Angel of Death

Molly the Cat was sitting motionless on the back stoop.

She’s the first cat I’ve ever had, having grown up more of a dog person, so she is teaching me all about cats. One of the things I’ve learned is that cats often sit motionless for long periods of time. When they are not sleeping, I think they are trying to demonstrate what they might look like stuffed. Most of the time, they’re sleeping.

But I am standing quietly behind her, in the kitchen, watching her through the screen door, when I detect a slight variation in her stance. Her body tenses slightly, her ears swivel toward a certain point in the backyard and her feet gather up under her as she slowly lowers herself into a crouch. Her back legs tense and flex a few times. I am about to learn something new, firsthand…

I know a girl, her name is Kristin. She’ll never see this, so I am using her real name. She is a beautiful child, just eighteen years old, or maybe seventeen, a fresh, vibrant new bloom. She is my niece’s best friend, has been for a decade. They are rarely apart. They might as well be sisters, for all the sleepovers they have had at each others’ homes. They have studied together, played together, caroused around Southern California together, and I have no doubt have drunk together and started to learn about boys together. Last week, just last week, they graduated from high school together. They rigged it so they could walk together in the procession, and then they partied together until dawn.

As long as I have known Kristin, she has lived alone with her mother, in an apartment, just the two of them. I talked to her mom twice. Once on the phone when I took the girls to Disneyland (naturally I had to be checked out), and once when I found an unrecognized phone number programmed into my cell phone. It was hers, and we spoke for a minute, not knowing each other. She figured out who I was first, before I could solve the puzzle, so I thought she must be pretty smart.

I missed the graduation ceremony myself, and I still had not met Kristin’s mom when I made a little photo slide show of the affair, using what was on the memory card of someone’s digital camera. One shot that I included was of the two graduates just after the ceremony, posing in their caps and gowns, holding their bouquets and flanked by their two proud mothers. Smiles of pride, joy, relief and mischief. Just a week ago.

Kristin’s mom was a waitress, so it can’t have been easy to get the kid through high school, and who knows what might come next? We sometimes think we know, but we don’t, really. Last night, coming home from work sometime after midnight, her car was struck by another, and she was killed.

She was two blocks from the apartment, making the last left turn. The other car rammed hers broadside and pushed it at least a hundred feet down the street, into a tree, where it stopped and caught fire. It must have been all over in a matter of seconds, and the other driver fled.

There are some older sisters, but they have been out of the nest for a long time. So Kristin won’t be completely alone. Just more alone than she has ever been. I try to think how I would handle this myself, at her age, and my mind just won’t look at it. We think we know, but we don’t, really.

It happens so fast I hardly believe it. Molly the Cat rockets off the back stoop, and in about a second she is at the cinderblock wall at the distant end of the yard, 60 feet away. She looks into the bougainvillea there for another second, then stands on her hind legs and bats something from a branch to the ground, floomp. There is the momentary peeping and shrieking of the baby mockingbird, and then Molly the Cat is running, bird in her mouth, into my kitchen. In those ten seconds, she has brought mindless, meaningless, inexplicable death, but she has done nothing wrong, nothing I can punish her for, and she is confused at my raised voice.

We think we know, but we don’t, really.

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8 Replies to “Angel of Death”

  1. Wow. Nice post, Larry. At first I was wondering where your tangent was leading, but it all came together nicely in the end. It’s really awkward to be faced with someone who has suffered loss like that. We want to be kind and gentle. We want to be comforting. But what can we say? There are no words, nothing real. Because you’re right; we think we know, but we don’t, really.

  2. No, of course we don’t know… But I’m sure the baby mockingbird ate right, exercised regularly, went on regular checkups, hurried home when night fell, and maybe even prayed a little before it went to bed. Basically meaningless, of course, but it probably made the mockingbird breathe a little easier and twitch its head a little less nervously.

    As one or two might have told you already, you have a really nice blog Рsad enough to be funny. And since you asked, the HTML code for ̩ is [ampersand]#233; or [ampersand]eacute;

  3. Oh my gosh Larry, I didn’t see that coming at all. Just as the people who knew Kristin’s mom didn’t. You are right, we’ll never know completely, but I got that momentary sick feeling in my stomach after reading that, I had to go back & re-read it to make sure I read it correctly- just like when a person is told that their loved one has died, it just doesn’t really sink in at first. They often ask for it to be repeated or clarified. What’s awful is that death can never really be clarified- it can only be endured bc of its inevitability.

  4. D’Cat – Thank you. This is a realm in which women do better. The comforting realm. I want to beat somebody up, but that will probably not help.

    Trixie – So nice to see you here! I’ll be using the code you gave me in my terrorist activities. Wanna get together for coffee after the revolution?

    T1 – We are all enduring here. Thank you for your thoughts.


  5. Can I rent Molly from your for like, a day? My backyard’s like a scene out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” lately and I could use some predatory help.

  6. I can’t know what it’s like to be a young woman suffering the unexpected tragic loss of the only parent she’s ever known, but I do know the experiences of pain and grieving. And, I can’t lead someone through the process of healing such a wound, but I can sit nearby. I can’t make it all better, but if I’m not afraid of someone else’s tears, I can be soft and absorbent.

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