family.

    I want to hug you, I want to hug your Dad…sending you all the hugs xx

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 6:10 pm Reply

      Thank you Shell x

      My dad is very, very good for hugging. I’m so lucky to have someone like him in my life.

  • Krissie

    December 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm Reply

    Dear Anna,
    On the morning you found your poor sweet cat, I had to take my lovely old Frida to the vet for a final goodbye.
    She woke up from her nap in the sun the day before and her back legs just stopped working. She was 18.
    Even though she was a cranky, dribbly old thing we all miss her – the kids, husband, dogs.
    So that cat-shaped hole in your heart is shared here and our thoughts are with you.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      December 5, 2013 at 7:11 pm Reply

      Oh, I’m so sorry Krissie. I’d much rather not have to share this hole with anyone, but at least it means we had a cat in our lives x

  • Erin Marie

    March 9, 2016 at 2:39 pm Reply

    I am a dog person but this made me cry.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      March 9, 2016 at 9:20 pm Reply

      I still miss him :( Norman is brilliant but he’s no Dexter.

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