The garden is overgrown now. I should have expected that. You can’t stay away for a dozen years and expect your garden to look the same, especially on a summer afternoon with every flower and shrub shoving upwards to get a bigger share of the sunshine.
I had left in a rush, never giving the garden a thought although I had spent so much time there, digging in compost, pruning judiciously, moving plants to a better spot. Untidy and overgrown as it looks now I still feel a glow of pride at the riotous confusion.
How could I have just driven away and left that clematis dripping blossoms throughout the blue spruce? Or that Warm Welcome rose blooming around the door? Warm Welcome indeed! No-one used to get a warm welcome in that house, least of all me.
I had suffered that ice-cold atmosphere, that rejection from my wife for years, hoping for escape but never leaving. Why had I married her? Because she was beautiful. Because I had not looked past that to see the frozen soul inside. Why had I stayed? Looking back I can’t really say, except that the hospital took almost all of my time, and any time left over I spent in the garden. Anywhere other than the house.
Of all things, it was the cat that released me. I hadn’t even liked it particularly. I fed it each day because I knew no-one else would. I brought it into the house when the weather got cold. I even let it curl up on my lap. My wife, who had bought the cat because she admired the blue of its eyes, ignored it much as she ignored me, except that she never insulted the cat, never made it doubt its sanity, its intelligence, its manhood as she made me doubt mine.
I don’t know if cats have sanity or intelligence and I never knew if it was male or female – that’s not the point. The point is – one morning it pulled itself in the door covered with blood and dragging its rear end. I had to leave to get to the hospital – trauma surgery doesn’t wait - so I called upstairs to my wife to take the cat to the vet. I heard no answer so I ran upstairs and shook her awake to make sure she heard me. I quickly made the cat a bed with water beside it before I left.
When I got home, late as usual after trying to patch an injured teenager back together, the cat was in almost the same place, dead. Stretched out stiff as if in agony.
“Didn’t you take the cat to the vet?” I called.
“No? Why not?” I ran upstairs to face her.
With an icy smile she said, “I thought I needed a manicure before lunch. And that cat is so dirty anyway. I’m sure it has fleas.”
The sheer wanton suffering she could have prevented overwhelmed me, and something snapped in my brain. I wrapped a towel around the body of the cat, grabbed a shovel and left. Somewhere in a patch of grass where I thought the ground might be soft I stopped the car, dug a grave and buried the cat. As I tamped down the ground, I wished I had made more effort to be kind to it.