The Cat's in the Bag This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

January 6, 2012
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The field of silvery-green wild grasses just beyond the upper gardens of the farm were tall and striped with maroon in late February. Aside from the whistling breeze and the distant clamor of the farmhouse, the only sound that could be heard was the rhythmic scraping of two shovels. The old, grey wheelbarrow at my side was filled with the corpses of squirrels, presumably killed by the new pesticide we began using earlier that month. The small, ash-brown pelts were torn and splattered with dried blood; the farm cat had probably found them after they were already dead. A few students were concerned for the health of the cat and the effects the pesticide might have on her, but the farm manager had dismissed their comments hastily.

There was a loud clang. Alex’s shovel had hit a large rock, and after some prompting, Leo helped remove it from the hole. They threw it aside, but I approached it, brushing the loose dirt off of it. It would be perfect for a tombstone, if it weren’t so large. Instead there was a collection of old, red bricks and cinder-blocks broken up into attractive shapes, which would make suitable monuments for the small grave. Even though it was probably a childish idea to bury the dead vermin we had collected across the grounds, it gave us a sense of ritual among the pragmatic air of the farm school. After the remains were committed to the earth, I placed a small bouquet of magenta flowers down on the sandy, silver soil. It was the last day of school before spring break.

Two weeks later, we returned to school, and went out to the fields to search for more unfortunate squirrels. There, among the uneven patches of grass in the orchard, on the near side of the farmhouse, was the cat. We prepared a wheelbarrow and shovels, but the farm manager stopped us.

“Hold it, hold it guys. What are you doing? That thing goes in the dumpster. I’m very sorry that your cat died, but it could be full of disease, and we can’t waste our farmland on burying animals.” He handed us a large plastic bag.

Leo and Alex shot him dirty looks as he passed by without another word. As soon as he was out of sight, Alex told me, “Go get another brick and some flowers and meet us out at the cemetery.”

I complied immediately, and as I looked over my shoulder I saw them whispering to themselves and collecting large rocks from the side of the barn before disappearing behind the greenhouse with the wheelbarrow, where the dumpsters were. I stood by the grave with the brick and the fuchsia flowers, which were tied neatly together with a length of brown twine. The stormy sky was churning with clouds like a thick, grey stew; every now and then a murder of crows flapped in and out of the murk.

Alex and Leo ran up quickly together, a large bundle bulging from Leo’s jacket, and Alex holding a muddy shovel. They approached without a word, and Alex began digging immediately. Leo unwrapped his jacket and revealed the cat, wrapped up in a plastic bag, smaller than the one the farm manager had given us. Leo handed me a Sharpie, and with immediate understanding I wrote down the date and a small note: “In Remembrance of the Farm Cat.” We placed the stone and the flowers on the grave and left for our next class. A light, early-spring shower began as we put away the tools, and left behind in the dumpster was a trash bag full of rocks. We never spoke of it again.

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