My phone rang yesterday. I didn’t recognize the name or number, but since it was a local area code, I answered. The woman on the phone says she’s lost her cat and been given my phone number to call for information.
I’m confused, and don’t think much of it, since I have one of those phone numbers that sound like it belongs to a business. I tell her she has the wrong number and wish her luck.
She calls back a little while later, and I don’t answer.
A little while after that, I get another call, this time from a man – also with a local phone number, so I answer. He says he’s been given my number by the Pet Microchip Service, and that The Child had found his cat, which was dead.
I say, there must be some mistake. My Child would have told me if she’d found a cat. We have two pets registered with that same service: The service made a mistake. I hope you find your cat.
A short while after that, the service calls. They had received a call from The Child the other day, they say. She reported finding a dead cat with one of their collar tags a few days ago. She found it at the College next door to our house.
That doesn’t sound right, I tell him. And then it hits me: Yes, I have two pets registered with this service, but in my name, not the name of my eleven-year-old child. And I certainly didn’t mention that I live next door to the College when I filled out their forms.
I call The Child, who’s at school. Her teacher brings her to the phone.
Sweetheart, I say. Did you find somebody’s cat recently?
Yes, she says.
Do you know what happened to the cat? I ask. The owner called me and wants to know.
The cat died, she said. So I buried it.
I’m sorry, what?
Where did you bury it? I ask.
At the college, by the tree, she says. I don’t know. I’m not really sure. I put it in a shoebox and I buried it.
Why didn’t you tell me this? I ask.
I don’t know. I didn’t want to.
Why did you bury the cat?
Because it was dead, she says.
This is all perfectly logical, I think. But is it normal? Do I want to know? Does she need help? Do I?
I call the cat’s owner back and report that, yes, my child found his cat, called the service number from the collar, read the ID to them off the tag, and then buried the cat.
Did she find just the collar? Was the collar on the cat? he asks.
I realize what he wants to know: if the collar was found but not the cat, maybe his cat is still out there.
Except I’ve just told him, my child buried his cat. I repeat this.
That’s … incredible, he says. Then after a pause: Is it possible for me to speak to this child? I’d just like to understand what happened.
Yes, I tell him, call me back this evening after dinner. I’d like to talk to her first.
I pick The Child up from school and in the car, we discuss the cat. She answers all my questions: Yes, she wore gloves when she touched it. She buried it near the tree near the tulips, but isn’t sure she could find the spot again. Yes, it was definitely dead: something had been eating at it. And she didn’t tell me because she just didn’t want to talk about it.
Which I guess I can understand.
Once we cover the facts, she tells me about her day at school and the game she played with her friend. She really liked the Hawaiian bagel I put into her lunch.
That evening, the man calls back at exactly the time he said he would.
The Child says, okay, I can talk to him. I can do it myself.
She takes the phone into another room, and comes back in less than five minutes, done.
I ask, was it okay?
I ask myself, Is this normal for eleven? Is this mature? If so, is that good? And a hundred other questions.
She says, Yes. He was nice. He just wanted to know where the cat was buried.
I say, well, I can understand that. We’d want to know too.
Yes, she says.
I should say something here, but I’m at a complete loss. Finally I try: I think you did the right thing, honey. You were very mature.
She walks over to me, and puts her arms around me, and buries her head into me, and weeps.