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A Shout From The Attic: Cat In The Box

"How can one ever say sufficient ‘goodbye’ to a beloved pet who has been one’s solitary friend and keeper of secrets?'' Ronnie Bray recalls the last sad journey of a pet cat, Dinky.

Read more of Ronnie's rich slices of lifetime experience by clicking on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his exuberant weekly columns, Letter From America.

Some things are hard to bear, and some things are made harder by the addition of other hardships that put the bearer beyond the limits of his endurance.

And so it was that I had reached Market Street on my way to the vets in High Street having carried the box with the sick-beyond-repair cat on his last journey when I bumped into one of nature’s most cruel machinations, a thoughtless schoolboy.

I must have been about ten years old because that is the age when I was first ordered to wear spectacles by the school oculist who manufactured a pair out of gold wire. I know I looked stupid in them because when I put them on, that is how I felt. I also believed that they were as big as the Ritz Cinema and flashing on and off like a Belisha Beacon to attract as much attention as possible to me. I was a self-conscious boy, which is strange when I remember how easily and how much ignored I was, but perhaps that is the essence of paranoia.

I had rounded the top of Fitzwilliam Street carrying the box between my arms, descended Trinity Street, turning on Upperhead Row through Sparrow Park, and turned down Dundas Street to its junction with Market Street, opposite Barkers sports shop when I chanced upon my classmate. In fairness to him, he did not know my errand, or what was in the box. He saw only my new eyeglasses and, in true schoolboy fashion, he began to point, laugh, and heap on puerile witticisms that added humiliation to my already breaking heart.

I loved our cats because they were friendly and enjoyed sleeping under the covers of my bed. They were the only things that I felt close to and they always reciprocated my interest and affection. Having to take Dinky, as all our black cats were named, to the place of his unnatural demise on account of age-related illness was the cause of pain and my first real hint of tragedy and its all-pervasive pathos that felt as if it would tear my heart in two. There was no one I could talk to and explain my feelings for all ears were closed to a child’s talk in my home, and I had no other friends.

Nothing could have made me comfortable with glasses, because they could not be hidden. I did find the fine gold wire wound around the side arms ideal for making crystal sets, so they eventually served a useful purpose. But this fateful Saturday morning, having just received them, I had them on. I knew that everyone could see them and I feared they were making mental notes to use in some kind of emotional assault on me.

Then there was the box, almost a coffin, with my furry but very sick friend that I knew I would not be bringing home, and my heart was tossed about by the mixed emotions of fear and hurt until I hardly could see my way for tears when my classmate stopped to enjoy the spectacle of me in spectacles.

I do not remember which one it was, and I know that he was not intentionally cruel because none of my class, boys or girls, were noticeably heartless, but he found the sight amusing and he laughed at me. I could not explain my hurt, only endure it for as long as it pleased him to detain me on the street corner, and was pleased when sport done, he went on his way leaving me to complete my journey and consummate my assignment.

My heart, heavy at the start, became disconsolate as I picked my way towards the animal clinic purblind from speechless anger and unguarded tears that I hope no one would see.

How can one ever say sufficient ‘goodbye’ to a beloved pet who has been one’s solitary friend and keeper of secrets? I longed for a voice that would be heard, so that I could tell my pain and have heartsease, but it was not to be. When I got back to the house, my empty arms aching worse than they did when I carried my pitiful burden down to town, I took off my glasses and put them in my drawer and did not wear spectacles again until I was almost sixty years old.

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