A grove of olives

ONCE I HAD to bury a cat. She was a beautiful cat, lithe of limb, delicate, a great leaper. Slender and brown, a long-legged, silky-furred Burmese. She was called Dido, for reasons important at the time. When my neighbour knocked on the door and said, There is a cat in the middle of the road, it looks like yours, I said, Oh no, I don't think it would be. Because she was young and quick and clever and would not get run over. But it was her. I still cannot understand how it could have happened. Mine is a quiet street, going nowhere, the traffic is always local, and not fast. I had no fears of her wandering the neighbourhood, crossing the road. I wonder if it was somehow deliberate, a wanton act of destruction.

I went and picked her up. She was already stiff, her fur dull, all the fluid movement gone out of her. She was whole, unmarked, there was no evidence of the blow that killed her. I lay her on the table on the terrace and sat beside her and mourned. There was a place down the backyard for a grave, where the soil was friable and leaf-littered. Tree roots made digging the hole hard, but with a mattock it was soon done. In the linen press was an old sheet of fine linen that had worn through and got a great split in it. I tore off a whole bit and wrapped her in that, and lay her in the earth. I could not bear the thought of earth clogging her fur, sifting in to her ears and nostrils – it seemed too cruel, too careless, to bury her without a shroud. She was a cat, but I understood why people need to perform certain acts of burial. A loved creature cannot be tossed away like rubbish. When I was a girl I played Antigone, a sister who risks her ruler's displeasure and indeed incurs death at his hands, because she cannot bear not to bury her brother, though the king considers him disgraced and has forbidden it. Her punishment is to be buried alive, and still she believes she must perform her sacred duties.

So I lay her in the earth, and wept, and spoke the words of Hamlet's mother over Ophelia's grave: and from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring. I did not think them in any way too grand for my Dido. And I knew violets would grow there, because they were all about, and I pulled some runners across and tucked them into the newly dug soil. I put a small rock to mark the place. Not a cross, she wasn't a Christian cat, her rites were not those of that church. The violets spread, vegetation encroached, I remembered her grave, and never dug there.

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