There is a box I am afraid to open sitting on my mantlepiece.
It's been sitting there since late September, 2002.
This box has always seemed unusually heavy to me. The contents sigh as they shift about inside their cardboard tomb. An ignominious end to the life of one so loved.
The box is not very large at all, but it has loomed over me for these last 6 years. My cat - what is left of my cat - lays inside. All 8 pounds of her, whiskers, tumor, teeth and all. All of that fur. The remaining hairballs she didn't live to hork up onto the floor. Great big eyes of greenish yellow. A heart that only had room for me in it, but that managed to make a tiny amount of space for a husband and eventually a little baby girl.
Well, so long as those two remembered their manners. She was a very formal kitty, after all. Forever wearing her tuxedo, ready for a party at a moment's notice. She used to sit very upright, her long, luxurious tail daintily wrapped about her white-tipped paws; bright white cravat cleaned, with every hair (and there were many) in place.
She wasn't always so formal, my first kitty, she came from a humble beginning: a farm somewhere in eastern Massachusetts. My friend (and roomie), Steph, brought her home from a farm where my kitty and her brother were the last of the litter. She was all eyes and whiskers, a tiny puff of black fur. Eager to pounce on anything that moved, flew, scuttled or flicked.
Long years passed. A strange lump was found. A tumor. Chemotherapy followed and we eked out one more year together, although it was not a good year for her, it was time enough for me to learn to say goodbye. She died in my arms one late September day. Her ashes were returned to me in an unusually heavy box.
I never opened that box. I was afraid of what I might see inside. Would there be teeth?
Today, however, I finally found an appropriate home for the ashes of my kitty (and the two others that followed her: Dart, out of turn at 7 and Pixel well into his 17th year) and the box wouldn't fit in the bright red, lidded, cache pot that would be her final (and far more fitting) home. Steeling myself I opened the box, alone in my kitchen.
There inside was a plastic bag and in the bag just grey, gritty dust. Just some ashes. Just Xerxes. No more, no less, but nothing untoward, if you know what I mean.
I placed that rude plastic bag into the elegant cache pot, added in the sealed containers that held her brothers and put the lid on the pot. Back on the mantlepiece it went where it sits in a place of honor, where my cats rest now in a fitting container.
There it sits, holding three cat-shaped pieces of my heart.